I promised to share more on my blog about the Spiritual Pro idea that is becoming my new Signature Material and that I officially launch in later this month.
This post is about the moment of grace I experienced that caused me to give up self-improvement.
When I discovered the human potential and personal growth movement in 1986, I immediately felt I had found a home for my soul. This felt like where I belonged. So I started attending the Alternatives programme when it started in London, became a volunteer, then joined the management team, and eventually co-led it for several years. I immersed myself in the world of self-development and self-improvement. I enjoyed it a lot, and whilst I loved it, I was secretly a little embarrassed that I still struggled with self-love, was very tough on myself, and felt like I still had many of the problems I had first identified. Even though I had been on Tony Robbins workshops, walked on hot coals and made lists of goals as long as my arm, I was then depressed two weeks later when I hadn’t achieved them all and felt I was back at square one.
Knowing that I had recently become a newbie student of A Course in Miracles, in 1996, my friend Robert Holden introduced me to a couple of friends visiting from Hawaii, Tom and Linda Carpenter, both teachers of A Course in Miracles. We met at Alternatives in Piccadilly as I was co-leading it at the time. Along with my partner Helen and Robert’s then wife, Miranda, we all got on like a house on fire over tea. I hoped to be able to host Tom to give a talk at Alternatives when he was back in the UK, and Alternatives subsequently did host Tom several times. As we parted, Tom and Linda said to Helen and I, “And if you are ever in Hawaii, come look us up.” My mind immediately said, “I would certainly love to arrange to be in Hawaii!” but not really believing it would ever happen.
Fast forward a few months and Helen and I are being met at Kaui airport by Tom and Linda and ended up staying with them in their beautiful home for ten days. The island was stunning, one of the prettiest places I have ever been, their home was lovely and our conversation inspiring.
One evening after supper Tom and I were sitting on the deck of his home watching the sun go down and I shared with Tom how I had been on a path of self-improvement for many years, but still experienced a lot of frustrations and found inner peace quite illusive. I said, “I don’t know what’s up with me. There feels to be so much wrong with me that needs fixing. I feel like it could be a life-times work.”
Tom looked me in the eyes and with a wise smile, he said, “Nick, the only thing wrong with you is your belief that there is something wrong with you. It is your very quest to fix yourself that is causing much of your suffering. Would you consider giving up self-improvement and embracing Self-acceptance? There is nothing about you that is unlovable.”
I felt no judgement in what Tom was saying to me, indeed, I remember feeling, “Tom sees beyond all my neurosis and all my stories and sees who I really am that I can barely remember myself. He is reminding me of something of deep truth.”
I was stopped in my tracks, but it was a moment of Grace. Tom was looking at me through the eyes of love, and I tangibly experienced it. In that moment, I realised love wasn’t just a nice word or sentiment, it was real. Rarely had I felt so deeply accepted in my life until that moment. It wasn’t just Tom talking to me, but Love speaking to me through Tom. I had felt so judged growing up and had learned to judge myself pretty constantly. It was my very judgements of myself that were causing me to want to improve myself. In that moment, I felt I was beginning to be rewired. Tom was asking me to consider that there was a whole Self already within me that needed no fixing or improvement. I simply needed to accept that part of me, and also to accept all that was within me that I considered to be so unlovable. I opened up to the belief I really was worth loving, just as I was. I realised that no amount of self-improvement could ever make up for my lack of Self-acceptance.
That moment with Tom touched my heart deeply and initiated a process of the transformation of my thought system that continues now and will do so for the rest of my life. Tom was also inviting me to consider the option that all everything I believed about myself might be wrong. So much of what I believed was actually my judgements on myself, rather than my real Self. I have found it so challenging, though, because I find it easier to accept the “good” things about me, but really difficult to accept the darker aspects within me.
It seems counter-intuitive that the best way to transform something within us is to accept it. The ego says the best way to change anything is to judge it. Judgement is the ego’s attempt to change things, but actually all judgements actually keep us stuck with the problem. But beginning to accept what we have judged, we begin to open the doors to the transformation of what we’ve judged. What makes this possible is the teaching of A Course in Miracles that our true nature is love, and this earth is a place we come because we have forgotten who we are, and we here to awaken to and remember our true nature. We are here to relinquish a thought system of fear and guilt and restore a thought system of love.
Now, self- improvement doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy learning, developing competencies and growing, and learning more about the things of the world. But the growth is about unwrapping more of who we already are in essence so that we can express that in the world. For many of us, that can mean entertaining the idea that we even have a whole Self.
As a student of A Course in Miracles, I love the passage that talks about grandeur and grandiosity. It teaches that grandiosity is of our ego, and it’s what we do when we forget who we truly are: we either inflate or deflate ourselves. Grandeur is our true nature, how we were created by God, and remains our true identity. Now I enjoy creating success that follows from unwrapping more of our true Self rather than through trying to invent another/better self.
But this moment of Grace with Tom was the start of a phase of my undoing, in a good way. A Course in Miracles really is a path of undoing our ego. I had spent nearly ten years up until that point on self-improvement, essentially building up my ego, and trying to create a better ego, a better version of me. I couldn’t really believe who I thought I was capable of being loved. I realised that I really only needed to remember and unwrap the Self that was already within me and had come with my creation. What the Buddhists call Your Original Face, the You before all the programming and conditioning took hold.
Soon after this conversation with Tom, I came across this poem by Juan Ramon Jimenez translated from the Spanish by Robert Bly:
I am not I.
I am this one
walking beside me whom I do not see,
whom at times I manage to visit,
and whom at other times I forget;
who remains calm and silent while I talk,
and forgives, gently, when I hate,
who walks where I am not,
who will remain standing when I die.
This is the “I” I guess we are all seeking, and this is still my path today, my journey home to my Self, what A Course in Miracles calls “A journey without distance to a place we never left.” I am increasingly glimpsing that whole Self that came with my creation. It is that part of me that comes to the fore when I write my books, give my talks and develop my programmes. I am less afraid, less anxious, more inspired and creative. I still have many low times, but I know these are also times when old ideas about me die and drop away and the real Self in me can surface more. I am much less trying to fix myself or others and much more accepting of myself and others.
Thank you Tom for appearing in my life and nudging me into Self-love rather than self-improvement.