Fritz Perls, one of the founders of gestalt psychology once said something like “Those that lives their lives totally focussed on the future never catch up with the reality they anticipate.” It has only recently struck me that, when it comes to my own personal development, I have been one of “those.” A seeker.
For many years I have taken my own development seriously, investing lots of time and energy in learning new things or improving on the things I already have some expertise in. Once I’ve learnt something I’m then seeking the next thing that I don’t yet know about. Arguably this is a great attitude. One of a growth mindset. An acceptance that there is always room for improvement. But recently I’ve realised that there is a rather dark shadow side to seeking in this way. I notice that I’m never entirely satisfied with what I learn and am very soon seeking something different or deeper. And, if I’m totally honest, I notice that all this seeking comes from a place of feeling deficient in some way. Seeking so that I feel less of a fraud or an imposter. Continually searching for something other than what I already am which, at a deeper level, is an act of continually telling myself that I am not good enough. So I’ve come to realise that my inner critic lies at the heart of my seeking. A well intentioned desire to grow but from the roots of self doubt.
In Freedom from the known J. Krishnamurti suggests that “The primary cause of disorder in ourselves is…seeking. If I am all the time measuring myself against you, struggling to be like you, then I am denying what I am myself. Therefore I am creating an illusion. When I have understood that, [I realise] comparison in any form leads only to greater illusion and greater misery.”
This all makes sense to me but what’s the alternative? To give up on any personal development? That doesn’t feel right either as, for me at least, life is all about discovery. Many years ago gestalt pioneer Arnie Beisser suggested that we get more change by becoming more deeply aware of who we already are, rather than striving to become something we are not. I find this paradoxical view of human development helpful in making sense of the shadow side of seeking. If I am to let go of seeking something that I am not then the alternative seems to be immersing myself in experiences that allow me to more deeply settle into who I already am. Rather than start from a place of self-deficiency, to start from a place of this is enough. To still read books, hang out with others, go to workshops and retreats but with a very different philosophy. To invest my time and energy in experiences that direct my attention inwards, to what is, rather than outwards to what is not. An allowing and acceptance of my flawed but willing self. To settle, rather than seek.
J Krishnamurti continues “One must become poor inwardly for then there is no seeking, no asking, no desire, no – nothing! It is only this inward poverty that can see the truth of a life in which there is no conflict at all.”
Great post Steve, thank you for sharing. I have also struggled with the same thing. Often perfectionism doesn´t “allow” us to develop excellence (which involves long periods of “not knowing”). My experience is that once we approach life with a “we are enough” mindset, or even, we can make a difference mindset, things change and clarify-focus seems to appear more naturally.
Great wisdom here. Reminds me of that lovely phrase ‘the lust for enlightenment’. It’s still lust. And ‘good enough’ is a very helpful idea. Also makes sense to me of why so much ‘self development’ feels not quite right. And of course, as I have said before, you are, in fact ‘the perfect Steve Chapman’ as you are…..
What a delight to enjoy Steve’s post and then your delightful riff on Steve!
I like this post a lot. I enjoy both being happy where I’m at as well as being curious to go beyond.
Thanks Steve! It’s what I needed to hear today as I try and embrace complexity and essays. Maybe I’ll just eat a bag of mini eggs and watch the matrix – might explain it better!
Thanks Steve. It reminds me of Bellina Raffy when she says “you are enough. Go shine”