Fixating on Personal Growth

I have an obsession with personal growth. I tend to demand constant improvement of myself, my loved ones, and my whole life! I don’t have to do it “right,” but I do want to do it increasingly more fully, genuinely, and healthily. Which, at face value, is good. People who don’t settle but choose to press on — these are the people our culture celebrates. How could my desire to be the best version of myself be a flaw?

Like all elements of being human, a desire for growth is a coin with two faces. For me, it can translate into stratospheric heights to vault. Even if I leap over one, there’s always another a bit higher and out of reach. It can feel nearly impossible to feel a sense of contentment for the present version of myself. I can’t be satisfied with the progress I’ve made in therapy, the confidence I feel in God and my current season, nor the increase in my writing rhythms. The word MORE haunts the back of my mind.

God speaks through my loved ones when they say that I need to embrace life, myself, and others as they are, at this moment. To not run ahead. That feels incredibly out of reach to me, yet is exactly what is within my grasp. Richard Rohr challenges my desire for growth when he says:

Alternative consciousness is largely letting go of my mind’s need to solve problems, to fix people, to fix myself, to rearrange the moment because it is not to my liking. When that mind goes, another, non-dualistic mind is already there waiting. We realize it is actually our natural way of seeing. It’s the way we thought as children before we started judging and analyzing and distinguishing things one from another. As Helen Luke says, “The coming to consciousness is not a discovery of some new thing; it is a long and painful return to that which has always been.”

This invitation at face value is logical and alluring. I can be satisfied now? Great! Yet, it feels like a mixture of foolishness and vulnerability to be content with the present, trusting movement will come later. Perhaps it’s city life, but I feel compelled to have something significant to report to others. How would it feel to respond to someone’s “What’s new?” with “Nothing, life is pretty great as is!”? I shudder at how boring it sounds.

It’s ironic (or perhaps a gift from God) that I’m drawn to spiritual direction: a practice that meets people where they are, as they are in the moment of session. The focus isn’t on the external MORE (that would be coaching), but the continued internal unfolding of what currently IS. An often popular question a director will ask is “What are you experiencing in this moment as you are talking about this?”

Being present to the IS allows me to disembark the MORE chase, if only temporarily. Last night I paused while typing a draft of this post to look up at my yellow curtains — to see the early evening light still faintly shining through, giving my room a subtle yellow filter. Gratitude for me tends to spring out of this practice of presence. Grateful that my friend took me to Target to get the yellow curtains. Grateful that my boyfriend playfully decreed that I would never actually buy curtains for my room, but only talk about doing it. Grateful for the readers who will read the evening light description and savor it with me.

As I peel back the layers on this reflection the last two weeks, I realize that part of contentment is embracing both sides of the coin. (It’s moments like this that I roll my eyes in annoyance at the dark irony of being human).  I’m invited to look at, rest from, AND celebrate my fixation on personal growth.

I love that I am an intense person, open to growth, and unlikely to atrophy. I can delight in (by giggling at) my compulsive renting of personal growth books from the library, or that I have to hide my enneagram books under my bed sometimes. Being both lovely and messy is what IS for me. My therapist says that we live in a messy universe, that the big bang produced unequal parts matter and anti matter. That feels accurate to my experience: being more matter than antimatter, yet God made each of us from star dust. Here’s to each of us embracing our uneven glow.

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