Stirring the water doesn’t help it settle

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger

But this is what the self-help industry at large is up to. It’s up to giving us ‘strategies’ and ‘methods’ to ‘fix’ our mental/spiritual state so that we get into a more ‘positive’ place (a lot of air quotes there, intentionally).

If you’re reading this post, you’re likely into personal development. If I were to ask you what you’re seeking in your journey, you might say something like…

A sense of security.
To feel at home in myself.
A deeper sense of calm.
Greater presence.
To become more connected to myself and the world. 
Freedom of movement, in a sense.
An insight rich state of being.

And I’d have to agree with you. It’s why my bookshelf at home has one main section: self-help/spirituality. Because I once believed I needed them to get me to an inner state that resembled the qualities above (and still sometimes do).

But I started seeing, more and more, that these qualities showed up when the last thing on my mind was ‘improving myself’.

That deep sense of well-being that I was seeking would arise when I least expected it. While I was present in my life, not caught up in my head.

I saw that the problem wasn’t in getting somewhere I’d never been before, but in getting back to a naturally settled state that was at the core of my being.

I saw the human lot, not as original sin, but original grace. That my well-being is part of my design, not something I had to gain access to through some 7-step process.

In life, we unknowingly teach ourselves to drift away (or run away) from this space. And when we start trying to ‘improve’ ourselves, what we do is fill it with good ideas, activities, etc. thinking they’ll bring us the thing we already have.

But the more we do, the worse it gets.

The metaphor of the pond works perfectly here. For some reason, we metaphorically stir the waters of the mind harder the more we try to get it to clear up. After all, it feels productive, right? The ego feels like it’s doing something.

But at some point, we have to stop. And when our arm gets tired of stirring, we might lie back on our jacket at the side of the pond and take a nap. We might look up at the sky and notice the divinely intelligent pattern that the birds fly in. Or ponder that thing we forgot at the store. Again.

And when we sit back up to stir some more, we’ll see that the water is clear. It’s the damndest thing, isn’t it?


I now recognize my stirring. I see that the work I’ve been doing to get out of some contrived broken state is a futile exercise. Because at my core, underneath the swirling waters, lies a calm so deep and serene that nothing can agitate it. That said, I also see that stirring the waters is my human nature. So beating myself up over it doesn’t help. And if it makes me feel productive to stir, than stir I will. But nothing beats putting the stick down and realizing the transformative self-corrective pattern of the universe that I’m a small, yet infinite, part of. And so it is.