Friday, December 16, 2011

Self Improvement

Given that we are leaving Cuenca in just three days and Ecuador in four, I've got loads of other super duper important posts to do. But my last post being essentially about self improvement, there is just too much karmic vibe to ignore this post that came out the same day. It's from Leo Babauta's wildly popular "Zen Habits" blog that essentially parried my self improvement thrust. And so…my riposte.

Let's first sum up the post: self improvement is a contradiction. As a tiger chasing its tail, the thing we pursue (contentment) is forever pulled from us by our deliberate search for it. Leo asks in the post where does this self improvement end? When is anyone ever content with who they are?

And perhaps he implicitly answers that question with his advice to realize that we are already perfect and to quash the urge to improve. So the act of improvement seems a contradiction.

But let's back up one step. Explicit delivery of a truth in most mystic traditions is forbidden (or impossible) because the truth imparted inevitably will not be the one received anyhow. If you want someone to get somewhere, you can't tell them where it is; you must tell them how to get there.

So in this case, where's Leo? Well, perhaps if he were to have made this more explicit he would have underlined "urge" in his advice. Because, to realize we are perfect and to quash an urge, would not we believe ourselves to be improved by no longer having an urge to improve? Upon re-reading, then, he never explicitly says that improvement is bad. Following this logical path, he now seems to be implying that the urge to improve is what is suspect.

So to resist the urge to improve while still seeking to improve can remain noble (again, on this logical path). And if Leo's really a student of Buddhism this jives with the essential Buddhist tenant that desire is the source of all suffering.

And Buddhism is nothing if not comfortable with apparent contradictions, as it believes there are no true contradictions (only our own confusion or misunderstanding). Still, Leo seems to be reinforcing the apparent contradiction between self improvement and contentment rather than dissolving it. Bad, sensei, bad (am I confusing my Eastern arts now?).

Funny how I've spent a year of calm relaxation and reflection in a culture that is much more tranquilo, and still I can end up thinking to myself, can you just bottom line this for me, Leo?

So, touché, Leo, or no? I still stick by my self improvement foil, even if I have to reconsider fencing analogies when I end up only dueling with myself.

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