Leaving the Church of Self Improvement – A Special Feature

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This is a special feature article. Longer than my usual in this space. I’m publishing it in two parts (Part 2 will run later this week), but if you’d like to read the entire feature now, click HERE to download the PDF.

Put on the kettle, or bring your iPad to bed with you. We’re going in.

My New Year’s resolution last year was to be bad. Smoke. Drink. Eat more meat… rare.

Promiscuity was a consideration, but I’m too focused for that. What really turned me on was the idea of deleting everything in my inbox. Blatant disregard! Relished irresponsibility! Nasty girl hittin’ DELETE!

Clearly, nasty is a relative term. The point is: I was tired of being my version of good.

Because I’ve been good. Let me tell you. I’ve meditated. I’ve prayed. I’ve cleared my chakras and my ancestral ties. I’ve sent positive thoughts, white light, and handwritten thank you notes. And I have purified—my oh my, have I purified. Cleanses and sweats, colonics and karmic cord-cutting. I got rid of my microwave. I feng shui’d my shit into a transcendental temple. You see, I am a pro at better-fying. For the love of God and Buddha and The Goddess, I am a self-help author.

It’s not that I think my metaphysical aspirations have been an escapade. (Except for the Ouija board phase. That was dumb.) After a lifetime of seeking illumination, I’m not gambling on this “spiritual thing” paying off. I’m in. I lust for my God. I want to throw my legs over light rays of consciousness and ride. I have come here to serve, and I’ll probably keep coming back to do just that. And baby, I was born this way. Or should I say, I incarnated this way.

But spiritual passion can become punishing when it arises from the hollowness of our psyches rather than the fullness of our Souls.

I think we spend much of our lives dancing in the valley of striving and peace.

Striving from a sense of deficiency only fueled an obsession with self-improvement that kept me running in circles right ’round what I was looking for: the pulsating, nourishing place of my true nature, which is the doorway to fulfilling all my desires.


lies that spur

Coming of age in the New Age intensified my purification pursuits. While I was studying channeled material about The Law of Attraction and reincarnation, I was confessing my sins after Catholic Mass. These dichotomies gave me plenty of fodder in psychotherapy in early adulthood—with all those conflicting theories, you’re never sure what to feel most guilty about.

My voracious striving to be spiritually valid only reinforced the thinking that I had to earn my keep on the planet, that I wasn’t quite enough. Worse, that someone other than myself knew what was best for me, and if I could access their formula, all would be well. But this is, itself, unwell. These are the lies that dogma, false power, and all kinds of commercial industries are built on. And you might try to build your spiritual life on one of these Fantastically Flawed Premises on your long walk to true self-acceptance:

The Lie of Inadequacy:

You were born not quite good enough.

Ha ha! So not true. Just trust me—I’m a self-help author—you arrived perfectly perfect. But don’t tell the Catholics that because they’ve been hawking the concept of original sin for quite some time.

The Lie of Authority:

Outside authority validates your worth.

Ha ha! No it doesn’t. This is the “best thing” about all the methodologies of spiritualization optimization: you can get certified! Or sanctioned. ’Cause you know, it’s always good to get someone else’s approval about your self-realization.

The Lie of Affiliation:

Groupthink is good think.

Nope, not always. The dynamics of explorative or dedicated groups are sticky stuff, particularly when the goal is about, say, personal equanimity or compassion. Who’s gonna stand up in the retreat to say, “The workshop leader is being mean to people and this is total bullshit”?


rooting in love

I was trying on Vipassana meditation, the 7:00p.m. class at a Buddhist meditation center in Seattle. And after a few sessions the instructor asked how it was going for me. “You know, my mind feels emptier, and I suppose that’s good, because you say it is. But . . .” I said sheepishly, not quite understanding my own gravitas at the time, “my heart feels dry.”

I would struggle in the space between mental discipline and emotional nourishment, the intellect and the spirit, for a long time. Often, I got stuck in my head and judged myself for the perpetual longing for True Love that resided in my heart. I tried to think my way through spontaneity.

In my twenties, I was fascinated by stories of spiritual transcendence. Ascetics rumored to have sat in meditation for years, breatharians*, wandering yogis, out-of-body experiences, and astral travel. “This is my last lifetime here,” I declared to a girlfriend while we hennaed our hands—Nag Champa in the air, Cocteau Twins* on the speakers. “I’m burning some karma, and then I’m outta here.” I planned to assign myself to another dimension in the next life, one that didn’t have melancholy or menstrual cramps.

I wanted all light, all the time.

Then the miracle of all human miracles happened when I was thirty-four: my son arrived. It was as if a tidal wave of enthusiasm for life washed over my spirit. And in what seemed like an instant, my resistance to the human trip began to loosen. And there I was and I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Love had stopped me in my tracks. It finally occurred to me that perhaps this dimension, this plane where Love was Life, was the hottest ticket in the universe, and maybe I should take full advantage of being an earthling.

As a means to that end—and here comes another Fantastically Flawed Premise—I figured that if I stayed on the self-improvement track, I would certifiably deserve all the flourishing of this existence. Although I was feeling profoundly closer to the source of life, I was still firmly latched onto the wheel of perpetual betterment. I was going to continue to earn my pleasure and ensure my wellness. I was going to try even harder to be whole. Turns out that fostering spiritual nobility is kind of a drag.

To be continued…

Click HERE to download the PDF.

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