Fundamentally, personal development is simple: see clearly who you are; understand that (most of) your behaviour is conditioned; let go of what doesn’t serve you; and re-condition the self according to your own ideas about who you want to be. That all happens at the surface level and relates to the worldly concept of the personality; the individual; separate from others. But there is also a depth to the process which goes beyond behaviour and identity, connects us all with each other, and leads ultimately to the most fundamental aspect of existence: the true self. First, the worldly stuff…
When I first moved abroad in 1991 I felt free. I had landed in a new country where nobody knew me. Furthermore, nobody knew anyone who knew me, which meant that whatever conclusions they drew about who I was, were based solely on information I gave them and behaviour I exhibited. I felt a sense of control over how people would perceive me. I could be whoever I wanted to be.
Eventually, of course, my existing personality and conditioning expressed themselves sufficiently for people to form a similar impression of me as the people I knew back home. Nevertheless, the experience had a positive influence on me because, for a brief while, I felt liberated from the person I was at that time. It was as if I were starting all over again, creating myself on my terms, in accordance with my own plans for myself. It also sowed the seed for a later insight into the nature of conditioning: a thin, finite layer of behaviour; superficial and imposed; but also entrenched and embedded.
It takes work to recognise and transcend our conditioning. Unaware and unquestioning, we are often oblivious to its presence, too busy hanging on to who we are to let go. It requires effort to change, but not as much as we might think. In fact, the whole process of transcending our conditioning is exactly the same as decluttering a house.
At first, it’s tough. We have so many possessions that it’s difficult to know where to start, so we are inclined to put it off. That’s the first hurdle. Start small, proceed step by step, and soon we encounter the second hurdle: our attachment to things. We are reluctant to part with what we have. Even the things we’d forgotten we had!
Stick at it, though, and we gradually build momentum. We find our rhythm and begin to create procedures for ourselves, refining our techniques as we go. (A friend of mine gave me this piece of advice, for example: ‘If you’re unsure whether to keep something or throw it away, take a picture of it, then throw it away.’) Apply yourself sufficiently to the task and you will reach the stage whereby you become almost reckless, discarding possessions simply for the thrill of lightening your load. Go far enough and you will eventually find yourself standing serenely in an empty space filled with infinite potential.
It’s no different when applied to the self. Let go of everything you think you are, and what remains is a tranquil emptiness suffused with the same infinite potential. But that’s not all because, fascinatingly, what you also notice is that you are aware of those qualities. That is your true self. Awareness is the true self. It allows us to observe ourselves and our world. It is a peaceful place we can inhabit at will; a haven amidst the chaos. From there, all it then takes is daily practice to become whoever you want to be.
Karaj used to insist that whatever our journey, we have to be in the world. So, if we can live our lives fully in this world, and at the same time reside in the complete awareness of who we truly are, then we can be everything we desire, whilst simultaneously being entertained by the theatre of our existence, connected at source to every living being.