I saw a tweet from Deepak Chopra a few days ago, and it grabbed my attention. It simply stated ‘Heal yourself. Heal the world.” I know enough about myself to know that this kind of injunction both appeals to and frustrates me. I Iove his work and who isn’t inspired by his deep level of expertise and his wisdom? It leaves obvious questions however; what do you do with a statement like this, and what relevance could it have in mainstream life?
The very word ‘heal’ is, to my mind, distracting. It implies there is something wrong. The first thing to do is to reframe it, and my first thought in helping to do this was the work of David Ricoh. In his groundbreaking 1991 book How to be an Adult he writes, “By psychological work we are changed. In spiritual work we are revealed.” As a coach and leadership development expert, and a long-term meditation and transpersonal student, I like this distinction, and I began to make some tentative connections to mainstream leadership and personal development.
Then I remembered James Hollis, another Jungian flavoured psychoanalytic writer. He begins his 2006 book Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life with the statement “Sometimes, to our dismay, we find that we have been living someone else’s life”. Once this shocking reality has been recognised, choosing to live ones own personal and professional life becomes imperative.
This took me next to the world of authentic leadership, which is based on acting in ways that are consistent and congruent with the best parts of who we think we are. The true self is often thought of as our authentic self. This is what we hope will be revealed to us, the spiritual work according to David Ricoh.
Slowly things started to piece together, and the idea started to form that the psychological and spiritual work, based around the quest to live our own lives, to be authentic, is transformative (healing) for us and in turn for those we live and work with.
The idea continued to percolate, and to develop. Adult development theory is based on research that finds that we can continue to grow and change throughout our lifetime and even right up until our last breath. Stages of our adult lives have been written about and defined over recent decades from Torbert, Rooke, Graves, Cook-Greuter, Wilber, and many more. We develop as an adult through these defined stages, until we choose not to. We do this through the combination of psychological and spiritual development, catalysed for the most part by life experience.
But this highlights a paradox. How can we reveal our true self if we have the constant potential to develop, because our sense of ourselves will never be complete? Maybe instead we will experience a series of true selves that we have the chance to evolve and refine over time as life’s twists and turns take us into and out of challenges. If we do have a true self, it could be who we are at the final stage of our adult development, which by the way the vast majority of us will never get close to reaching.
This leaves being authentic as a current state rather than an overarching lifetime identity. What is authentic about us now may not be so in five years time. I cannot be today what I have yet to grow into, and I don’t want to be now who I used to be. We could therefore hold on to our authentic identity too tightly. I can only live my life as fully and congruently as I am today. This can be a scary idea. That what we hold dearly to be true today, may become a discarded belief in the future. It also takes away the ridiculous pressure to find your true self, as the task becomes to work out, with today’s sense of who we are, what we really do think and feel about something, and to act with as much integrity as we can bring to the situation.
The ongoing psychological work that underpins this constant growth is developmental and change making; by doing this work we increase our levels of psychological self-awareness and emotional literacy, and as a result get better at relational work. Our behaviours improve and our impact deepens. We learn different thinking strategies, and our shadow work brings to our awareness our biases and our wounds from the past so that we can address them.
Our ongoing spiritual work reveals us to ourselves; our layers are peeled back over many years to reveal hitherto unknown aspects of who we are. We do this with contemplation, meditation, and reflection on our values, attitudes and beliefs. We read material to inform and challenge rather than to reinforce what we already think. We reframe, grieve for what we have to let go of, and if we have to enter the dark night of the soul we do so with as much courage and vulnerability as we can muster.
Maybe this is the healing work that Chopra talks about. It is deeply transformative, and is the greatest service that we can offer. It shapes us into mature, composed and ‘real’ adults, and into genuinely influential and highly effective leaders. Why wouldn’t we want to start?