by Jim Wolfson
Reprinted with permission from http://jimwolfson.com/
The Elements of a Personal Growth Plan
How to Set Your Life up for Change
To be alive is to be growing and transforming. Once a person settles in to his or her patterns, tries to keep control, there is a certain kind of dying that begins.
I’ve worked with many people who express a desire for change. They are somehow blocked in life, are suffering or confused, and they want something different for themselves. I want my mojo back is a common refrain.
Some of these people are serious and some are not. There are a good many people out there who have a story about their desire for change. They use this narrative to keep themselves comfortable, and may actually believe it. But they are generally a bit afraid to really confront the things in life them keep them numb, that cause their suffering.
If you are sincere about change and growth, how do you go about it?
There are four key elements that support a path to real growth and change. The more of these that a person has in place, the more effective will be the changes that are achievable.
Of course, there are cycles and seasons, and sometimes, growth is rapid with very little effort. Other times, it’s like you are drilling through 10 feet of granite in the dark, and nothing seems to work.
What I’ve seen is that when just one or two of these elements are in place, there are often blind spots, which keep a person comfortable, and allow them to avoid where the real work is for them. Best to have some parts of all four working for you.
The four elements are…
• Having a Guide
• Being in Community
• Ecstatic Experiences
By Meditation, I mean some kind of regular meditative or mindful practice that is right-brain based. It can be the very popular (and very effective) sitting and breathing with awareness. There are many variations of this out there, and you can easily find one. It also could be dance, chi gong, tai chi, walking, chanting, drumming, or yoga. The key is to engage in the practice with a held intention to be present so that you can notice the wild, controlling, often fearful nature of your mind. With practice, this will enable you to watch your mind, and begin to un-identify with it.
As we know, the world is speeding up, we are engaged with our screens and other information for much of the day, and we rush around a lot. If we try to slow down, we are going against the societal grain. Many of us feel out of control and our minds are racing, even when we try to sleep. This is why meditation is more important than ever for most of us. We have forgotten what it’s like to be calm and present.
When we begin to quiet the mind, all sorts of things have more room. It’s easier to feel your emotions. Your body becomes more alive and sensations increase. You’re ever-ready intuition becomes more available, making it easier to follow your gut. The archetypes that inform your life become more clear. Spirit, in all its forms, has more room in your life.
Practicing regularly is very important. It’s not easy, even to meditate ten minutes a day, and so many people start out with good intentions, and stop after a short time. People often expect that meditation is going to be blissful and make them calmer right away. Eventually these results will usually accrue to the meditator, but at first it can be messy and unpleasant as you see the unruly, chaotic nature of your mind up close. Many people mistake this initial experience as “I must not be doing it right”, and they quit.
A Note on the Body
You have to keep your body in good shape somehow. It’s your only vehicle for this life journey. A meditative practice that also keeps your body fit is a good thing. If you are using sitting meditation, then you obviously need other activities to stay fit. It’s not enough to just sit. To make the kind of changes you want, you need to have your ship in order. Good nutrition, regular exercise, regular medical checkups are all part of a lifestyle that will support your growth.
Working One-on-One with a Coach or Teacher
There are many benefits to working one-on-one with someone who has your best interests at heart. If they are skilled and gifted, then there is a way that they can see you, and understand you better than you can. So with gentle guidance, they can point in the right direction, call you on your blind spots, and save you a whole lot of time.
A guide can hold you accountable, and for most people, there is no one else in their life who can do this cleanly. It is fairly common for people to be in yoga class, go on retreats etc., and still not be dealing with their core issues, even though they may convince themselves that they are. You can go to yoga class everyday, meditate at home regularly, and still be absolutely avoiding the hard truths about yourself that will lead to the kind of change you really want.
When I began working with my current coach, he said to me “In a certain way, you are such a fraud.” No one had ever said anything like this to me, and I was ready, and it was spot on. His comment opened many doors for me.
And of course it goes without saying that a guide/coach/teacher who has not done enough work on themselves, who is more mechanistic in their approach, more in their head, can only take you so far.
However, even a pretty good coach is much better than none. I remember when I began coaching school, and in the first few days, I learned the method of simply asking good clean open-ended questions. Just doing this for a person, even in an unskilled way, can really open up doors for a client. The method, the approach itself, is extremely powerful, no matter who is using it!
Working with Energy Healers
There are many energy medicine practitioners that people engage for insight and growth, or to just feel better. These practitioners work with the unseen energy fields in and around your body. Chakras, meridians, auras, spirit guides, angels, and much more come into play.
I’ve worked with various energy healers extensively for decades and have benefitted tremendously. I’ve also studied and learned, in-depth, various energy healing modalities, including reiki, shamanism, and chakra work. I offer my clients these services.
A good energy healer can help you get in touch with places in you that you just can’t access with traditional coaching or therapy. They can help you see parts of yourself previously hidden, and then offer ceremony to honor and deepen your insight and learning. This has enormous value.
I do have a caution though: My insight on working with Energy Healers is that they are out there and up there in a certain way that does not always serve their clients. Many of them have tremendous abilities to perceive non-ordinary reality, but they lack the grounding in their own lives to bring this information to a client in a useful way. They may see very well, but they often are not so adept at translating their insights into behavior change for their clients. Choose carefully!
A good situation is to be working with a coach/therapist who is also skilled in focusing on your energy.
A Note on Therapy
Many clients come to me who have been working with a therapist, often for years. My first question always is, “Well, what have you learned as a result of being in therapy?” Most people are taken aback when asked this. The usual response is that they have figured out why they are mad or why they are depressed, and they understand how their mother or father traumatized them. That is, they have constructed a model/narrative in their head that explains what happened to them and why they are in the state they are in. However, they have often not learned how to change.
So you might know why you get so angry, but you still get angry a lot. You haven’t really learned to deeply feel your anger, befriend it, and value the lesson it is bringing you.
For the person that has more pressing issues, that are keeping them from functioning at a normal level, seeing a therapist is very valuable to get these behaviors and feelings under control. This kind of work is very valuable. What often happens is that some of these behaviors get under control, and then the talk therapy goes on for months and years, and a plateau is reached. It can become a crutch.
If you have meaningfully changed behaviors from working with your therapist, then you are fortunate, and I recommend that you continue seeing them
Participating in an Ongoing Group–Being in Community
There is that old saying among spiritual seekers that if you want to see how far you have come, how awake and aware you are, just go home for Thanksgiving. You understand this I’m sure.
Much of our work is in our family, and there is a way that being in a facilitated group offers a re-created family. In group, we can speak what is really true, and learn to deal with triggers and conflicts in safe ways.
This can be a therapy group, coaching group or any kind of awareness training group. The key is, no surprise, to have a skilled leader, who can establish safe conditions, and can hold the depth of what is occurring.
When done well, there is little need for a person to bring up what is bothering them outside, in life. All that is needed is to see what comes up within the group. It magically will all be there. Anger, hurt, sadness, triggers and everything else. If you have certain anxieties out in life, they will appear in the group, eventually. If you get mad at certain kinds of people, you will get mad in the group.
Then you can work these things through, own your projections and begin to change. And this kind of change will be different, and only available through being in the group. You could work one-on-one with a coach and certain issues will never come up, or the way through them will not be present. Or you, the client, could effectively avoid them. There is a dynamic richness in group work that is unique and valuable.
A few years ago, I went on a 10-day silent meditation retreat. No talking, no phones, no tv, no reading of any kind, no eye contact with other people. This was a difficult, but useful and extraordinary experience. It allowed me to push through to a different state of consciousness, and experience what it is like to be present and aware and calm, if only for a limited time.
I categorize this as an ecstatic experience in that it is not something I’d do as a regular practice, and it produced in me a taste of a higher state.
Other kinds of ecstatic experiences? Certain kinds of breathwork, shamanic journeying, visiting sacred spots around the world, the use of plant medicine (like ayahuasca), vision quests, white tantric yoga (from Kundalini Yoga), multi-day retreats (like the ManKind Project’s New Warrior Training Adventure) where you are away from your normal routine, and are focusing on being present.
You may also have a spontaneous opening of awareness, but these can’t really be planned, while the experiences above are engaged in intentionally.
The important point is that intentionally engaging in an experience that is intense and focused can rapidly open some doors for you. The new awareness gained will often motivate you to do the work in the other areas above.
A word of caution: Some people rely on the ecstatic experience, and do not much engage the other elements I have mentioned. For example, I know a man who is using plant medicine regularly. He is indeed experiencing many insights. My view is that he is not doing his work in other areas, and so is not really growing as much as he thinks.
The spark that ignites these four change elements is the will and desire to change. Readiness. These can’t be taught. There is inspiration and there are messages available for each of us, all the time. It’s just a matter of when we are ready to listen, to take action, to change.
If now is not the time for you, then no amount of coaching, books, classes or trips to sacred spots will do it for you. Patience is needed.