Seven Tools for Personal Transformation

5 Apr

Evolution of a young plant

This is my shortlist of tools for personal transformation.

1.) Seek Truth
If we are interested in personal growth, then we must cultivate a love of truth, which means observing ourselves and learning that there is a difference between what we think and what we are (“the map is not the territory”). When we seek truth we stand outside of ourselves and evaluate our feelings, our relationships, and our assumptions. As we seek truth, we look for that small light peering through a crack in our stories and we scratch at it. As we learn to accept what is real in the present moment, we are more able to accept whatever arises in us, because we know that it is not the whole of us. While our automatic reactions can derail our search for the truth, acknowledging their presence brings us closer to the truth. When we are willing to be with the whole truth—whatever it is—we have more inner resources available to deal with whatever we are facing.

2.) “Not Doing”
The process of spiritual growth sometimes seems paradoxical because we speak of struggle and effort as well as of allowing, accepting, and letting go. The resolution of these apparent opposites lies in the concept of “not doing” or what I’ve previously called “radical acceptance.” Once we understand “not doing,” we see that the real struggle is to relax into greater awareness so that we can see the manifestations of our own shadows. By neither acting on our automatic impulses nor by suppressing them, we begin to understand what is causing them to arise. Not acting on our impulses creates openings through which we can catch glimpses of what we are really up to. Those glimpses often become some of our most important personal transformation lessons. At first, we may need to intentionally set aside time to practice “not doing,” but over time we may find this practice more fully integrating into our day-to-day way of being (as a friend of mine once said, “the point of basketball is not the timeouts”).

3.) Cultivate a Community
The more support we have for our personal development, the easier our process will be. If we are living or working in a dysfunctional environment (family, community, work, etc.), personal growth is not impossible, but it is more difficult. Most of us cannot leave our jobs or our families so easily, even if we are having difficulties with them, although we can seek out others who give us encouragement and act as witnesses to our growth. Beyond this, we can find groups, attend workshops, and put ourselves in situations that foster the other six tools listed here. Getting support also entails structuring our days in ways that leave room for the people that nurture us. It’s likely that you already have some people like this in your life, but if not then you can easily seek them out. Just remember that support comes to those who offer support (universal law of karma), so you’ll have to risk being vulnerable.

4.) Learn from Everything
Once we have involved ourselves in the process of personal growth, we understand that whatever is occurring in the present moment is what we need to deal with right now. And whatever is arising in our hearts or minds is the raw material that we can use for our growth. It’s common to flee from what we are actually facing into our imagination, romanticizing or dramatizing our situation, justifying ourselves, or escaping into distraction. Staying with our real experience of ourselves and our situation will teach us exactly what we need to know for growth. As we seek truth, we must also be willing to learn from it and develop a “learning orientation,” which means that we look for opportunities to  grow rather than opportunities to accomplish. When we learn from everything we’re free to take chances and make mistakes.

5.) Find Self Love
It has been said many times that we cannot love others if we do not love ourselves. But what does this mean? We usually think that it has something to do with having self-esteem. Perhaps, but one central aspect of a mature love of ourselves is caring about our growth sufficiently not to flee from the discomfort or pain of our actual condition. We must love ourselves enough not to abandon ourselves—and we abandon ourselves to the degree that we are not fully present to our own lives. When we are caught up in worry, fantasy, tension and anxiety, we become dissociated from our bodies and our feelings—and ultimately, from our true nature. True self love also entails a profound acceptance of ourselves—returning to being present and settling into ourselves as we actually are without attempting to change our experience. It is also aided by seeking the company of people who possess some degree of this quality themselves.

6.) Use Your Body
When we think about personal transformation is it easy to intellectualize it and get wrapped up in the changes that happen emotionally, but we must not forget that physical changes often accompany any changes that happen inside. Some people may start with physical work (exercise, diet, yoga) and find that other areas of their life get better, while others may find that as they do interior work, they are starting to feel better physically. The point is that our interiors (thoughts, emotions, beliefs, attitudes) and exteriors (neurons, brainwaves, cells, body) are linked to each other, so if we’re going to endeavor towards personal transformation then we must account for and activity engage the physical body.

7.) Have a Practice
Most transformational teachings stress the importance of some kind of intentional practice, be it spiritual (meditation, prayer, relaxation), physical (weight-lifting, running, yoga), or intellectual (reading, writing, Sudoku) or some combination of them. The important thing is to set aside some time each day to reestablish the scaffolding that you need to support your growth. Practice interferes with our deeply ingrained habits and gives us opportunities to wake up from our trance. Eventually, we understand that every time we engage in our practice we learn something new, and every time we neglect our practice we miss an opportunity to allow our lives to be transformed.

One major obstacles to personal transformation is the expectation that we attain results. The ego seizes on breakthroughs and wants to recreate them on demand, which often only furthers the illusion that we can control everything. The reality is that we are always growing and changing whether we want to or not. The key choice we have to make is whether we want to grow elegantly and intentionally or just get dragged along for the ride.

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