For the last two years this question has returned to me again and again: can we really change? What can we change about ourselves and what do we need to accept? There is the beautiful truth-ism commonly cited by AA groups:
There are aspects of my personality that seem to change with time and experience, while others remain fixed. Still others seem to change and then change back in the blink of an eye. The latter experience, my regression into former attitudes and behaviors, is most confounding.
Recently, I read Dr. Carol Dweck’s thoughtful book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Her work is a wonderful exploration around what we can change, given the right attitude. In her research, Dr. Dweck cites instance after instance where the outcome of any given situation hinges on the mindset of the person or people involved.
In business, she has found the mindset of leadership sets the stage for the entire corporate body. At home, the mindset approach of parents sets up children for success or failure again and again. In athletics, it is not the innate ability as much as the mindset of the athlete that results in lasting success.
And what is a growth mindset? It is the attitude that your success or failure does not define you. It is the belief that there is always room for improvement, no matter how much you achieve. It is knowing that perfection on earth is impossible, but improvement is inevitable with hard work. This is the spiritual path, this is what we do every day when we sit to meditate. This is the attitude we adopt when we realize that Self-realization awaits every one of us, given enough time and experience.
So what of our daily set backs? What do we do when we feel ourselves sliding into ego, again and again? Whether it’s the psychological approach of Dr. Dweck or the spiritual approach of great Masters, the remedy is the same: become aware of your shortcomings, but do not dwell on them. Stand up, dust yourself off, and try again and again. You will inevitably reach new heights if you are compassionate with yourself and willing to do the work.
For me, I crave participating on a global stage. In my career, I don’t want to run the local charity, I want to work with the United Nations. I want to help change the world in meaningful ways. It’s a desire that I cannot seem to shake, try as I might to focus on my own spiritual development and the development of my children as the most effective ways to change the world. I just keep returning, again and again, to a pull toward a bigger arena.
Is this ego? Is this an unchangeable aspect of myself? In adopting a growth mindset, we must see the truth that what we work on improves. Interests and passions, unless destructive, are not likely worth the effort to change. Mine has the potential to shake up my family life, given that we live in a rural, spiritual community, which can make engagement in the humanitarian sector difficult. But really, there are bigger fish to fry when it comes to character flaws.
I really can’t say for sure where this life of mine will lead. What I know is that if I am pulled off my center, I will not find what I am looking for.
Instead, I must bring awareness to every moment, I must live mindfully. I must do my best with the work that is in front of me to do, if I am to live my best life. I must forever believe in my ability to grow and have faith that my life’s path will unfold in the way that will bring me toward my highest goal: Self-realization.
The formula of disciplined inner practice and joyful outer service will not fail.
May you know in your heart the promise of the Bhagavad Gita, “Even a little practice of this inward religion will free one from dire fear and colossal suffering.”