Today wisdom can be found a dime a dozen. In fact, some of the most revered teachings, the ones that have been protected and coveted; kept sacred and secret for centuries, are now literally inescapable, sometimes even being crammed down your throat.
Does that sound a little extreme?
There are memes of spiritual/self-help wisdom flying like hotcakes all over social media. There are articles, videos, podcasts, and blogs everywhere.
We really live in an exciting time. Just a few decades ago, before the dawn of the internet, ancient teachings were not so easily found by typing keywords into a search engine, or browsing a newsfeed on Facebook.
As amazing as it is to be able to access some of the most powerful teachings of some of the most enlightened cultures at the touch of a button, this also comes with a heavy price. We have so much information flying at us that it’s not always so easy to understand what we can or should do with all of it.
And yet another issue to consider with all this is that spiritual and self-help wisdom SELLS.
I don’t mean to be cynical; I’m simply pointing out the truth.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to be able to make an income from making spiritual or self-help teaching your life-work, but I am saying that the internet provides a somewhat dangerous playground for just about anyone to put information out that could heavily influence the way someone lives their life.
- Not every single source you’re going to come across is going to really possess knowledge worth living by.
- Some of these sources may not even have anyone’s best interest at heart but their own.
- It’s important to remember at all times, that even (and maybe especially) self-help and spiritual teachings, content, quotes, and information should be questioned and run through our own bullshit radar.
Why? Because ultimately nobody lives with the consequence of applying and living by this torrent of information but yourself.
People can put information out all day, true or not, helpful or not, pearls of inextinguishable wisdom or complete nonsense. But ultimately YOU are the one left to face the life that comes to fruition from applying anything you read, learn, or practice
- It’s one thing to apply improper instructions you found on the internet to fixing your car: it may not work.
- You might even break it and get stuck with a bill.
- Or even poor instructions on how to start a garden.
- You may waste tons of time, and lose your crops, flowers, etc.
But when we get into the realm of spirituality and self-help, we are talking about your life, your success, even your spirit and soul.
That’s about as real as it gets, and I want to urge and encourage anyone that is absorbing this kind of information at the speed of light right now to really question every little quote, every meme, every article and teaching that they read.
Because I promise, as amazing and helpful as some of it is, some of it can also mislead you in a huge way.
As a means of making this point a little more clear, let’s examine a few of the more cliché and popular ideas that get passed around in spiritual and self-help culture, and objectively explore some of the pro’s and cons of applying them to your life.
We may even find some contradictions, things that are worth giving a second thought, and even some complete nonsense. Let’s see what you think.
1. Cut Negative People from Your Life.
The idea of cutting all “negative” people from your life is extremely popular, especially in law of attraction teachings.
Now of course avoiding unnecessarily negative, hurtful, or unsupportive people is worthwhile. But it’s worth taking a deeper, more detailed look at this idea, and the underlying consequences and belief systems that relate to it.
For one, is it really feasible to cut all negative people from your life? Sounds just a little bit like… running away from something?
- Can we avoid all negativity?
- Can we/should we really live our lives with the mindset that by avoiding all people that challenge us, doubt us, dish us negativity and opposition, or even downright hurt us we can live in this quiet, peaceful, successful, spiritual bubble of nothing but positivity?
- Also, does this idea not somewhat reek of judgement?
By applying this to your life, is it possible that you may find yourself categorizing your friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and family members into “negative” or “not negative”?
And then, therefore, worthy of your time and energy, and not worthy of your time and energy?
Again, there is great value to not allowing undue pain or lack of support into your life, BUT there is also a great amount of benefit to learning how to deal with negativity when it comes your way.
In fact, there are many spiritual paths that deal completely with learning to transmute this negative, dark energy into a positive light. It may even be possible that YOUR deepest spiritual path deals with facing this negativity and transmuting into light through your compassion, energetic awareness, and awareness.
Can you do this by avoiding and cutting negative people from your life?
And one last thought on this: What about compassion? What about selflessly giving yourself to the cause of brightening someone’s day, helping someone out, and loving someone, even if they cause you pain or discomfort?
I think this is worth considering next time you see a meme online about cutting “negative people” from your life on your newsfeed.
2. You Have to Want it Bad Enough to Achieve Your Goals.
I feel like this idea has misunderstanding written all over it.
- On one side of the coin, this makes plenty of sense.
- On another side of the coin, this is all wrong.
One person with a strong sense of who they are and where they are headed may know exactly how this idea fits into the context of their own life, and one person may not.
It can be paradoxical.
Obviously if you don’t want something enough, then you’re not going to spend the time, energy, and effort to make it so.
If you think you really want something, and yet, you can’t really find yourself burning with enough desire to put forth that time and energy, what does that mean?
Does it mean that you should “work” on wanting it more?
I’ve seen more than a few law of attraction products and courses that give you exercises, meditations, and other techniques to help “build that fire of desire” for whatever goal or dream you have for yourself that you don’t naturally have motivation to work towards.
Is this not a little bit backwards? Here’s another way of looking at this.
