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As We Grow


There are many roads in life, each has their challenges and no one can say that one is inherently more difficult than another. This is true, outside of those who are struggling to live, dealing with serious illness or severe handicaps, whether your road is in the working world, family life, going to school, being a celebrity or you are on a quest of enlightenment. There is a reason for the phrase “do not criticize others until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”.

We may see others struggle with things that we believe we would not struggle with, which can lead us to judge them as incapable or that they should know better. We then feel they are not doing enough to solve their problems. The problem with this view is that it assumes people are equal, and that what one is capable of so is another. This is not at all the case. We are not equal; we are equivalent.

A mathematical explanation may help (from: http://mathforum.org/library/drmath/view/65122.html):

“...the sets {a,b,c} and {c,b,a} are the same set (equal) because they both contain the elements a, b, and c.  That is, the elements of a set don't really have any order; you can think of a set as a bag, so that it doesn't matter in what order you put objects into it, as long as they get in somehow.  Once they are in, you can't tell what order they arrived in.

Sets are called equivalent when they have the same cardinality (number of elements).  What's happening here is that when we ask whether two sets are equivalent, we are ignoring the names of the elements, and considering only what makes one set essentially different from another, which is the number of elements it has.  So any set of six elements is considered equivalent to the one you were given.

In other words, your question is really about the definition of 'equal' and 'equivalent' in this context.  Equivalent sets contain the same number of elements, while equal sets contain not only the same number of elements, but also the exact same elements, regardless of order."


Diversity of People


Going by the above, people are equivalent, not equal. We all have the same basic set of capabilities or elements such as the ability to talk, feel, think, walk, run, jump and so on, but our ability to do these things, the elements themselves, are not the same. They vary from person to person. The idea that we are equal leads many to be inclined to think that their struggles, such as harsh working conditions for low pay, are more difficult than another would have to deal with, say a richer person or a celebrity. Such is not the case, for it tries to equate apples and oranges. Some people thrive in rough working conditions, others do not, and some rich people and celebrities seem to have everything going their way yet they can struggle with emotional problems and addictions where the other person does not. What is easy for me may not be easy for you.

We acknowledge that people have different physical attributes that affect what one can or cannot do. Given this, why is it so difficult to extend this line of thinking to how people think and feel or how they deal with circumstances? It should not be, if one is being honest and not conditional. We can spend a lot of time debating this, but to a person facing challenges they can seem huge. Is it harder to deal with hard physical work with low pay or for the celebrity who seems to have it all but has emotional or mental challenges that has them depressed all the time? There is no right or wrong answer to this for not only is it relative it is highly subjective. One persons molehill may be another's mountain. 

For example, let us consider two people working on personal growth. One, a person who is just starting out, struggles with everything and finds the path arduous and emotionally painful, yet they continue to work at their issues. The other person is wiser, more knowledgeable and appears to have everything under control though they too have issues they are working on, they just seem smaller compared to the first person.

Now, let us say that both are working hard but can only deal with about 10% of their issues. The first person appears to have much more to deal with; therefore, their 10% is appears much bigger than the second persons is. Does this mean that they are doing more and that the second person has an easier path? If one went by volume this would certainly be the case; however, they are actually both doing the same amount relative to what they have and clearing issues at a deeper level is harder. Each can be working equally hard to deal with their issues rendering comparisons essentially meaningless.

When we are working on self-development, we are changing. This change can happen gradually or quickly, it all depends on many factors, including what we are working on, how fundamental the changes are and how connected the aspects we change are to our daily lives. The intensity and focus of one’s growth work can affect not just how quickly we change, but also how significant the change is. Over the years, I have observed people change gradually, almost imperceptibly; others undergo huge shifts in major aspects of their lives.

One would think that change is always a good thing, and it is; however, some changes can affect us in unexpected ways and cause upheaval in our lives. Significant change can also be a problem, especially if what changes is in areas we have not yet dealt with. For example, if we are working on being more dependable, and succeed, we may not notice a great deal of change in ourselves, though our lives might run smoother and we may feel more able to handle the stresses and strains of life. On the other hand, if we change how we relate to people we may find that the people in our lives now view us differently. This can significantly change our personal relationships as some people may simply move away from us; others may treat us differently and so forth.

