The self-improvement business is booming. Videos, books, classes, teleseminars, newsletters, gyms, get-away weekends: the opportunities to improve yourself are endless. Whether it’s diet, fitness, attractiveness, ability to make money, relationships, or sexual skills, there is a myriad of offerings at all price points.
People are caught up in the self-improvement business, but nobody seems to ask what are we improving ourselves for? The promise is more happiness, and to a certain extent, becoming healthy, affluent, and more able to have better relationships will make you happier.
But after we are healthy enough, affluent enough, and have decent relationships, the danger is that all this continuing work on ourselves serves to increase our egotism. People are secretly working hard to prove they are better than other people. A hotter body, a purer diet, more money and a better lover — many people appear to be trying to achieve superman status, a superman/woman who towers above mere mortals.
None of these aspirations for health, wealth, and relationships is bad in and of itself. Developing skills is helpful and right, but after that, what? Seems to me, if it’s not to become more loving, then it’s all narcissism.
A healthy body is essential so that we can work and love better. More money is necessary so we can meet our own needs first, then figure out how to help others, either by tithing or by developing goods and services to contribute to making the world a better place.
The purpose of becoming a better lover is not for self-aggrandizement, but to make more love. Timothy Leary explains that at one evolutionary stage one acquires tantric skills to have them, which then leads to the next stage wherein one achieves fusion with a partner. Together you create a level beyond which either of you could go by yourself.
Maybe it’s best to say that we need to evolve to a certain point and after that, further attention to ourselves becomes narcissistic. The next evolutionary stage after “enough” is to turn one’s attention to what one can do for others with all the knowledge, skill, wealth, wisdom, improved mood, healthy and fit body.
So, it’s not enough to evolve yourself; it has to be for others. You become a better person so you can contribute to the ongoing evolution of others. That is the meaning of the concept of the bodhisattva, a graceful being who focuses on the evolution of others rather than only on what serves herself.
© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth