Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

How to Embrace the 7 Paradoxes of Personal Growth

7 practical tips for positive change

The other day, I asked my followers on my Always Well Within Facebook Page,

Name one thing you love about yourself.

Bragging a bit, now and then, can be good for the spirit!

I especially smiled when I read this response:  “I love everything about myself.”

Isn’t that fabulous?  How many people have the confidence, courage, and sense of inner security to make a bold statement like that?  I would like to bring my own self-esteem up to that level.

The Gap Between Who You Are and Who You Wish to Be

However, even if you love everything about yourself, there’ll always be a gap between who you are in this moment and who you wish to be, until you actualize your full expression as a human being. Or, you could say, a spiritual being in a human body, depending on your personal perspective.

I believe our main purpose for arriving here on this gorgeous planet is to learn, to grow, to realize our essential goodness, and to express that essence in positive ways.

Personally, I want to embody enlightened qualities like love, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, and wisdom.  But even though this a deeply held aspiration, I still loose it sometimes, when I feel provoked by another person, difficult circumstances, or my own inner critic.

I know this happens for all of us because the negative patterns have been repeated zillions of times.  Thus it takes practice, patience, and time to change habits of thought and emotion.  I try to focus on my positive gains and tell myself:  “Keep going, you’re doing great.”

Recently an intuitive guide pointed out to me that I still need to work on self-love, emotional stress, unworthiness, guilt, and overthinking.  I couldn’t help but momentarily feel, “Still? Are you serious?”  Guilt, in particular, took me by surprise.  This emotion no longer colors my life as it did in the past, but remnants must remain.

Let Your True Beauty Light Up Your Path

Despite the moment of questioning, I believe in the integrity of the message I received.  I know I’ve come a long way and celebrate that.  However, I’m still on the path, day-by-day pulling back layers of mistaken thought patterns, bad habits, and confused emotions, to reveal the beauty at the core of my true nature.

In some moments, that beauty lights up and I’m already there. I don’t need to travel any place else. But like anyone who strives to be conscious, my days are a mix of awareness and distraction.  I take heart though, because awareness and insight grows gradually day-by-day and there’s an occasional leap to celebrate as well.

7 Paradoxes of Personal Growth

As I’ve walked the path of personal and spiritual growth, I’ve often encountered a variety of paradoxes.

It’s normal to embody seemingly contradictory qualities and experiences; we all do. But you can get thrown off track and feel confused about who to be or what to do when you encounter one of these polarities. You might even get stuck on one side or the other.

The key is to get comfortable with the seeming inconsistencies so personal growth can begin to feel like an enriching exploration instead of a scary endeavor.

I’ve identified 7 paradoxes of personal growth, although I’m sure more exist.  Let’s explore them now. As you read through, look for the ones where you get stuck on one side of the paradox.

7 practical tips on personal change. #personal growth #self-development #personalchangetips #personaldevelopment

1.  Have clear aspirations. Be in the moment.

Aspiration is powerful.  In my spiritual tradition, there are many aspiration or “wishing” prayers that wish peace, happiness, and well-being for all.  Don’t hesitate to be clear about your personal or spiritual aspirations.

Once you make your wishes though, don’t obsess about them.  Let go and practice being in the moment.  Increasing your capacity to be here now will calm your mind and prepare you for deeper insight into the nature of how things work, which will bring you more happiness and freedom.

Yes, please come back to your aspirations periodically and take intentional steps to manifest them.  Hold them lightly though and spend more time in the present moment.

2.  Love and accept yourself.  Work on your weakness.

Start by answering the question above, but don’t limit it to one item:  “What do you love about yourself?”  Make a long list and really take in all the goodness your presence brings to this world.

Then let this self-love be the foundation for peeking into your shadow side.  If you want to grow, you can’t avoid looking at your weaknesses, mistaken beliefs, and unhelpful patterns.  But just take one at a time.  Explore it in moments when you feel good about yourself, not when you’re feeling down!

Remember that you’ll never find a perfect person as long as you live. So learn to love and accept yourself while you simultaneously focus on healing unhappy thoughts, words, and behaviors.

3.  Go with the flow. Take action.

You never know what’s going to happen next.  Your karma unfolds with each thought, each moment.  That unfolding might present entirely new possibilities.  So don’t get so locked up in your current actions or way of being that you become inflexible.

At the same time, you’re not a victim of negative karma.  Your positive actions change your karma in each moment, as well.  It may not be a spontaneous change, although it might be, at times.  More likely, your metamorphosis will come about through tiny positive steps, repeated again and again, in the form of choosing new thoughts, words, and actions.