There is no way to predict how a change we make in ourselves will affect our lives, nor the degree of the change. This is because we really do not know what lies under the hood, that is the gap between what we our consciously aware of and what we are not. Many liken the growth process to the peeling of an onion. You work on one layer and then find another and another. If we are committed to growth.

Certainly, there are the obvious issues and challenges we all have. We are likely aware of some of them to one degree due to personal observation or what others have helped us see about us. We can work on our attitude towards others or ourselves, we can work on our self-esteem or our compassion, strengthening our sense of personal responsibility or our honesty. When it comes to how this affects our lives, the degree of change and impact on us, how far and deep we have chosen to go in our growth is the biggest factor.

Are we trying to make adjustments so that we are more comfortable or so that we feel safer and more in control? Are we at the point where we want and need to make deeper and more fundamental changes or are intent on doing all we can to become the person we imagine we would like to be? We should be asking these questions of ourselves. Often it comes down to what is triggering us to change it not only affects how much we devote ourselves to it but also to the degree of impact it has in our lives. 

People have said to me that many people want to learn and that what I write about will help those that have chosen this path. I believe this to be true; however, the growth path is not something that one commits to overnight. This is true for most people; unless one finds they must change something because their lives are a struggle or they face significant issues if they do not. In such a case, it may be necessary to change or discard whole aspects of themselves in order for them to move on or to get to a place where they can find some balance and happiness.

Even those who choose to take the path of making what appear to be minor adjustment can find themselves facing significant change in their lives. The reason is, any change to us will affect some aspect our relationship with the world and that change is unpredictable. This is one reason why people can be reluctant to change.


Making a Choice


It is hard to not look forward and imagine how what we change will affect us. If, when we imagine the changes, we do not like what we see we may avoid making that change even though we do not know that what we imagine will actually come about. However, if we are serious about change we need to focus on what we feel we need to change and not on the potential outcomes of it. Otherwise, what we are seeking to do is simply find a way to get around our issues rather than resolve them. If this is the case then there are other things to work on before taking bigger steps (1) (2).

The depth and breadth of our rational mind is far greater than we imagine. Further, as I have mentioned, we do not actually know how its various aspects affect us. For this reason, we do not actually know what the consequences of the changes we make are or will be. The results of our growth work can be unpredictable and we may find ourselves with even bigger challenges than we imagined or expected. Given that there is no way to predict the changes, I believe that the best approach is to take a holistic view of ourselves and not just focus our growth in one area.

By holistic approach, I am referring to self-examination and assessment (as best we can) across a number of areas. For example, if we are working on being less reliant on the opinions of others we will also need to work on our self-esteem for if we become less reliant on others we need to be able to feel some degree of self-reliance. Without this, we can find ourselves feeling helpless. This can happen because we did not realize how much of our view of ourselves was dependent on others.

Some of the areas of self that we need to develop are those such as our level of self-esteem, how we view others and how dependent we are on them, our self-confidence and what it is based on, our innate will and belief in our spirit and even what we believe we are and the purpose of life itself. Many who walk the growth path find themselves disconnected from the world around them, especially if one is working on honesty and accepting personal responsibility for all that happens to them.

Changes to our level of honesty and acceptance of responsibility can have the most significant effect on our relationships. When we become more honest and our clarity of thought improves, we start to view others differently. Those who work on their honesty or accepting more personal can then find themselves challenged by a perceived lack of these two traits in others. This can result in trust issues and a sense of isolation from the world around us. Feelings of superiority can arise and we can find ourselves becoming judgmental. We may find ourselves thinking that we know what others need to do to change and how beneficial it would be if they did. We may even wonder why they are lying about various things and can find ourselves challenging them in regards to their honesty, if not in word then silently within our own minds. What can also happen is others will relate to us differently.

When we change others notice this change, generally non-consciously, but they do nonetheless. If they have honesty challenges, for example, they may begin to withhold information, become reluctant to share or simply move away from us. They may not even realize it, or they may move away because the relationship is no longer in our or their best interests and they are not yet ready to make such changes in themselves. The results to us are the same, we can feel a loss and the degree of disconnect we feel can grow.


End of a Relationship


In part, this is because while we have worked on our honesty and now have a higher level, we may not have worked on one very important aspect of personal growth. That aspect is the degree of conditionality in our relationships with others. The fact that we have chosen to change does not mean others have that need or requirement. Do we love and care for others for a particular reason or simply love without conditions? If we have more of the former of these two, our challenge will increase.

