The self-help world can be a deceptive and contradictory landscape, one that purposely pulls your mind from pillar to post, promising that the next method will be better than the last, and deceiving you into believing that your lack of progress is due to not “manifesting” or “visualising” enough.
The rinse and repeat approach to keeping people from finding sustainable contentment in life is a multi-billion dollar industry that uses a simple, cyclical formula:
Not working for you? Still feel like something is missing in your life? Still unhappy? Still stressed, anxious, sleepless?
The self-help industry offers up a plethora of systems, programs and entrepreneurial gurus to follow, and while all are accompanied by varying positive marketing messages, a large number of these products are deceptive.
And here’s why.
A large percentage of self-help brands package “spirituality” as a vehicle to amassing material wealth. Success is equated by your ability to continually achieve bigger and better things; the majority linked to financial gain. Rather than liberating your mind, the goal is to imprison it further by feeding the ego, until you are drowning in a cycle of desire that is in absolute contradiction to elevating your consciousness to a better understanding of self.
Contentment in life transpires when we let go of the grasping, when we stop chasing the next best thing and conditionally attaching our happiness to the acquisition of material goods and superficial goals, when we seek love and selflessness, cultivate internal and external compassion and let go of the vacuous rampancy of the untamed ego.
To discover contentment, we must turn the search inwards. We must learn to be unconditionally present to see the true nature of what is. Only then do we cultivate the mental clarity required to achieve a neutral understand of our purpose and place in the world.
Only when we begin to feed on the nectar of inner contentment does life begin to effortlessly fall into place. Only once we have set foot upon the pathway to self-acceptance do we discover that there is no magic system for unlocking “success” and “happiness”. We begin to naturally grow into ourselves and become everything we need to be, or should I say already are, albeit unrealised.
As a result, the opportunity, prosperity and mental contentment we seek independently transpire and manifest in our consciousness.
But instead we have a tendency to chase the delusion. We are fooled by the constant evaluations and judgements of the mind. The self-help industry preys upon this delusion, convincing us that our dreams and soul-fulfilling happiness is just out of reach, but with this new system; this new, proven step-by-step method, you can have all that your heart desires.
The paradox of “self-help” is that it keeps us rooted in the same cycle of mental suffering we are seeking to escape. The same desire we seek to satisfy is used to keep us investing our time and money, with the promise of fulfilment always so close but just out of reach.
Metaphorically speaking, no matter how expensive the metal bars, and how attractive the room’s décor, a caged bird never finds joy in its imprisonment. And if we are not careful, self-help can trap us in a mental cage, in the illusion that we’re “almost there”. Just one last step and you can set yourself up for one more disappointment, over and over again.
Don’t get me wrong here; I am not putting down those who spend their lives helping others. I am personally in touch with many wonderful people who use mindfulness, CBT and other holistic methods to help people overcome anxiety, depression, ADHD, anger problems and other behavioural and mental health issues. I have great admiration for these people.
Moreover, in this digital age, whatever the nature of our business, we all need to engage in some level of self-promotion to connect with those we wish to establish relationships with, and therefore none of us are immune from getting caught up in our own PR at times, including me. For example, to reach more readers, I ask people to subscribe to my newsletter. And my books, by nature of the beast, have to be promoted if they are to have any chance of finding an audience.
What I am referring to specifically are the self-help brands and shrewd entrepreneurs that have emerged through the web in the last 10 years; those who bombard people with emails containing the underlying message that they aren’t good enough, but could be if they do X, Y, and Z.
I am specifically talking about the marketers selling mindfulness, meditation and spirituality in general as a means to acquire financial wealth on a par with their own, as a means to become as “successful” as they have become.
The contradiction in this can be immediately identified by anyone who has experienced and understands the nature of these personal tools, which is, in short, a profound awareness of just how fruitless living a life in sole pursuit of material wealth and the admiration of others is.
In fact, the theme at the root of nearly every troubled person who asks for my advice is one of not being good enough. Their stress, anxiety, depression or simple discontentment in life is driven by a feeling of not having delivered to the expectations of others; be it family, friends or society as a whole. And in nearly every case, they are searching for an elusive, tangible something that can cure their perceived lack of success and personal fulfilment. A person in this mind-set is a self-help marketers dream subscriber.
Of course, the answer is not another system, but instead to turn the search inwards. Because taking an external lead from those who ultimately have a self-serving agenda – those teaching others to indulge in delusions of grandeur and artificial, fleeting happiness – will never provide any lasting contentment.
And this is where mindfulness practice thrives. It provides a spiritual compass that switches the mind’s emphasis from outwardly searching to inwardly seeking, from one of material, superficial gain to that of first learning to be kind and compassionate to oneself, and then to spreading loving-kindness to others.
So, if you find yourself caught in a cycle of self-help delusion, turning from one magic solution to the next, in the hope that you’ll one day achieve wealth and success beyond your wildest dreams and live happily ever after, stop a moment and consider this:
The self-actualisation you are seeking through superficial valleys won’t lead you to the top of the mountain. Like a carrot dangled in front of a donkey, the anxious journey will never end.
The self-wholeness you unconsciously want to feel will not be fulfilled through a constant desire for more money, or an increased ownership of material assets.
The panting will not stop at the next goal post because there is no finish line in this race. The constant desire to feel worthier, to feel ever more accomplished and accepted will lead you to disappointment and emptiness every time. You will end up right back where you started.
The truth is that you don’t need to do anything. No programs, no systems, no secret techniques.
So before you fall into the trap of believing the answers reside in changing yourself to align with the ideas and methods of others, start by turning the search inwards to begin understanding who you are; who this person with all these thoughts, ideas, feelings and emotions really is.
We all want to prosper in life: We all want an enjoyable job, to have a loving family, to take lovely holidays, to save lots of money and enjoy our retirement. But life is not a template, and we are not clones of each other. What is good for the goose may not be good for the gander. We need to understand who we are we, what it is we really want and what actions are capable of filling these insatiable cravings that never let the mind have a minute’s peace.
What is the point in arriving at what was sold to us as the vital piece of the puzzle, the final link in the chain, only to ask, “Why am I here”? And, “Why do I still feel the same?”
The doorway to inner peace is always unlocked. But only you can open the door and walk through it.
Step away from the judging, the wanting and the anticipating for a moment. Let go of past grievances and future expectations and stand naked in purposeful awareness for a while.
Come home to yourself.
Everything you need is right here.