I have, like many habitual snickerers, always found the expression ‘personal growth’ a little funny. I have also tended to find the whole concept of ‘life coaching’ and mentoring a tad close to attention-getting self indulgence. But what do I mean here? What I mean is that I have never really thought about them except through the spectacles of an attention interchange. Which is very largely all that goes on in many social situations where one person is ‘seeking encouragement’ and the other is giving it. Author Idries Shah has covered the whole minefield of attention requirements very well so I won’t try and repeat what he has written, simply I’ll reiterate a basic summation of the idea- always assume the motive for ANYTHING is seeking attention; when you are satisfied it isn’t then look for other things going on. It’s a very useful method- and nothing escapes- not even this blog entry with its attention getting headline…
Once we are aware of the attention factor – giving and receiving it- we can both enjoy it (we all need a certain amount of attention as food, but probably, like food, less than we imagine) and we can move on.
Which brings me back to personal growth. I think my problem has been the image of our real self as a neglected plant that needs mental baby bio to grow into some kind of superior vegetation, triffid-like in its luxuriance…Such an image suggests not evolution or development but the coiled and lurking overblown ego that can trap the unwary.
But recently, facing up to the boredom of just doing some work to earn money, I realised that without some kind of growth in self-knowledge, all enterprises were empty or damaged in some way. I am not suggesting one seeks madly for ‘lessons’ in everything. Rather, one should be engaged with the world in such a way as to maximise instances of learning. When we look for a ‘lesson’ we are just usually engaging our rational brain in making up a nice story about something. When we find ourselves in a leaning situation we usually feel a but pressed, maybe humbled- we don’t even need to put the thing learned into words- it just becomes a part of us.
So there is growth- but it is growth in ability to do things. Are there other kinds too? Of course- growth in self- knowledge. By this I mean the dispassionate and accurate observation of buttons, triggers and other emotional hot spots that cause one to wobble as one progresses through life.
This growth is a growth in the light that is shed on the workings of your inner self or selves. There is no sense of accumulating or even changing, merely of observing.
That’s a bit passive isn’t it?
Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe we should try and stretch ourselves by doing as many new and interesting things as possible, experience as much of this incredible world and what it offers and in the process learn more about it and ourselves along the way. The personal growth here is in growing our neural networks, making new connections. So this really is a personal growth (and may even bear a slight resemblance to something plantlike).
And when we have learnt something new- say a new language or a skill it opens up new possibilities and it reduces anxiety. In Egypt I learnt how to negotiate with illiterate Bedouin in desert villages far from my own comfort zone. A few years earlier I would have been scared to do this. The experience taught me many things and reduced any anxiety I have about negotiating with anyone. But I choose to view the ‘growth’ as a reduction in anxiety rather than me becoming ‘more’ in some way. Why? Because ‘more’ usually means an expanded ego, an inflation of the external personality we wield in public to get stuff done. We all know when we see someone made foolish and rigid by the ego that they have allowed to mushroom out of control; something better kept as well pruned as a small functional privet hedge in suburbia. No wild growth here please!
But wild growth in learning, yes. Wild growth in the amount of insight and light you can shine on what you do- as a non-judgemental observer who seeks not to fix but just to see.
So I think the reluctance I and others have about embracing the concept of personal growth is a reluctance to embrace ego growth that is mistaken for real growth in learning and insight.
So how do you divert intentions about personal growth away from ego burgeoning and blooming? Put yourself to the test. Do stuff that requires you to learn. Travel. Push your limits. Accept you will be humiliated in the process and laugh it off. Growth in humour should parallel growth in understanding shouldn’t it?
I think we are at an interesting stage of human development. Only the infantile embrace ‘art for art’s sake’ or ‘science will find all the answers’ or ‘this is all there is- be a happy child and enjoy it’. There is a growing awareness that the various modes of living available to us: art, business, sport, travel are as nothing in themselves- their real and major purpose is to enable us to grow- in self understanding and in life possibilities.