Dealing with our conditionality, our codependence, can be tough. The road less travelled does come with challenges as well as great delight and joy. It does take a special kind of person to walk it, one who is self-confident, who does not look to others as a measure of themselves and one who is interdependent. As you work towards your goals remember to pay attention to these qualities and try to develop them as well. This is one place where it helps to have faith in something or in a purpose greater than ourselves. The view that life is about us, the "I" or our ego makes this road harder. When our view of life is merely based on our physical existence, we can feel lonely and abandoned. It helps to feel and believe that this is so and not just think it is so. The thought alone is often insufficient to give us comfort when we are challenged in this way. I strongly advise that people consider this as they work on their growth.

Everyone is working on things at their own pace, just as we are. I am a firm believer in the old saying of “if we could have and should have we would have”. They have their path and we have ours (3). We must respect this, not because we “have to”, rather because we all are experiencing and learning what we need to regardless of what others might think. People can only change when they are willing, ready and able to. We should avoid judging them because we may think otherwise. We can do this, but this only leads us to another growth point.

We can deal with our sense of separation in several ways. We can work on bolstering our self-reliance and esteem, reducing our degree of conditionality and accept what I have stated, that we all have our own path and will make change at our pace, not one set by others. If we truly love others, then we must allow people this freedom even if we do not like the impact it has on us.

I spoke to this in the essay “Our Evolution” (4), which concluded with the following passage:

So, the next time you observe someone, including yourself, and you begin to judge actions remember this. When you choose to try to help or assist them, elevate your thoughts above the consequences of their actions, hard as this may be, and try to see the element that has been added to their beaker. We must not add our judgments into the mix, which is why the great spiritual teaches focus on the mechanisms, the thoughts and ideas that lead to certain conditions and not on the outcomes themselves. If we can do this, if we you can then step beyond our judgments even at times, we can help the person to see the source or "cause" of what led them to do whatever it is they did. They must recognize it and then understand it to move past it. We can not make them or force them to do so. If we can see how their experiences are important to their evolution, even if we view them as harmful then we can better aid them on their path.


Observing Others


If, as we grow and change, we find our relationships with others shifting and can react emotionally to it. For this reason, we should focus on why we reacted that way rather than on the impact of it on us. Life is change; it is a constant, even if we do not see it. We are like a car rolling down the highway. We may notice when we go from flat lands, through the foothills and into the mountains, but we likely do not notice the gradual shift in types of trees or plants as we traverse that path. It is the same for us, small changes occur continually, we may only notice something if the change is dramatic.

How we deal with the traumatic changes tells us whether we have been growing in a holistic fashion or focusing on just one area. As you grow, try to avoid focusing on just one aspect, make sure you are listening to your whole life and not just one aspect of it. We need to work on more than one area and can become unbalanced if one aspect takes precedence over all others. Do not be afraid to slow down the work you are doing on your main issues or challenges so that you can develop other aspects of yourself as you go. Try not to see balance in our life as only a goal, see it as part of your approach. Too much of a good thing does not necessarily help us.

When changes become too much to handle then there are other areas where we need to grow. We should shift our attention as I suggested above. Large shifts can affect us emotionally, and not in a positive way. At this point, we must accept our new reality for there is no going back. Further, we may not be able to see what the other areas(s) are and this can lead to additional frustration and stress. We should consider how much work we have put into our growth, even feel joyous from our efforts rather letting ourselves focus on the negative emotions we may be feeling at the time.

At this point, a good choice would be to take a little time out from our growth work. We should acknowledge the good work done so far and celebrate it.  This will help solidify what we have accomplished and give us the opportunity to recharge our batteries and reset our direction and goals in light of the changes we have experienced. It serves no purpose to fight our lives; we must become one with it. Try to be patient with yourself, as well as kind, loving and forgiving even with what you may perceive as faults. Remember, we are working to grow and it is a process and not a destination. All is as it should be, regardless of what we might think or where we would rather be. We are where we are for a reason, and each lesson we learn is one we need to.



© 2011 Allan Beveridge

 Last updated May 18, 2020


References (*- denotes essays only available to site members):

  1. *Experience as a Teacher
  2. Listening to Our Lives
  3. Finding Your Path
  4. Our Evolution