I have spent the majority of my life in spiritual study, and as a result, putting what I learn into practice. A life of growth and change isn’t easy, and for anyone who regularly reads my blog or follows my work, you know I welcome change and discomfort as products of a fulfilled life. You can’t expect fulfillment without the growing pains it takes to get there. That said, I have noticed something interesting about the students I work with and, really, the world of spiritual growth as a whole.
Everyone is so hard on themselves.
A recent Huffington Post article by Dr. Andrea Pennington, a doctor of integrative medicine and TedX speaker, honed in on exactly why those of us seeking to better ourselves have the hardest time with self-compassion. She writes, “When we step onto the path toward becoming our best self, we open our eyes, hearts, and minds to seeing ourselves deeply, from the inside-out. Beginning or deepening our spiritual journey involves coming face-to-face with the darkest aspects of our personalities. We must embrace our darkness to shine brighter.”
“Seeing our darkness” is not something any of us are excited to do, yet it is a necessary step toward growth. If you can’t see the ways you hold yourself back, how can you amend them to start moving forward? If you are unaware of unhealthy patterns, how can you heal them and put new affirmative patterns in place? It’s easier said than done when spoken about in an article or blog, but it is understandable that once we take that unflinching look at ourselves, resistance, judgment, and even shame can arise.
Luckily, I am here with two pieces of good news. The first is that you are not alone. Everyone alive has darkness and light — they coexist within each one of us. No one is perfect, and that is a good thing. We need balance. Without darkness, there would be no way for us to shine Light. Secondly, your path to spiritual growth doesn’t have to be so hard. Over the years, I have watched students, friends, even colleagues put an enormous amount of pressure on themselves where their spiritual work is concerned, and so much of that heavy-lifting is completely self-generated. If this sounds familiar, I’m here to tell you that you can let the extra weight go.
It’s easy to misunderstand concepts like “see things through to the end” and “if something is hard, it’s worthwhile and there for your growth.” These two examples speak to perseverance and not shying away from challenges; however, they are not static pieces of advice. Knowing when you’ve seen something through to the end and when that hard thing you’re sticking to isn’t actually serving you anymore are equally valuable tools to hone. More important than sticking to it and bending yourself into pretzel shapes to make something “work” is looking at reasons why it might not be. There is a message for you in every circumstance, and it can come from anyone. Learn to see, listen, and internalize feedback.
For instance, I was speaking to a student of mine, and she was explaining how she was getting direction from a work mentor. She is part of a program in which she is being trained for a leadership position within her company. The mentor was giving her a lot of feedback, but it was clear to me they weren’t speaking the same language. As a result, it was evoking a lot of self-doubt in my student. She was questioning everything, including her choice to take this position, which was something she had aspired to for a long time.
This would be the perfect time to stop and ask, “What is really going on for me here?” Many of us would apply those old adages of “sticking to it” and bear down even harder, but what would that serve? Asking questions in these moments not only widens your consciousness, but it also takes the pressure off of you to figure it out. When things seem disproportionately difficult, stop, take a breath, and ask what the lesson could be.
In my student’s case, I asked her the question that seemed obvious to me given my objective perspective: “Do you want to switch mentors?”
The idea had never dawned on her. She was too busy beating herself up.
I told her that her path to becoming who she wants to be will require support from a mentor, but it’s equally important to find the right match. There is no need to be afraid of hurt feelings, and it’s not about right and wrong. Being matched with the right person means they will be bringing the best out in her, which is ultimately what she wants and why she needs a mentor. Otherwise, what’s the point?
It’s all comes down to complimentary energies, preference, and speaking the same language. I gave her the example of my workout teachers. Classes where the trainer and I have the same energy, taste in music, same preference of intensity and pace, will dictate how much I perform and push myself. The more synergy that is created, the more successful both parties feel.
This can be true whether you’re dealing with a boss, a romantic partner, a teacher, a trainer, or anyone who inspires and requires growth from you. Understanding what feels like a fit for you will help you enormously on whatever path feels best. This way, when it isn’t a fit, you’ll know to pause and look for the lesson that is underneath. In the case of my student, it was to look for something that was better suited to her and to let go of her intense self-criticism.
Which brings me to a second point.
While the realm of spirituality is a culture that promotes, encourages, and believes in transformation and change, that culture also needs to encourage and support acceptance. Acceptance of people for where they are, where they want to go, and the wildly diverse ways that each individual will get there. All too often, I see judgment of people for not being where they could be or where teachers expect them to be. This is never conducive to inspiring growth and does far more harm than good.
Dedicating ourselves to a path of spiritual growth is one of the most courageous, admirable things we can do, and I can tell you firsthand, it guarantees a life of fulfillment and joy. But that isn’t its sole purpose. It’s about learning who we really are, becoming who we are meant to be, and sharing the gifts we find along the way. Being hard on ourselves is not a part of that process.
Our spiritual work may be imperative, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be so hard.
Thought Into Action
This week take note of when you may be too hard on yourself. Are you forcing something to work that isn’t meant to? Where is the lesson for you?