The Power of Many

 Photo by Luca Upper

Photo by Luca Upper

Millions of well-meaning people have spent billions of dollars on self-help books and seminars.  People are such consumers in this area that they search relentlessly for answers in the form of programs and systems that involve specific techniques and programs that have been produced by so-called experts who have discovered the answer.  There is some great marketing in the self-help industry. The name itself is a bit of an oxymoron. Sign up for my program or system, pay me lots of money and I will teach you how to help yourself. Ha! We’re like Fox Mulder in the X-Files, we want to believe so much that someone has the answers, we’ll spent all of our hard-earned money trying to find them. Many self-help teachers have become rich playing on people’s helplessness.

Bestselling author and life coach, Debbie Ford (now deceased) fell into the same trap. In a talk she gave several years ago, she said she’d spent five years and $50,000 trying to change who she was when she realized that in doing that, she was running away from herself.  She became aware that the key is not to change oneself, but to accept and integrate all the parts we’ve rejected. Another way to say it is to see ourselves as already whole and removing whatever beliefs are in the way of that wholeness.

Okay, so let’s assume what we’re looking for is not answers or change so much as a way to love and accept ourselves as we are. Can we find that in books and weekend seminars? Based on the numbers of personal growth books sold and seminars filled out there, you would think so.  However, how many of you have gotten so revved up and inspired by a book or a workshop and were certain that this time, things would improve, only to discover after a few weeks or months that you felt pretty much the same and that your life situation hadn’t really gotten better.

When I used to teach workshops, I would ask people to raise their hands if they had a stack of self-help books in their nightstands, and most people would while sheepishly glancing around the room. I would then ask, “How many of you are really applying what you’ve learned from these books?”

There would be no hands raised.

Over the years, I began to see similar patterns among people I knew. They would try wholeheartedly to improve their lives and completely fail.  Nothing seemed to work. They tried books, affirmations, workshops, online meditation, webinars, etc., and pretty much suffered with the same issues. The only exceptions to this seemed to be people who regularly attended 12-Step meetings. The operative phrase here is “regularly attended”.

As I soon discovered, healing and real transformation occur when people are connected to others AND to a purpose greater than themselves. The major benefit of the 12 Steps is not so much the steps themselves or the principles, though they are major components. Rather, it is the model itself, which emphasizes moving beyond the selfishness of the ego and surrendering to the higher good of a group of people. Simply reading about it or participating in a weekend or weeklong workshop is not enough. One must attend meetings regularly, over time, indefinitely. This commitment to something other than one’s own isolated existence is what I would call the practice model.

You cannot get good at something by reading a book or taking a seminar.

My younger sister and her husband were having marriage problems a few years back so they signed up for a weekend relationship workshop run by well-known marriage counselors. The promise was that they would do the equivalent of 300 hours of marriage counseling in one weekend. It was expensive, but my sister and her husband were hopeful that this would give them what they needed to get their marriage back on track. Months later, I asked her how things were going, and she told me things between her and her husband had gotten worse. I mentioned the workshop, and she laughed and said that it helped for a couple of weeks and things reverted back to where they were. My sister and her husband are now divorced.

Of course, they might have gotten divorced no matter what they did. However, I wonder how many couples like them would have benefitted by having an ongoing group to support them to utilize and implement what they were learning.  When someone wants to master an instrument, they practice for hours and hours for years. The same thing with an athlete or any other vocation or profession: to get good at something, we need to practice. Unfortunately, this hasn’t translated into the area of human development. People want a quick fix and they assume if they throw a lot of money at something or someone, they can find a shortcut.

It doesn’t work that way.

Let’s suppose we want to shift a major habit or deep pattern in our lives. The habit or pattern didn’t get there overnight nor should we expect that it could disappear overnight. We need to retrain ourselves to think and behave differently and this takes time AND it takes support.

Human beings have been raised to take orders and be passive, so our default is to take the easy way. Creating new ways of being and breaking away from the old requires A LOT of support because our tendency is to fall into the old grooves. There right there and it’s easier to just let ourselves fall back into our comfortable familiar ways.

The new is intimidating and feels so awkward at first that it takes someone being there to coax you and remind you that it is better for you to move in this new way.

Our minds push us to rebel against that which seems fearful or difficult. If let to our own devices, some of us would remain stuck with life choices that are actually harmful and destructive.

Again, going back to what I said earlier, this is not about change because there is something wrong with us. Rather this is about removing what’s in the way of us being aware of our inherent wholeness, removing those self-hating habits and patterns that keep us from experiencing our true nature.

We cannot do this alone.

We cannot do this overnight. We cannot do this by reading about it. We need the ongoing regular support of a group of people invested in each other’s well being.