Build an Effective Change Structure with these Pieces
By Jim Wolfson
There are many people who are somehow blocked in life, are suffering or confused, and they want something different for themselves. “I want my mojo back” is a common refrain. They have the desire to change but they have not put in place the resources and support they need.
There are four key resources that support a path to real growth and change. The more of these that a person has in place, the more effective will be the changes that are achievable.
Desire to change is not a Plan
To be alive is to be growing and transforming. Once a person settles into his or her patterns, tries to keep control, there is a certain kind of dying that begins.
I’ve worked with many people who express a desire for change. They are somehow blocked in life, are suffering or confused, and they want something different for themselves. I want my mojo back is a common refrain.
Some of these people are truly motivated and are trying to do something to change their life. Yet they often lack a comprehensive, thoughtful approach to how they are actually going to make changes. The result is often stagnation or status quo.
There are also a good many people out there who have a story about their desire for change. They use this narrative to keep themselves comfortable, and may actually believe it. They might be doing one or two things that appear useful, like seeing a therapist. But they are generally a bit afraid to really confront the things in life that keep them numb, that cause their suffering.
And many people try to go it alone. This almost always results in very little change. If your car is blowing black smoke, you call the mechanic. If your pipes burst and water is pouring out, you call the plumber. And yet quite often, even though a person is suffering, not living on purpose, and feel their life is wasting away, they do not call for help. Strange isn’t it?
If you are sincere about change and growth, how do you go about it?
The Four Elements of a Personal Growth Plan
The four elements are…
Establish a Meditation Practice
Use a Guide
Get Community Support
Go for Ecstatic Experiences
1. Establish a Meditation Practice
By Meditation, I mean some kind of regular meditative or mindful practice that is right-brain based. It can be the very popular (and very effective) sitting and breathing with awareness. There are many variations of this out there, and you can easily find one. It also could be dance, chi gong, tai chi, walking, chanting, drumming, or yoga. The key is to engage in the practice with a held intention to be present so that you can notice the wild, controlling, often fearful nature of your mind. With practice, this will enable you to watch your mind, and begin to un-identify with it.
As we know, the world is speeding up, we are engaged with our screens and other information for much of the day, and we rush around a lot. If we try to slow down, we are going against the societal grain. Many of us feel out of control and our minds are racing, even when we try to sleep. This is why meditation is more important than ever for most of us. We have forgotten what it’s like to be calm and present.
When we begin to quiet the mind, all sorts of things have more room. It’s easier to feel your emotions. Your body becomes more alive and sensations increase. You’re ever-ready intuition becomes more available, making it easier to follow your gut. The archetypes that inform your life become more clear. Spirit, in all its forms, has more room in your life.
Practicing regularly is very important. It’s not easy, even to meditate ten minutes a day, and so many people start out with good intentions, and stop after a short time. People often expect that meditation is going to be blissful and make them calmer right away. Eventually these results will usually accrue to the meditator, but at first it can be messy and unpleasant as you see the unruly, chaotic nature of your mind up close. Many people mistake this initial experience as “I must not be doing it right”, and they quit.
A Note on the Body
You have to keep your body in good shape somehow. It’s your only vehicle for this life journey. A meditative practice that also keeps your body fit is a good thing. If you are using sitting meditation, then you obviously need other activities to stay fit. It’s not enough to just sit. To make the kind of changes you want, you need to have your ship in order. Good nutrition, regular exercise, regular medical checkups are all part of a lifestyle that will support your growth.
2. Work with a Guide
There are many benefits to working one-on-one with someone who has your best interests at heart. If they are skilled and gifted, then there is a way that they can see you, and understand you better than you can. So with gentle guidance, they can point in the right direction, call you on your blind spots, and save you a whole lot of time.
A guide can hold you accountable, and for most people, there is no one else in their life who can do this cleanly. It is fairly common for people to be in yoga class, go on retreats etc., and still not be dealing with their core issues, even though they may convince themselves that they are. You can go to yoga class every day, meditate at home regularly, and still be absolutely avoiding the hard truths about yourself that will lead to the kind of change you really want.
When I began working with my current coach, he said to me “In a certain way, you are such a fraud.” No one had ever said anything like this to me, and I was ready, and it was spot on. His comment opened many doors for me.
And of course it goes without saying that a guide/coach/teacher who has not done enough work on themselves, who is more mechanistic in their approach, more in their head, can only take you so far.
However, even a pretty good coach is much better than none. I remember when I began coaching school, and in the first few days, I learned the method of simply asking good, clean open-ended questions. Just doing this for a person, even in an unskilled way, can really open up doors for a client. The method, the approach itself, is extremely powerful, no matter who is using it!
Energy Healer as Guide
There are many energy medicine practitioners that people engage for insight and growth, or to just feel better. These practitioners work with the unseen energy fields in and around your body. Chakras, meridians, auras, spirit guides, angels, and much more come into play.
I’ve worked with various energy healers extensively for decades and have benefitted tremendously. I’ve also studied and learned, in-depth, various energy healing modalities, including reiki, shamanism, and chakra work. I offer my clients these services.
A good energy healer can help you get in touch with places in you that you just can’t access with traditional coaching or therapy. They can help you see parts of yourself previously hidden, and then offer ceremony to honor and deepen your insight and learning. This has enormous value.
