Self-help?

Self help: what is it exactly? On the face of it, it appears to be the ability to  address the problems that plague you and your life without outside help. However, it also suggests the existence of an inner strength or power you are presumably unable to tap at present or are unaware of (and that is why you need to read the book, go to the talk or have the life-changing experience).

This has often been called ‘finding yourself’.

So it could be said that you are in fact seeking help from outside yourself, your current self that is. You are looking for a new self, which somehow you already are, but are told that to realise its potential you need to set out on a path of self-growth: from ‘here’ to the longed for ‘there’.

On this path you are not seeking to add anything but rather take away the illusions and misconceptions you label yourself with, and with new eyes discover what you really are. One way this has happened is by hitting rock  bottom – a state of depression where nothing new or interesting is seen, and nothing can ever suprise you. A very dark place indeed. But one day a light will crack open the darkness and introduce you to a new world, one far bigger than the old one, with a fascination that is constantly renewed – enough to hold your interest for a lifetime. This release is what happens when the tiny self or ego that we take to be us is discovered to be only a subset of a wider and real you. This is the Self with a capital ‘S’.

So self-help, at a deeper level, is all about starting off as the little self and ending up as the big Self. It is about discovering who you really are and realising there was nothing wrong in the first place. It is about love. Along the way many skills will be learned and at times this may seem to be what self-help is all about. But actually every new skill mastered is only a easier way of seeing or reminding us that everything is perfectly fine.

That is not to say that we should underestimate the growth of the little self, and the value of all it can learn from the big Self. This is the real meaning of Self-help. It is the big Self helping the little self (you or I) and the little self learning to express or be a conduit for the big Self, which otherwise would be frustrated.

In the coming months I will aim to write about some of these skills and life tools that can help us along this challenging but deeply rewarding way.

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Improvising Life

I have recently been working on some ideas inspired by improvisational comedy. Contrary to expectation, such comics practice a great deal – not with set routines, but by practicing and honing a particular way of doing comedy. To achieve this they follow some fundamental rules upon which their unpredictable comedy routines can evolve. It occurred to me that these rules could be adapted to life at large.

  1. No Denial
  2. Don’t try to be good
    1. No Open ended questions
  3. No Agenda
    1. If your partner looks good, you look good

Denial relates to the acceptance of life itself. Sometimes we may find ourselves in a bad situation and going over and over how we got here instead of moving on. In these situations we are easily riled by the comments of others. Denying the circumstances that have arisen in our life is like arguing back – it does little good, both sides become entrenched in their own opinion. If that opponent is life itself, then you might as well beat your head on a brick wall.  It is best to roll with the punches thrown your way and make the world’s energy your own.

We all have an ego that allows us to relate to the world around us. Most of us would admit that we want to look good in these interactions. But often this basic self-defence mechanism protects us too well –we pass on opportunities because we are afraid of messing up, or stay in our comfort zone rather than pushing our limits. Babies don’t have this problem: they try walking and fall over and over again, but without embarrassment they always get up and try again. They are also not slow to cry when the mood takes them, or laugh for that matter. But imagine an adult learning to walk from scratch – with others looking on, how long would it take them? We should aim to be as unconcerned as babies, even though we have awareness they lack we should have as little regard for how good or otherwise we may look.

Open ended questions relate to our degree of choice, our freedom. I have spoken earlier of the problems of the modern world and how so often it offers so much choice (with so little judgement). In these circumstances we may find ourselves paralysed with indecision, or making arbitrary choices when a great deal is at stake, or simply blindly going with the crowd. By framing our questions in a positive way, whether we are considering a future career direction, or deciding where to go on holiday, we are in fact guiding the response that we will receive. The unconscious mind is a wonderful resource, it can supply whatever answer is sought. The problem is that like using Google, if you search with negative terms, you may receive unpleasant results. But if you always look for the positive side, the hopeful and uplifting, these are the answers you life will be filled with.

No agenda – life cares nothing for our plans. This does not mean you should not make them – dreams and aspirations would get nowhere without them. But as a wise general once said, no plan survives first contact with the enemy and so it should be with our best laid plans. They should be the stepping stones we use to propel us forward with enthusiasm for a bright future. Once we have got going we should be happy letting them fall by the wayside, until an opportune moment allows for further private reflection.

Finally we must have compassion, both for ourselves and others. We are not islands isolated in a featureless sea. Every action we take affects everyone around us. This relates to the no denial rule and to our degree of freedom, but also hints that Karma, the force that moves us all, is far more powerful than we imagine. Many of our actions are unconscious, thoughtless and harmful to those around us. Then when they respond negatively we place the blame with them when the fault is as much ours. Only by increased awareness and compassion can we address this blind spot we all posses. Working to set our default attitude to helping others can be the key to overcoming this. Besides, giving others a helping hand and the opportunity to shine is also deeply satisfying in itself.

In this blog I have barely scratched the surface of this topic. My aim has been to show that a more spontaneous approach to life – modeled on the approach of the improvisational comic, with compassion but without attachment to the image we have of ourselves, using plans to inspire but not to enslave, and approaching life with positivity, can set us on the path of a meaningful, contented existence. If this message reaches just one person, then I will have succeeded.

(C) Copyright Mark B Williams 2014
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