Monday, October 24, 2005

Self-improvement or letting go?

Perfectionism is epidemic in American culture. Many of us have been infected by the pervasive message that we're never good enough and that our life must be characterized by self-improvement projects. Jack Kornfield explores the difference between authentic spiritual aspiration and the self-improvement attachment in his book, A Path With Heart:

Repeated cultivation is a basic principle of most spiritual and meditative paths... In repeated meditations we can learn how to skillfully let go of fearful or contracted identities, how to calm our hearts, how to listen instead of react. We can systematically direct our attention to reflect on compassion, to purify our motivations with each act, and gradually we will change... [W]e can choose to strengthen our courage, loving kindness, and compassion, evoking them in ourselves through reflection, meditation, attention, and repeated training. We can also choose to abandon pride, resentment, fear, and contraction when they arise, leaving flexibility and openness as the ground for healthy development.

As our development of self grows and our heart becomes less entangled, we begin to discover a deeper truth about the self: We do not have to improve ourselves; we just have to let go of what blocks our heart. When our heart is free from the contractions of fear, anger, grasping and confusion, the spiritual qualities we have tried to cultivate manifest in us naturally. They are our true nature, and they spontaneously shine in our consciousness whenever we let go of the rigid structures of our identity.

The journey of self-improvement and the journey of letting go are TWO DIFFERENT JOURNEYS. I cannot emphasize that enough. You will not be liberated by grasping for improvements. On the contrary: That enterprise is a way we take ourselves hostage and put ourselves in prison. Let go. Just let go. Let it be okay that you're not perfect - that you are a person on a journey into wholeness and liberation that is a process of relinquishment, not acquisition.

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