We recently posted the tweet, “Discovering the Self depends on abandoning the self, not improving it,” and then felt that it was important to say a little more on the subject. The tweet itself was inspired by the proliferation of internet gurus who promote self-improvement that masquerades as spirituality. Don’t get us wrong, we have no issue with self-improvement and have participated in quite a bit of it ourselves (some might argue it didn’t take, but that’s another story).  The problem occurs when our ultimate goal becomes improving this life and we confuse that with spiritual awakening.

This problem is created by a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the universe and our place in it. Most of the teachers who use self-improvement and spirituality as synonyms believe that the world and humans in particular, were created so Ultimate Reality could experience and express through it. We understand that this is a commonly held belief, and if these teachers are correct, it would make sense to create the best life you could. After all, you would want the Divine to enjoy the finest possible experience. But if they’re correct, that also means that Ultimate Reality must also be OK with the misery, horror and suffering we regularly experience on earth and has no problem using us to experience it again and again. This view, and the concept that God is love, cannot be reconciled.

The problem is often compounded when teachers misinterpret quantum research. Yes, it’s true that the interaction of consciousness and energy potential bring matter into existence. But they’re mistaken in their belief that our intentions are a magic wand given to us by Ultimate Reality to create our greatest vision of ourselves. That’s not to say intention combined with action can’t bring about results. However, what happens in this world is the result of shared consciousness working through a dualistic thought system that operates rather like the lottery. This arrangement results in a few who are special at the expense of the many that are not because your intentions are competing with billions of others.

Running parallel to self-improvement is the current popular view that enough good intentions (hopefully accompanied by positive action) will bring about a utopian world where all living things are given the respect and necessities of life they deserve. Again, don’t get us wrong, no action backed by love for others is ever wasted and certainly contributes to the overall good. We get involved in global issues too, however, it’s easy to confuse fixing the earth’s problems with spiritual awakening if we don’t have a clear understanding of what awakening means.

When spiritual masters talk about the self vs. the Self, they’re actually differentiating between an illusion (self) and reality (Self). These masters recognize that the body and personality are illusions, virtual realities, we project to experience separation and specialness. Instead of teaching that Ultimate Reality is participating with us in this experience, they say the Divine is patiently and lovingly waiting for us to wake up from the mistake we made when we chose separation over oneness. As the Bhagavada Gita plainly states, “The Lord does not partake in the good and evil deeds of any person.”

The ancient Kena Upanishad tells us, “The Self is realized in a higher state of consciousness when you have broken through the wrong identification that you are the body, subject to birth and death. To be the Self is to go beyond death.” To remember who we really are, we must lay aside the dualistic thought system that creates our world of separation, and once again begin thinking with the One Mind we share with Ultimate Reality. This is the goal set out for us by spiritual masters like Jesus who encouraged his followers to “seek first the kingdom” because they were “no part of this world.”  And Rumi who said, “The second you stepped into this world of existence a ladder was placed before you to help you escape.”

When we substitute self-improvement and fixing the earth for spiritual awakening, it’s as if we’ve taken Rumi’s ladder, planted vines and flowers on it, and turned it into a trellis. It looks nice, but it can’t serve the purpose it was meant for.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely we will escape and wake up to reality as the Self if we’re directing our efforts at improving the self. Of course it suits the self to have attention directed toward it and away from the Self. Teachers who direct our attention toward the body and the earth may say that we are spirits having a human experience, but they have missed the point that this was not the experience the Divine created us to have. As we wake up, we realize just how valueless the self is, and that is has done nothing for us except keep us chained to a cycle of birth and death that’s ultimately unfulfilling. In contrast, the Bhagavada Gita promises, “He who has become liberated in this life gains liberation in death and is eternally united with [Source] the Absolute Reality. Such a seer will never be reborn.”

To learn more about science and spirituality, download sample chapters of our book The Beginning of Fearlessness: Quantum Prodigal Son, or sign up for a free video eCourse “Obstacles to Spiritual Growth” we invite you to visit http://www.thebeginningoffearlessness.com