I do have a caution though: My insight on working with Energy Healers is that they are ungrounded in a way that does not always serve their clients. Many of them have tremendous abilities to perceive non-ordinary reality, but they lack the grounding in their own lives to bring this information to a client in a useful way. They may see very well, but they often are not so adept at translating their insights into behavior change for their clients. Choose carefully!
A good situation is to be working with a coach/therapist who is also skilled in focusing on your energy body.
Therapist as Guide
Many clients come to me who have been working with a therapist, often for years. My first question always is, “Well, what have you learned, and how have you changed, as a result of being in therapy?” Most people are taken aback when asked this. The usual response is that they have figured out why they are mad or why they are depressed, and they understand how their mother or father traumatized them. That is, they have constructed a model/narrative in their head that explains what happened to them and why they are in the state they are in. However, they have often not learned how to change.
So you might know why you get so angry, but you still get angry a lot. You haven’t really learned to deeply feel your anger, befriend it, and value the lesson it is bringing you.
For the person that has more pressing issues, that are keeping them from functioning at a normal level, seeing a therapist is very valuable to get these behaviors and feelings under control. This kind of work can be very necessary and kind of priceless. What often happens is that some of these behaviors get under control, and then the talk therapy goes on for months and years, and a plateau is reached. It can become a crutch.
If you have meaningfully changed behaviors from working with your therapist, then you are fortunate, and I recommend that you continue seeing them.
3. Participating in an Ongoing Group–Being in Community
There is that old saying among spiritual seekers that if you want to see how far you have come, how awake and aware you are, just go home for Thanksgiving. You understand this I’m sure.
Much of our work is in our family, and there is a way that being in a facilitated group offers a re-created family. In group, we can speak what is really true, and learn to deal with triggers and conflicts in safe ways. Most of us could never do this with our real families.
This can be a therapy group, coaching group or any kind of awareness training group. The key is, no surprise, to have a skilled leader, who can establish safe conditions, and can hold the depth of what is occurring.
When done well, there is little need for a person to bring up what is bothering them outside, in life. All that is needed is to see what comes up within the group. It magically will all be there. Anger, hurt, sadness, triggers and everything else. If you have certain anxieties out in life, they will appear in the group, eventually. If you get mad at certain kinds of people, you will get mad in the group.
Then you can work these things through, own your projections and begin to change. And this kind of change will be different, and only available through being in the group. You could work one-on-one with a coach and certain issues will never come up, or the way through them will not be present. Or you, the client, could effectively avoid them. There is a dynamic richness in group work that is unique and valuable.
4. Ecstatic Experiences
A few years ago, I went on a 10-day silent meditation retreat. No talking, no phones, no tv, no reading of any kind, no eye contact with other people. This was a difficult, but useful and extraordinary experience. It allowed me to push through to a different state of consciousness, and experience what it is like to be present and aware and calm, if only for a limited time.
Another time, in 2011, I was with a group of shamanic practitioners, near the summit of Mount Ausungate, one of the sacred mountains in Peru. One morning, I was sitting by myself, watching the sunrise over the mountain. The energetic feeling of the mountain itself was palpable. It was like I could feel the aliveness of the mountain itself. Without thinking, I called out, “Why have I come to Peru?” Immediately I could feel my throat chakra spinning, and I got an immediate message inside; “You have come to learn to speak your truth more forcefully.”
I categorize these as ecstatic experiences in that they are not something I’d do as a regular practice, and they produced in me an expanded awareness.
Other kinds of ecstatic experiences? Certain kinds of breathwork, shamanic journeying, visiting sacred spots around the world, the use of plant medicine (like ayahuasca), vision quests, white tantric yoga (from Kundalini Yoga), multi-day retreats where you are away from your normal routine, and are focusing on being present.
You may also have a spontaneous opening of awareness, but these can’t really be planned, while the experiences above are engaged in on purpose.
The important point is that intentionally engaging in an experience that is intense and focused can rapidly open some doors for you. The new awareness gained will often motivate you to do the work in the other areas above.
A word of caution: Some people rely on the ecstatic experience, and do not much engage the other elements I have mentioned. For example, I know some people who are using plant medicine regularly, which has become very popular recently. They are indeed experiencing many insights. In speaking with many of these people, I find they are often not doing their work in other areas, and so are not really growing as much as they think.
Putting Your Growth Plan Resources Together
Most of you reading this probably have some elements of a plan in place already. You have a meditation practice, or you see a therapist, or you’re in a men’s/women’s group. Doing one of these things is good. Make no mistake about that.
However, it can be a trap that lulls you into thinking you are taking care of business, and doing all you can. I have a friend who has been working with the same therapist for over 10 years. She still has the same level of pain and unhappiness in her life because she is not confronting and dealing with her problems straight on.
Do you need to be doing all four of these growth plan elements at once. No you don’t. You can rotate them in and out over months and years. But at some point in your cycle, you will need each of them.
The spark that motivates you to bring these four growth paths into your life (Meditation, Guidance, Community and Ecstatic Experience) is the will and desire to change. You could call it readiness. This can’t be taught. It’s inside you and when its ready to sprout, it does. There is inspiration and there are messages available for each of us, all the time. It’s just a matter of when we are ready to listen, to take action, to change. When you are ready, you are ready.
If now is not the time for you, then no amount of coaching, books, classes or trips to sacred spots will do it for you. Patience is needed.