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The Myth of Self-Improvement

As a meditation teacher, I get a lot of people who come to me wanting to learn to meditate as a tool for self-improvement. While the intention of "improving" our lives is sincere, I bristle at the term because the idea of improvement presupposes that you are lacking in some way. It plays into the myth that you are somehow "not enough" and by changing who you are, you can become the successful, attractive, worthy person you wish to be and therefore feel whole and fulfilled. Meditation will change you, it will cause you to evolve, which may seem like the same thing as self-improvement. However, evolution is the process of greater and greater Self-realization in which the Self is always there, steady and whole underneath our negative self-perceptions.  The Myth of the "Perfect" You Closely tied to the myth of self-improvement is the myth of the "perfect" you, this idealized version of yourself you carry in your minds. Maybe it's you ten pounds lighter or you as head of your own successful start-up or you with a much better wardrobe or some combination of these. My "perfect" self is impossibly fit despite having had three kids, is never exhausted, illustrates my own children's books and has highlights that never grow out. This idealized self is like an ever-moving carrot that we use as the goal of our self-improvement efforts. The thought is, when we finally get organized enough to attain this "perfect" version of ourselves, then our desires will be fulfilled and we will feel safe and happy. Well, not only is this "perfect" self a fiction (i.e. self-regenerating highlights), but even if you were to somehow achieve relative perfection in all areas of your life, it still would not give you the happiness you're looking for because fulfillment is not on the other side of outcomes or achievements or acquisitions. True fulfillment and happiness can only be found within.  Evolution vs. Self-Improvement What's the difference? These two terms seem like they'd be referencing the same thing but there is a very important distinction. While self-improvement implies you need fixing in some way, evolution is simply an elaboration of something that is already whole and complete. You would never look at a child and think she needs improving. She is perfect as she is, however she is. Yes, she has a lot of evolving left to do in her life, but that doesn't mean there is anything lacking in the state of being a child. It is the same for adults. We are where we are in our evolution. There is always room for more evolution, but every stage is exactly as it should be. The seed is not broken for being a seed and not a tree, so you are not broken for not being who you will be ten years from now.  A Path to Self Acceptance So many of us have spent so much of our lives internally berating ourselves, the idea of accepting the self fully as it is right now seems far more impossible to achieve than attaining the vision of our "perfect" self. But imagine, for just a moment, yourself experiencing that state of full realization and embodiment of that wholeness. Not you ten pounds lighter or ten years younger, but you now. The idea of self-improvement is about fixing the most surface attributes of the self, and the more we identify with these relative qualities, the greater our sense of insecurity. These relative elements cannot be the self as the self remains even when these change. When we meditate, we identify more and more with that unchanging, Oneness layer of the Self. This is where we are whole and complete. Outside of meditation, to move towards self acceptance, we can turn our attention to those areas which usually receive internal reproach, and see them as the areas of ourselves that need the most support and love.

Kids are perfect just as they are with all their weird idiosyncrasies and so are you.


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