In essence, we receive a little bit of a ‘high’ when reading a book and discovering about the possibilities for a better life, but often the improvement ends there; and so we move on to the next ‘high’. Don’t get me wrong, some self-help books have good and extremely useful advice, but it’s our failure in executing these changes that is to blame.
Did you know that the Amazon “Self-Help” book section has over 300,000 search results, 40,000 results on the keyword “happiness” alone? Improving our lives is undoubtedly something we all want, but why is it so difficult?
Before Tony Robbins, countless religions for centuries have been trying to send us on a path of ‘self-improvement’ … you’d think we would have figured out how to do it well by now, wouldn’t you?
Knowledge Is Not The Same As Knowing
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. ~ Isaac Newton
Whenever I’m hosting one of our Involution groups I have someone who asks the difference between the Involution paths of Self-Discovery and Self-Understanding.
The difference lies in the the process of assimilation. Memorized knowledge is not the same as assimilated knowledge. If you think of knowledge in terms of nourishing food, memorizing knowledge is like carrying the food in your backpack, whereas assimilating it is eating, digesting and absorbing the food so that it becomes a part of your person.
Assimilated knowledge becomes “knowing” – it nourishes our being. What Newton meant in the quote above was that what distinguishes us from animals in our evolution, is that we don’t have to re-discover the use of penicillin or how to make fires, we have the ability to assimilate and build upon the work of other human beings from the past; from Lao Tzu and Buddha, to Einstein and Jobs.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that intellectually registering your self-discovery (through your self-exploration) is the same as actively experiencing self-understanding through applied use. Almost everyday I come across someone who recommends to me a ‘revealing’ book on Gratitude or Ego-Awareness, but after a few days of excitement, returns to their habitually complaining egocentric selves.
Self-Improvement Is Not Self-Understanding
All men plume themselves on the improvement of society, and no man improves. ~ Ralpho Waldo Emerson (Essential Writings)
One of the first observations I encountered when I came to live in a Western country like Australia is the association that exists between Success and Happiness. It’s as if success in your career or studies is synonymous with being happy.
Whenever I ask someone how they are in such a country, I’m met with a response similar to: “You know, busy busy”, implying that was a good thing. Trying to explain the process of Involution to a psyche and mindset that is goal-and-success oriented can become very tricky.
The process of Involution, especially that of Self-Understanding, has much more to do with ‘Self-Growth’ than it does with ‘Self-Improvement’. On the surface the two sound very similar but there is one subtle major distinction.
On one hand, Self-Improvement is absolutely goal driven – you have an ideal in mind that you’d like to live up to, lets say; becoming more confident, or as muscular as Arnold Schwarzenegger, or financially secure and independent. When you’re improving, you’re improving towards an ideal objective. It’s a tunnel-focused vision that you progressively improve towards reaching.
On the other hand, Self-Growth which is the essence of Involution works in a completely different way. When you go on a personal-growth journey for Self-Understanding, you have no objective in mind. You’re planting an unknown seed into a soil mix and nurturing it, watching it grow. You don’t know what type of tree will sprout from it or how big it will be, or even when it will stop growing (if it ever stops at all). It’s a mystery.
It’s important to learn the nature of this distinction between Self-Improvement and Self-Understanding as it will provide your Involutionary journey with an open acceptance of who you are, without any objective to measure yourself against, free from unnecessary tensions that can hinder and limit you along the way.
The Secret To Self-Understanding . . .
I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.
~ Hermann Hesse, (Demian)
Once you embrace the perception of Self-Growth in your journey, you’ll find out exactly how interconnected everything is within you. We fool ourselves into wanting to change something specific in us without being aware that every function is counterbalanced by another function inside ourselves.
You change your diet and suddenly you feel in a better mood. You liberate yourself from a false belief because you see through its fallacy, and now you suddenly feel depressed.
This is also the nature of Involution: each one of the seven paths of Involution is interdependent in relation to the other. It’s quite impossible to study any one function or path without studying all the others. In order to know one thing truly and deeply, we have to know everything else about ourselves. To know everything is possible, but it requires much time and labor, and above all, the application of the right methods and guidance.
It’s important to remember that there are two main reasons why we so often fail to execute what we learn on our journey of Involution: procrastination and poor self-discipline. On the other hand, the two secret ingredients that we need to be aware of in order to mindfully apply the knowledge that we encounter along our journeys, is action and responsibility.
Taking action, or having willful determination, first requires you to be capable of holding yourself accountable for the many failures, miseries and struggles you experience. You need immense motivation to provide yourself with enough incentive to continue on a path that involves such difficult and drastic changes in your attitude and perception towards life.
But where does this motivation come from? It comes from the development of respect and love for yourself; for your body, mind, spirit and life. And in order to develop these qualities, you’ll need to wander through the Involutionary path of Self-Love, which we’ll explore next.