Have you ever wondered why self-help and healing strategies do not always work — even when practised diligently and even by their own teachers?
This has often bothered me, especially when I have seen close friends work hard at these techniques and then not achieve the new life or health they want. Sometimes my friends have been not only disappointed but have also, tragically, even felt stung and ashamed by their lack of success.
These negative feelings and thoughts arise, I want to suggest, because people do not have the full picture of what is going on when they strive to fulfil their potential and use these self-help strategies. They do not see what is beneath the surface, the unseen realities.
So let me create a couple of fables to help explain.
The first is about a young beech tree. This beautiful young tree was very happy to be part of his small forest, growing with his friends and family, passing through the seasons, providing a home for small creatures. Then one day he began to develop some self-awareness.
‘I am not just part of the forest,’ he thought, ‘I am also a unique me, a unique tree.’
That autumn he decided that he did not want to lose his leaves like the rest of his beech tree family. ‘I have my own unique consciousness. I decide my own fate. I shall keep my leaves green and vibrant through the winter.’ He focused and focused and willed himself, using mantra and affirmations, to retain his foliage.I am green and vibrant. I am green and vibrant.
But he lost his leaves. They turned golden and fell to the ground.
The next year he decided that he wanted to be the tallest tree in his forest and carry the most beechnuts. He concentrated hard to deepen his roots and extend his branches and stretch his DNA. He indeed grew an extra few feet but still there were older beech trees far taller and the giant douglas fir dwarfed them all.
Then the following year the weather system blew in some polluting acid rain from northern industrial Europe. Along with all other trees in his forest, unable to avoid the environmental realities, he suffered the burning effects of the pollution and took some years to recover.
For all his willpower, he could not avoid the realities of nature.
The second fable turns our attention to Antarctica and to a beautiful young penguin who was sitting on top of a small and icy mound. She was a proud and haughty penguin and felt that she too was a unique individual. She had hatched on an ice shelf along with several thousand others in her colony and had slid and slithered with all her cousins down to the ocean, but she knew deep down that she was special and had a unique destiny.
‘I will create my own life,’ she thought. ‘I will not only swim. I will fly!’
Bravely she left her colony and set off on her own. She was determined and wilful and waddled for many miles, finally reaching a small mountain. This, she knew, she felt it in her bones, was the magic place! If she could only reach the peak she would then be able to fly. After more days of gruelling struggle, she reached the mountaintop.
˜Now I shall fly!’
She put her all her will and intention into her desire to become airborne. Nothing happened. She remained earth-bound. Dismayed she collapsed on to the ground and fell into a fitful sleep from which she was awoken by terrible cracking and grinding noises. The earth and ice beneath her were moving.
‘If I cannot fly, I will use my will to stop the earth moving,’ she thought. But her thoughts were, sadly, useless. She looked around. To her dismay she saw that she was, in fact, sitting on the peak of an enormous iceberg floating off into the ocean, leaving behind the landmass and her fellow creatures.
‘Stop! Stop!’ she cried. But the iceberg floated away to its own inevitable destiny.
Penguins cannot fly and the major mass of an iceberg is beneath the surface.
Returning now to self-help strategies for achieving perfect health and wealth. The insights are clear. The unseen problem with these strategies is that they rarely look at the deeper realities and conditions. In fact, many unseen forces influence our physical health and our material conditions.
How many of us are like a tiny penguin sitting on an iceberg, trying to alter our situation, but unaware that the most important realities are below our conscious awareness?
Beneath our desire for a healthier and happier life is a massive substratum of powerful forces: personal karma, family karma, collective karma, unconscious emotions, feelings and histories. All of these cannot just be transformed by, for example, the repetition of an affirmation no matter how diligently or purely it is repeated. Even when we commit fully to deep transformation and do the hard work of personal growth, we will almost always meet the forces of our past.
How many of us are also like the beech tree, wanting the impossible and trying to escape the rhythms and waves of nature and the forces of our environment?
When we focus on our health we cannot for example avoid the reality that we belong to the vast interdependent collective of humanity, nature and cosmos. The actual atoms and molecules of our bodies, for example, do not belong individually to us, but belong to the Earth. This means that, regardless of our unique individual identities, our bodies share the collective conditions of all carbon-based creatures. So illnesses like cancer may arise simply from the contact of our bodies with the toxins of our surroundings. Or epidemics may overwhelm us. Just as beech trees shed their leaves in Autumn, so we too are embedded in nature and our environment.
Of course, there are also miracles, growth and development that transcend these collective realities. But in general penguins do not fly!
The real miracle, glory and majesty of being human is that we are also spiritual beings. This means that we have real control over and are sovereigns of our own consciousness and hearts. Regardless of our circumstances or health, we have the absolute freedom to develop spiritually: to grow our love, our awareness, our compassion.
So even when we are not succeeding at self-help strategies to improve our material conditions, we can still develop our spirituality. More compassion, more consciousness. True healing, development and fulfilment.
The wise beech tree and the contented penguin.