There are multiple levels of desire. Some are more meaningful than others.
For example, if you expose yourself to a lot of television and other media, I’d bet my bottom dollar that you get pretty strong desires in your head at times for things like: fame, epic sexual adventures, huge amounts of cash, and a better looking body. (What a surprise right?)
The question is at the end of the day, in your heart of hearts, is this what you really want, or is this a desire that stems from programming and your ego?
Before we talk about how bad we want something, we must first be able to recognize whether that desire for whatever thing it is is coming from our heart and soul, or our animal/ego mind.
If our desire waxes and wanes to the point that we can’t stay focused, it is likely that this is a desire we should let go of, rather than work towards making stronger.
I’ll drop a little hint from my own personal experience: if that desire has to do with serving others, it’s a lot more likely to be coming from a deep authentic place within you.
There’s a huge difference between wanting to live in a mansion with so many rooms that you won’t know how to fill them, and wanting to help the homeless population in your home town.
And I’d bet my life savings that if you focus on the one that comes from the heart that you will be able to find that motivation, and the universe will support you a thousand times more in achieving that goal.
One last thought on this. Figuring out what you REALLY want at that deepest level is going to go a long way towards your level of true happiness.
You may be able to push yourself to satisfy the desires that comes from your ego, but I promise you that once you’ve achieved these types of goals, you are going to be left with just as much dissatisfaction as you had before you attained them.
You fill one hole, only to find there’s another one to fill again.
3. Self Improvement and the Path of Enlightenment are the Same Thing.
Uh oh, I might piss some people off with this one. I might lose somebody somewhere some money too.
Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who uses and sells self-improvement products, so I am not bagging on the idea of working on one’s self. I am just making a distinction between the idea of “working on one’s self” and “the path of enlightenment”.
There are a lot of people out there that are working on themselves in the hope that one day this level of dedicated self-improvement will help them attain a state of inner peace.
The word “enlightened” gets used a lot these days, and an important thing to understand about it is that many different people have many different interpretations of what this word means.
In fact, the definition of enlightenment for so many people is so abstract (or so fairy-tale like) that they don’t even really know what it means.
It’s quite ridiculous really.
For this article here, I want to roughly define enlightenment as a state of total inner peace and freedom.
The ultimate attainment of the human spirit, and the transcendence of duality, separation, and this persistent mental anguish that we as humanity experience from perceiving everything as separate from the whole.
The point I want to make is that delving into self-help is not the same as transcending separation.
Maybe I could say that self-help and spirituality are not married. They are not the same thing. Sometimes they even work in opposition to each other.
Finding that true inner peace, or moving towards the goal of enlightenment comes from understanding one’s self, accepting things as they are, and learning to perceive things as they are, independent of the ego-mind that slaps labels, separation, and not-enoughness onto everything we take in.
Now can you think of one thing that just screams not-enoughness loud and clear into your experience of life?
Self-improvement. The thought that “I can be better than I am now” or “I will be much happier if I can change” are really just roundabout ways of saying “things are not perfect as they are now”.
And if we listen to the enlightened teachers and mystics of the ages, this is exactly the opposite of what they teach.
Here are a few things I have never heard the Buddha advise people to do.
- Improve their body language and subtle communication skills.
- Learn how to make more money.
- Lose weight/gain weight/build muscle/tone that belly fat.
- Develop “psychic” powers and skills.
- Master the law of attraction.
- Improve their relationships, or find better lovers and life partners (remember the guy himself left his family to seek enlightenment).
- Improve flexibility and master awe-inspiring yogic postures.
- Be more confident in the work-place.
The list could go on but I think you get the picture.
So does this mean that we should throw out self-improvement altogether? I don’t personally think so.
What you do is up to you. This article has not been about getting anyone to buy into my point of view, but all about getting you to question things and look at them from your own personal perspective.
My personal view is that self-improvement happens at a much more shallow level than the pursuit or enlightenment, and that there’s really not anything “spiritual” about it.
Self-improvement is a game that we can play in the world of ego, where we see things as separate. It’s fun. It helps us have a better, more enjoyable lucid dream.
The path of enlightenment is more about waking up from the dream, which also means waking up from the idea that we can somehow get more from making illusory changes to an illusory self.
But when you’re dreaming that not brushing your teeth makes people less enjoy your company face to face, you’re likely to brush your teeth, whether you’re totally bought into the dream or not.
So maybe you may also feel compelled to lean to be more confident in the dream, knowing that it will help you navigate through it in a more interesting and exciting way.
If anything I hope that this article has inspired you to second guess yourself in some way, whether large or small.
With Love, Ashton
Ashton Aiden is a certified life coach, a brainwave entrainment geek, a lover of dogs, and a passionate advocate of the human potential. He spends most of his time working through his website, brainwavelove.com, to educate the public on the powerful benefits of brainwave entrainment technology.
When not doing this, he enjoys coaching people on the art of manifestation, providing spiritual commentary, and exploring the outdoors in his home state with his dog, Biff, and his girlfriend Dechen. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on facebook.com/brainwavelove