Do Self-Help Techniques Really Work?
Awakening to Presence
In my quest for self-discovery I have dabbled with a number of self-help techniques. Psychoanalysis, past life regression, psychodrama, inner child healing, body wisdom, family constellations, landmark forum, process work, group relation conference, interplay, gestalt, emotional freedom technique, cathartic writing, transactional analysis, dream interpretation, narrative therapy. No wonder someone once called me “an incorrigible seeker of the intangibles”.
I was obsessed with understanding and healing myself. In the hope that once I uncovered all my unconscious patterns and healed my emotional wounds, I would be free of anxiety and conflict and live happily ever after. But that happily ever after never came. Life continued with its usual confusion and turmoil.
There were three stages I went through, every time I engaged with a new self-help method.
Whenever I came across a technique that I felt would free me from my mental conflict, I felt hopeful. I felt this method, tool, technique, philosophy, approach would rescue me from my doubts, fears and anxieties. When I was done with it, or when it was done with me, I would be free of all the obstacles blocking my progress to live a successful and happy life.
During this stage I would submit myself to the wisdom of each approach. Some approaches were cognitive, some evoked emotion, some delved into the past, some focused on solutions, some emphasized relations, some highlighted connections. Each approach invited me to align my thought processes to their way of thinking. Each self-help method was like a mini-religion. It had its own philosophy. And its share of devout followers.
None of the self-help methods could keep me in their fold forever. Some I experienced for a long time, some I had short visits. But sooner or later, I parted ways, when I felt it had nothing more to offer or did not resonate with me. Sometimes I found a method too analytical, sometimes too invasive and sometimes too esoteric. Looking back I see that the problem was not so much with the method, but the fantasies my mind had projected on it for fulfilment.
Eventually a time came when I got tired of trying to heal or know myself. Perhaps I had exhausted my healing-knowing-karma. I no longer had any curiosity to explore any new self-help technique. I just devoted myself to living a disciplined life and giving my best to whatever work came my way. This was a fruitful phase of my life, where I discovered my passion to teach yoga and mindfulness.
Every now and then I come across someone who asks me the value of following an approach to know and heal themself.
“How are self-help techniques different from spirituality?
“I need healing but how can I know if the method I am following is working?”
“Isn’t it necessary to identify my unconscious beliefs and take self-responsibility?”
The answer to these questions is not simple. It depends on the stage of evolution of each individual. Most of us have to go through a sequential progression before we realize what we are seeking cannot be found by doing something. And the very search to know and heal ourself becomes the impediment to realize our Self. Because the search is in time, and the Self is timeless.
“Please explain.” you say.
Imagine the purpose of your life is to experience the taste of rasgulla (Indian sweet). You have never tasted it, but have heard that it’s the ultimate life experience. You start looking for people, methods and techniques who can teach you how to find and taste rasgulla. Then begins your journey as a rasgulla seeker.
You are told to taste rasgulla, you must become eligible to taste it. You must have enough money to buy it. Then you are given the address of the sweet shop where rasgulla is available. Then you are instructed to make the effort of visiting that shop. Then you must pay money and purchase the rasgulla. Then you pop it in your mouth. And mmmm….you get the taste of rasgulla!
But what if that rasgulla is not an object separate from you?
The rasgulla you seek is you yourself.
Not the idea you have of you as a person, based on your thoughts. But the living breathing piece of Life that you are. Consciousness.
In that case what will you need to do, to taste yourself. Anything you do will take you away from yourself. Every method, tool, technique, steps you follow will only make you believe that the rasgulla of happiness is out there. And the person you believe yourself to be, will have to first know herself, heal herself, purify herself before she can get it in the future.
I am a person that needs to do something to become happy.
This belief is the biggest limitation.
Till the time I believe I am a person, with a past and a future, I am stuck in wanting, desiring, fantasizing, wishing, hoping, resisting, controlling and resenting. These modes of the mind create the unhappy person. The mind projects a desired state of future happiness. And the mind starts seeking a way to achieve this illusion.
Past and future do not exist. They exist only in the mind as ideas and concepts. What is experienced is our aliveness in the Now. But we are so preoccupied with seeking happiness, that we miss the Now. Every moment becomes a resource to get something in the future.
“Does that mean self-help methods are of no use?”
Imagine a dream character having a dream injury finding a dream cure. He experiences the dream benefit. Similarly all self-help approaches that assume a person exists, provide a temporary relief. The ultimate medicine is to realize that the person I call myself is simply an idea created by thoughts. When thoughts are there such a person exists. When there are no thoughts, like in sleep, this person disappears.
When this realization happens, the attention moves from thinking to Being. Simply existing. Doing nothing. Just witnessing. Each moment is happening. There is no ‘doer’ behind the action. Life is an occurrence. An unfoldment of a cosmic dream.
Every dream has a dream character, struggling with dream situations and seeking dream solutions. The remedy is not to find a solution in the dream but to wake up.
And for awakening one has to let go of all ideas, beliefs and concepts.
Be one with Life.