4.  Focus on the spiritual.  Take care of the material.

Take care of your material concerns, but don’t be overly enamored of material possessions or pleasurable experiences.  If you are, suffering will commence.  Whatever happens in this material world, see it as transient and don’t get overly embroiled in it.  Of course, enjoy the pleasurable aspects of being in this human body, but don’t cling to the pleasure.

Some people choose to retreat from the world, which can make life simpler in a certain sense.  They still need to deal with their mind, however, which can be like a roller coaster ride.  And they still need to take care of their basic worldy needs.  You can’t escape from this as long as you’re in a body.

5. Take your path seriously. Have a sense of humor.

You won’t make progress if positive change remains a nice idea, like a book sitting on a shelf.  You must make personal gowth a priority and take it seriously in the sense of having a plan, a commitment, and a direction.

At the same time, don’t take yourself too seriously.  That just makes you uptight and unpleasant to be around.  Take a look at a great spiritual master like the Dalai Lama and you’ll notice his beautiful smile, ease of being, and kindness of heart.  Make spaciousness and ease your goal combined with a relaxed awareness of and attention to your process of positive change.

6.  Work on your own mind and emotions. Help others.

Working on yourself is not necessarily selfish, unless you only think of yourself.  You have to start with yourself first to truly be of help to anyone else.  Once you develop qualities like love, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, generosity and so on and develop a better understanding of the way the world really works, you’ll naturally be more prepared to help others and will automatically feel inspired to do so.

That doesn’t mean you should never help others while you’re working on yourself.  Look at it as an exercise in proportions.  At first you might spend 75% of your focus on bettering yourself, which  will also impact others positively.  As you grow, that degree of self-focus will decrease while your focus on helping others will increase.

In the meantime, if you’re obsessed with your own mind and process, try lending a hand to someone else.  It can put your problems in perspective and you’ll feel the joy of making a difference for another person.

Eventually, this dichotomy between self and others will no longer exist.

7.  You are perfect.  You have flaws.

You’re true nature – whatever you might call it (spirit, soul, pure awareness, etc.)  – is perfect, unchanging, and always present within you 24-7.  In that sense, you are perfect.

But you may not be aware of your true essence.  You may be caught up on the treadmill of material concerns and entangled in undesirable thoughts and emotions.  Those patterns of being are deeply ingrained in your gray matter and in the non-material level of subtle consciousness.  So yes, you have flaws, but they’re meant to help you grow, change, and realign with your true essence.

The practice of meditation calms the conceptual mind so you can heal your flaws and get in touch with the part of you that’s beyond words, analysis, and concepts.  Give it a try if you want to feel more peace, love, and clarity in your life.

Spaciously Embrace Each Paradox of Personal Growth

As you read through these 7 paradoxes, did one or more speak to you? Is there an area where you’re sliding toward one end of the spectrum, like believing you’re flawed?

If you fully embrace these seeming contradictions, recognizing that you can spaciously hold both truths at the same time, gradually the distinctions will fall away and your experience of life will become one seamless whole.  In the meantime, as you meet ups and downs on the path of personal growth, always remember to tell yourself:  “Keep going, you’re doing fine!”

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra

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23 Comments

  1. I have done oodles of work on myself over the years and I really do like who I am. I even like the age I am (nearly 70) because it really does put everything in perspective and there is just not that much that is really important anymore except to clean up some areas I feel need cleaning up (all cleaning starts with awareness) and that involves letting go of a lot of what was important when I was younger, which, actually, just sort of falls away naturally. Other people are really important now and my health is primary, too, since I want my body to be functioning well as I age. I find that even the traits that I do not/did not like about myself, I realize are not really who I am, and don’t bother too much about those either. So my goal is to be a happy and healthy old lady who laughs a lot and can take care of her friends and help them out when they need it. I would also like to keep on teaching art to non-artists so they can discover the artist that is inside all of us. Oh, and I want life to be REALLY simple and peaceful as it is now (except for those places which require lots more activity and being public). I do go on and on, don’t I 🙂 🙂

    • I love the degree of comfort you feel with your life, Jean. It’s clear that through your personal work all sense of paradox has melted away. You’re centered in what’s true for you and know what’s important at this stage of your life. I love your goal to be happy and healthy and also to live simple and at peace. I hope you’re able to continue your art for a long time.

  2. Love the zen-like nature of this post, Sandra.

    You offer both the ideal and the practical tips to change. We can’t think we are bad people without self-worth – instead you suggest starting from a place of self love. We can’t live just in the spiritual world without taking care of our needs in this world – you suggest taking care of our basic material needs.

    No, none of us are there but I think the awareness of our shortcomings and flaws can help us improve and become better versions of ourselves. It’s a life-long process of small steps and big insights. Thank you for this balanced view and post.

