Have you ever walked by the self-help section in a bookstore and noticed the people nearby with hats and sunglasses on, squatting in the aisles devouring the latest best seller? I admit it, I was one of those people making an effort to remain incognito with a personal growth book in hand for a long time. I was actually the person that took a copy of Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth" to a completely different section of the bookstore and hid it in a magazine to peruse the pages and find out the latest secrets to living an enlightened life. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I also ordered a copy of Steve Harvey's book "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man" and left it anonymously in an airport when I was finished so it could never be traced back to my hands. I was embarrassed to let other people see I was reading material of this nature because of the stigma I had attached to self-help and personal growth. I thought it was only for weak people.
I had been a bit of a self-help book junkie for a while, and I had always felt shameful about it in the presence of others, yet I always benefited from my reading. It didn't matter if the book was on finding love, walking down a spiritual path or any other kind of self improvement, it was always something I kept to myself. I couldn't understand why I was embarrassed to let others know I continually had a desire to grow as a person and be better. Maybe it was because I didn't want anyone to know I wasn't as together as I appeared on the outside. My effort to conceal my identity in the bookstore that day was a wake up call, because the material I was vigorously lapping up in most of these books was telling me that I needed to learn to accept myself, and love the whole package that I was. This is a common theme in the self-help section for those of you who haven't spent time there. Obviously I still had some work to do because I"m pretty sure lurking around bookstores in disguise had nothing to do with fully accepting myself.
Why are we so afraid of letting people know we want to do a little self-exploration, healing or soul searching? I'm assuming I'm not alone here, considering the volume of people I regularly see hiding out near the self-help section themselves, making an effort to mask the title of the book they are reading. There is no shame in going to the gym to improve our physical bodies, so why is there shame in wanting to do the same thing for our inner selves? I was aware that unhealed pain from childhood and past relationships became powerful unconscious forces in our lives, and without bringing awareness and understanding to these wounds we were at risk of repeating destructive patterns of anger and discontent over and over again. I stayed in the closet for many years with my books and desire to grow and break out of my own personal toxic patterns, but it was time to step out. I didn't want to settle for a mediocre life. I wanted more happiness, fearlessness and fulfillment.
It was to my good fortune that not long after the bookstore incident, I learned of a personal growth program that seemed as if it would serve every one of my yearnings and desires. It was designed to help people upgrade the quality of their thinking, and support their ability to heal. I was well aware that I had more than a few things in my life that could use some healing. So I made the decision to join the program that would last for nine months, with the hope that I would complete it feeling stronger and more confident in who I was, and with the ability to move through life with more grace.
Before the first weekend of the program, I began to have some major fears about changing. Change makes me want to run for the hills, yet deep down I knew I had to make some to move forward towards my goals. Books are very easy to close up and walk away from when they advise you to make a change in what you're doing to progress forward. This may cause some initial discomfort in us creatures of habit, and I was not looking forward to this at all. However, I knew I needed a good kick in the pants. When there were real, live people in front of me month after month holding me accountable, I had a feeling I would be much more likely to make some powerful changes. So putting fears aside and envisioning a fuller life, I hopped a train to Philadelphia.
What I found on my first weekend was that I wasn't alone anymore in my desire to heal and grow. Actually, I wasn't alone in anything anymore. I quickly became part of a group that began to feel like family to me. We were a collection of individuals coming from all walks of life, yet our common bond was that we all had a desire to move through whatever blocks or obstacles we were facing and go forth as better people. We were all there to grow, completely unmasked and exposed. The stigma I had in my mind about personal growth being for losers very quickly disappeared when I got to know this beautiful group of human beings. The other courageous people in this program were successful entrepreneurs, chiropractors, artists, mothers, nurses, social workers, computer geniuses and more. They were definitely not what I expected to find here.
Every weekend we'd arrive on Friday evening to be greeted by a new topic. Usually we'd all moan and groan because it was a topic that made our skin crawl a little. Most likely due to the fact that we all knew it was a topic that we could improve upon. Especially the whole weekend devoted to improving the relationships in our lives. I thought I'd skate through this one fairly easily, but I found out that everybody including myself had a lot of deep healing work to do in this area. But one month after the next we forged on. We met, we discussed and shared, we learned about parts of ourselves we never knew existed, and we helped each other tackle our issues and move through whatever it was that was disturbing our inner peace. One weekend we witnessed one another turn our fears into excitement and exhilaration, and transform sadness and grief into gratitude. Another weekend we would look on as one of us shifted old feelings of guilt and shame to feelings of innocence, and another person transformed angry feelings into empowerment and determination. All of this was accomplished by healing. By Sunday night we would leave the building with yet another tool in our box to handle the human experiences life dealt us just a little bit better.
The program is now complete, and it's impossible to put into words all of the benefits I've received. Learning about the importance of forgiveness, how to have greater compassion for myself and others and understanding that it takes more guts to journey down the path of personal growth and self improvement than it takes not to are at the forefront.
I also learned that every one of us has healing to do, and this is nothing to be ashamed of. I'd like to acknowledge all of the brave people out there who recognize they want more, take the steps to get there and make leaps and bounds forward through this beautiful thing we call life because of them. You can take your hats and sunglasses off now, because there's no need to hide if you want to want to let go of the pains of the past, so you can be ready for the presents of the present.
* * * * *
Tony Lo Mastro and Maureen Malone were my fabulous teachers. To lear more, visit www.philadelphiarebirthing.com.