Some Thoughts on Self Work

One reason I write on this site is to give something back to a community of people that have helped me over the years. If I can help one person, then this effort has been worth it. This short essay contains a few of my thoughts on self improvement. To start with I don't like to call it self improvement, as I know improvement is a subjective measure and perfection is very much in the eye of the beholder. But working on the self, "Self Work", that makes more sense to me and seems less judgemental.

So, from my own experience what advice can I offer to you? I'll start by saying that you must remember that self work begins with knowing yourself. An honest assessment of who you are. I don't consider that listing "strengths and weaknesses" is particularly helpful, as these are subjective and what you think of as a strength might turn out to be a weakness in the end. Yes, you may be able to do things hastily; but the sayings "haste makes waste" and "the more haste, the less speed" exist for a reason. So, get to know yourself. Don't hate, berate, or chastise; just meet and accept yourself, good and bad.

Be careful how you speak to yourself, monitor your internal dialogue. The way you speak to yourself influences other areas, and you can talk yourself into all kinds of dark places and bad habits if you're not careful. One of the examples I like to give is that the first Buddhist precept is a commitment not to harm living beings; obviously you too are a living being, so it follows that you should apply that to yourself as well. The way you speak to yourself can allow you to re-frame things, I try to look for an opportunity, lesson, or benefit in everything. To quote Marcus Aurelius, “Our life is what our thoughts make it.” we can re-frame our problems as opportunities to learn and grow, chances for Self Work.

Don't rush, nor allow yourself to be rushed. Consider the Taoist Wu Wei, try to align with what's happening in your life and mind. Don't force things along but at the same time don't neglect them, go at the right speed and trust things to develop when they and you are ready. If you meet resistance, then it's tempting to just force things, but the resistance has to come from somewhere and so you have an opportunity to learn about yourself. To quote Marcus Aurelius “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Self work has no deadlines, this isn't something you stop doing as that would be to declare yourself perfect, which is impossible. You persist and remember that this is like tending a garden, it takes time and care. The work will last as long as you live.

It's tempting to try to buy the improvement. New clothes, a new haircut and so on; you look in the mirror and think it's enough, it's not though is it? To use an analogy, you can respray a car and alter the bodywork, but that's superficial and the real work awaits you under the bonnet. Start on the inside and maybe you'll get a truer idea of what to do with the outside. That's been my experience so far.