    • Hi Vishu,

      Now that you mention it, I see that zen-like quality. The paradoxes are a bit like koans in one sense, although I know koans come from a very enlightened mind. Yes, it’s all about the absolute and the material, which actually exist simultaneously, but we don’t necessarily know that. I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. Great post. I laughed out loud at number 7 so I guess I do have a sense of humor! This list reminded me of chapter 2 of the Tao Te Ching, in which apparent opposites are shown to be complementary sides of the same coin. I like to think I’m perfect even with my flaws!

    Your initial question about what we love about ourselves is so important. Once at a women’s retreat, I asked everyone to describe themselves the way the person who loved them most in the world would describe them. They had such a hard time with this, so hesitant to claim positive qualities, fearing that it might sound arrogant or boastful. I was surprised at the challenge this presented and I felt sad that we are so quick to confess our flaws and weaknesses yet so reluctant to be pleased about our wonderful qualities. What a great answer you got from the person who loved everything about herself!

    Living with these paradoxes is a wonderful way to practice believing in the basic goodness of the universe and trusting in the natural flow, which doesn’t mean always being passive. Sometimes the natural flow leads to action. So in the end perhaps these apparent paradoxes are, like the opposites identified in the Tao Te Ching, facets of the same jewel–ourselves!

    • Hi Galen,

      I never doubted that you have a sense of humor! That’s the solution for sure: to realize we’re perfect even with our flaws.

      What a great question you asked at the women’s retreat. I love that! Yes, I can see how it might be hard for women to respond affirmatively. Having taught loving-kindness for self (and others), I know there’s a bit of a bump many people need to cross before they can embrace this practice.

      I’m all for going with the flow. I appreciate the wisdom you are sharing from the Tao Te Ching. Thank you! It’s always lovely to “see” you.

  4. Love this Sandra and yes we all have flaws and we can learn to love them when we are able to love ourselves unconditionally- then the other expectations maybe fall away. I was smiling as I read this , it is really as you say paradoxical xxoo

    • Thank you, Susie! I agree, learning to love ourselves is an essential step to learning to love others as well. I’m glad you got a few smiles here!

  5. I’ve always loved the paradoxes of the universe. Makes sense Sandra when you think of the physical – there’s a front and a back, an up and a down, and in and an out. Wonder why we think these same principles don’t apply to us!!!

    I think I’ve worked on just about every one you mention here…and #7 is the important one to note for me…imperfectly perfect! 🙂

    • Elle,

      That’s a good analogy, looking at the material world. You’ve done so much personal work, Elle. I appreciate how far you come. Like you, my goal in the moment is to align more with my divine nature rather than my physical being and flaws, but I know that accepting them is part of that process. Can’t wait to develop even more humor about all of this! Thanks for your thoughts.

  6. I’m currently practicing more than ever living in the present moment. I’m deeply into Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle. Now that I have all the time in the world;)

  7. I love that you have sense of humour in here Sandra – definitely agree! Wishing you well with your new health protocol, more sleep sounds like a great idea.

    • Hi Ellen – Humor makes such a big difference, doesn’t it! Not laughing at people, of course, but laughing about it all! Yes, sleep sounds like a good idea to me and I think I will be getting it in afternoon naps. Our cats always seem to want to wake us up early.

  8. What a great and observant post Sandra. It’s a balancing act, it takes a lot of practice to find the sweet spot. But when we do, everything falls into place. I still have a long way to go but right now I’m really excited with my practice – things seems to be unfolding, I love when that happens.

  9. Hi Iva,
    I feel excited about your excitement for your practice! I hope all continues to unfold beautifully for you. Thanks for being a part of the conversation.

  10. I really like your writing. For me, I always focus on balance. Light cannot exist without darkness and the other way around. So that’s what I focus on my personal growth. Keep it up with the great work!

    Zaria

  11. I love this article Sandra 🙂 Personal development, like so many other things in life is about the dance of balance. Thank you <3

  12. This is such an inspiring post Sandra. My life can feel full of contradictions at times, yet noticing what feels balanced and what needs my attention helps me move forward. I love this quote from my yoga teacher, “Everything is already okay.” Which goes well with yours, “Keep going, you’re doing fine!” Thank you!

    • Thank you, Cathy! That’s such an encouraging quote from your yoga teacher. Thanks for sharing it. You seem to have a good feel for seeking balance. That’s inspiring to me.

  13. I love this, Sandra. Personal growth can often feel like two steps forward and two steps back. So, it’s very important hat we remember the paradoxes you list here. It’s a journey which is never really finished.

    • I so agree, Debbie! We’ll always be a work in progress. If we can have some humor about it, it will be more like an adventure.

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