We’re all seeking more happiness. It’s the reason we read articles, take classes, attend retreats, buy books, sign up for coaching and energy healing and a whole host of other services. We want to be happy. And the world has convinced us that if we can just find the RIGHT service, book, class, retreat, etc., then we will be happy.
But that’s the misconception in the world of spirituality and self-help. It’s this idea that the more we know, the more skills we have, the more “spiritual” we become, the happier we will be. This just isn’t true - take it from me, I’ve spent more than 40 years in the personal growth and spirituality world and I’ve seen this happen to people over and over again. They dive in with both feet, learn as much as they can for anywhere from 2-20 years and then come up for air only to realize that they feel just the same on the inside as when they started.
Sure, they can do amazing ritual, meditate for hours, have more crystals than anyone they know, and can do asanas standing on their heads, but they aren’t happy. They are still either spending more and more time trying to leave their bodies to escape their lives or they are just not happy.
What is needed is an understanding of the difference between self improvement (skill building and understanding the self) and transformation (becoming someone new). The former gives us better relating skills and coping mechanisms. The latter changes the very nature of who we are. Each has their own benefits and downsides.
The process of understanding ourselves at a deeper level is awesome. It helps us to see how we are acting in the world and how those behaviors create our realities. Building new skills and coping mechanisms are also good for changing the way we behave and, therefore, the way others respond to us. But this is all an external change. Inside we remain the same. We may feel slightly better because our new ways of behaving are getting us better responses, but the feelings that caused the poor behaviors are still present. And when those feelings get triggered, most of the skills we learned can be forgotten in an instant leaving us to pick up the pieces when we have calmed down.
Benefits: it is easily learned and quickly implemented for fast results.
Downsides: it only goes skin deep and it can disappear when we are triggered
On the other hand, the process of transformation is quite different. It involves changing our perspectives and literally changing who we believe ourselves to be. Notice that I said “believe ourselves to be”, not who we are. At the core, we are who we are, but over the course of our lives, beliefs, judgments, assumptions, and stories that have been told to us and that we have told ourselves have layered on top of that core being creating a morass of misery. The process of transformation is the process of clearing out the morass to get back to the pure self. This isn’t easy, it’s rarely quick (although it can be if our resistance to it is low), and it requires doing hard and scary things like looking at the parts of ourselves that we think are ugly or unacceptable. Some people call this shadow work. Ultimately, in order to become someone new, we have to accept that the person we were has to die. This is known as a shamanic death. Which means we also have to overcome the fears and resistances that our ego throws up in our faces as we go. This path is harder, but in the end, the work goes deep inside us and changes our insides. We FEEL different. Any changes that happen on the outside are a function of the changes on the inside. They are not skills we’ve learned, they are new responses based on our new ways of seeing ourselves and the world around us.
Benefits: Changes the way we feel inside and our outer responses are now a function of that new way of feeling. Therefore, the responses don’t disappear when we are triggered.
Downsides: We have to look at stuff that makes us uncomfortable and we have to overcome our fears and our resistance to change.
Ultimately, if we want to be happier, it is transformation that we are seeking, not self improvement. And this means that we need to stop looking for that magic pill and recognize that we, us, the person inside us IS the magic pill. We are the doorway to our own freedom, our own joy, our own happiness. It all starts with us. With great responsibility comes great power. Seize it.