Many of us walk through the world thinking that we’re broken and need to be fixed, as though a mechanic could roll us into his garage and just make a few tweaks. There’s an underlying belief here that there’s something essentially “wrong” with us. And this wrongness leads us to take our innate desire for growth and twist it into a spiritual version of keeping up with the Joneses. (I’d like to meet these uber-perfect and infinitely happy Jones people, by the way – they’d make fascinating subjects.)

I was asked recently how one can balance these paradoxical ideas:

  1. Being happy with who you are
  2. Working towards self improvement

Just as I was asked this question, I happened to be standing in a Jerusalem stone lined alleyway in my neighborhood, facing a tree, its leaves rustling in the breeze. And just at that moment, the tree radiated its truth to me: only the healthy tree grows, only the healthy branch grows, only the healthy roots grow.

Let me break it down. Innate to the “paradox” stated above is the premise that what we want to improve is what we’re unhappy with. So how can you be unhappy with yourself and want to improve and at the same time be happy with yourself and enjoy? This is hinging on the belief that the goal of personal growth is to fix what is broken.

But the tree disagrees. The tree only grows when it’s strong and healthy. It focuses its nutrients and energy on the strongest branches and roots so that they grow ever thicker and sturdier. Personal growth for the tree is a reinforcement of the most vital parts of itself. 

What of the dying leaves and shriveling branches? Trees tend to cut of nutrients to these guys. Gardeners are directed to remove yellowing leaves and prune weak branches for their vines and fruit trees so that they can continue to direct vitality towards the more robust ones.

Sometimes a tree has a tear or a break that can be fixed through care and tape and wire, but the goal here is to repair, not to grow. As the tree repairs, it ceases to grow that part of itself, until all healing is complete.

So too with us. Our ultimate purpose in life is to grow. And that means expanding the greatest parts of ourselves and allowing our less useful parts to wilt. Though sometimes there are wounds that need gentle care and healing, the ego loves to focus on our less attractive qualities under the guise of “damage control.” It loves to send nutrients to our yellowing, wilting nail biting habit, or our messy closet, or my personal favorite: the burnt rice.

These are not scars from childhood that need loving attention. They are the weaker branches of our humanity, what make us the oh-so-lovably fallible mortals that we are. Those that don’t serve us we can prune, or let fall on a cool autumn day. We don’t need to feed them the nutrients of our attention. Those precious juices are better spent on our most beautiful, kind, and giving qualities.

All the Best,

Chana

Chana Mason is neither a certified facilitator of nor has any affiliation with Byron Katie International.     The Work of Byron Katie is a registered trademark of Byron Katie International.     To learn more, visit www.TheWork.com

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