In December 1990, I was contemplating (and secretly preparing for) a difficult but necessary life change. I felt scared, helpless and alone. At a Christmas party with friends, I remember thinking that this was probably going to be the last time we would all be together like this. My sadness deepened and I felt the fear of change crystallize inside my being. Then, the Christmas grab bag ritual began. I reached in and pulled out a book by Og Mandino. I’d never even heard of him until that moment and for the life of me I can’t remember the title, but that book gave me great comfort and courage at a time when I needed it most. I also recognized that it came to me at that moment in time for a reason. It gave me the validation I needed that I was making the right decision regarding my new life path. A month later, I made my move.
According to Forbes, “Americans spent $11 billion in 2008 on self-improvement books, CDs, seminars, coaching and stress-management programs.” And although, according to PRWeb, that number hadn’t risen very much in 2012 due to the recession and various scandals, that kind of money is still pretty hefty for an industry full of experts (some more qualified than others) who, for a price, are willing to help us achieve all that society deems important: the best career, the best relationship, and the best body, because as you know, this is the only way we can feel good about ourselves and the life we are living. Now, I don’t have a problem with people wanting to better their circumstances as they do glean insights into themselves, and gaining those insights is a not only a step on the journey, but those same insights can help them through some difficult times. Yes, it’s psychological insight, but it’s still insight and we all have to start somewhere. I believe that psychological insight into the personality is an important tool in the eventual “bigger picture thinking” aka “spiritual seeking” that inevitably follows. Advaita Master Mooji says that when a part of your life crashes you experience “birth pains to a deeper awakening inside you.”
That said, my biggest issue with self-help gurus, as well as the dreaded self-help aisle at the bookstore, is the emphasis placed on the impermanent. If you were to put your energy into finding out who you really are, then the rest of it won’t matter anymore. The biggest obstacle to seeking is that too much importance is placed on the life of the personality, largely because we still tend to separate out our earthly lives from our spiritual lives. And therein lies the problem. Even though our seeking tells us that ‘all is One,’ there is still a dualistic perspective to this life we are living.
“How do I integrate spirituality into my everyday life? Throw out the concept of “spiritual life” and “everyday life.” There is only life, undivided and whole. ~ Adyashanti”
Another pitfall stemming from this dualistic perspective is that once the spiritual search has begun, the personality thinks that its life should benefit from this seeking, which is missing the point of the search entirely. We feel we should be rewarded in some way for our diligence by finally attaining that perfect job or mate. What we forget is that everything in our lives is there for our spiritual benefit. The ultimate goal of the spiritual search is to kill off the ego, not make it stronger by pandering to it. The ego wants to be somebody; but You are nobody.
I will be forever grateful for the Og Mandino book I pulled out of the grab bag that winter night. But I also know that it was supposed to happen that way. In the twenty years plus since, I can safely say that although my life hasn’t turned out the way I thought it would, and whose life has – be honest, I wouldn’t change a thing. The Universe knows what it’s doing. We need to trust it.
The bottom line is that every personality, every ‘body’, will have the life it is supposed to have. And if you gain inspiration or solace on the journey from a book or person, there is nothing wrong with that, just recognize it for what it is: something that was supposed to be there in your life, at that particular moment.
My child, because you think you are the body, for a long time you have been bound. Know you are pure awareness. With this knowledge as your sword cut through your chains and be happy! ~ Ashtavakra Gita (1.13-14)