The Difference Between Spirituality & Self-Help in 1 Sentence.

Via on Nov 21, 2011

 

~ Quote by Ben Riggs

I do not care how Amazon.com or Barnes-&-Nobles discerns between spirituality and self-improvement. I am describing the actual movement—the real life attempt to fix yourself—not some section of a bookstore or system of classification authors are shoved into willy-nilly.

Fixing yourself is violent because it requires, first, a rejection of yourself, then, a brutal attempt to “improve” upon the aspect of yourself you have rejected or deemed unworthy. It is like plastic surgery for the soul. Except the “improvement” turns out to be nothing more than the violent installation of a foreign ideal. Self-help is an attempt to become what society, your parents, or some author or authority said you “should” be. While, spirituality is about allowing the totality of the human condition to express itself without mediation or censorship…over and over again.

To read more about the differences between spirituality and self-help click here.

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About Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist & Christian spirituality and politics for The Good Men Project, Elephant Journal, The Web of Enlightenment, and is the editor & chief for Henry Harbor--an online magazine concerned with art, culture, spirituality, & politics in the deep South. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Looking for a real bio? Click here to read my story....

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27 Responses to “The Difference Between Spirituality & Self-Help in 1 Sentence.”

  1. Janice says:

    Thank you Ben. I really needed to read this today! :)

  2. Hi, Ben. The problem with this formulation is not in the quotation, but rather in your gross stereotyping of "self-help." The best self-help methods have the very same objective as your spirituality does.

    Why do you insist on wanting to label all "self-help" methods as un-spiritual and unhealthy? Many of them are very spiritual and very healthy. One can only evaluate specific authors and ideas, since there is such vast variety under the label "self-help".

    Any statement disparaging "self-help" in general is going to be wrong and unfair, as would any similar denouncement of all spirituality.

    My own life has been greatly enhanced by many things labeled "self-help". There is some really good stuff in the self-help or personal growth genre, which I can embrace and highly recommend to others.

    Bob W. Editor, Elephant Journal
    Yoga Demystified
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    • BenRiggs says:

      "Why do you insist on wanting to label all "self-help" methods as un-spiritual and unhealthy? Many of them are very spiritual and very healthy. One can only evaluate specific authors and ideas, since there is such vast variety under the label "self-help"."

      Me and you have had this conversation too many times… You continue to try and engage me on the level of classification, while I am describing the dynamic.

      Buddhist books are often times labeled "self-improvement."I do not care how Amazon.com or Barnes-&-Nobles discerns between spirituality and self-improvement. I am describing the actual movement—the real life attempt to fix yourself—not some section of a bookstore or system of classification authors are shoved into willy-nilly.

      Fixing yourself is violent because it requires, first, a rejection of yourself, then, a brutal attempt to "improve" upon the aspect of yourself you have rejected or deemed unworthy. It is like plastic surgery for the soul. Except the "improvement" turns out to be nothing more than the violent installation of a foreign ideal. Self-help is an attempt to become what society, your parents, or some author or authority said you "should" be. While, spirituality is about allowing the totality of the human condition to express itself without mediation or censorship…over and over again.

    • BenRiggs says:

      I think a child learning to walk IS an example, best the best possible example, of growing out of your own enlightened potential. I think learning how to be a better multi-tasker or how to "manage" your emotions is self-improvement.

  3. Valeie Carruthers says:

    Perhaps the real difference between "self-help" or "personal growth" and spirituality is that spirituality is beyond the personal. The energy within spirituality transcends that of the small-s self. Its all embracing, so there's no possibility of violence.

    Llots of people begin to practice meditation or follow a guru figure, thinking that this will make them a better person. That approach may well grow out of the self-help mindset. Eventually they will see it's not about that. Some people undertake spiritual practices or" transformational" seminars with the aim of helping others. It's certainly not about that either. They will have to clear up their own identity crisis first. That, to me, is authentic self-help.

  4. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

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    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage. Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook.

  5. kathik says:

    One of my yoga teachers-in-training recently said “This (practice & training) is too hard to do just for selfish reasons.” Nice, huh?
    To me spirituality is dedicating your work to something greater (abyhasa, isvara pranidhana) without regard for “outcome” (vairagya).
    I agree w Ben, self-help is often judgment-based, fear-motivated and can feed the ego-system, which we’re trying to see beyond

  6. yogijulian says:

    i do not agree ben. healing and growth always require a very nuanced and layered deconstruction of defenses and habits and coping mechanisms so as to become more authentic, emotionally honest, undefended, in touch with ourselves and able to be both intimate with others and the world and live more congruently with who we actually are…

    developmentally processes and healing need not imply self aggression – in fact just the opposite.

    too often spirituality that leaves out deep personal work in the name of transcending the ego, rising about emotions, being enlightened now, radically accepting yourself etc ends up enacting an unconscious aggression against the very parts of us that benefit the most from the kinds of work that the best self help/psychotherapeutic/mind-body processes have to offer.

    • Well put, Julian. Different people need different things and at different times in their lives.

      For some radical self-acceptance and avoiding "self-help" might be just exactly what they need.

      Others might need a lot of self-help type basic emotional skill building to even have a chance of overcoming the internal obstacles they have to accepting themselves.

      This might sound contradictory, but in my opinion, many people can't just turn on a switch and be spiritual and self-accepting. They need to engage in some personal skill development, or self-help, to get there.

      Bob

      • yogijulian says:

        bingo.

        • BenRiggs says:

          "live more congruently with who we actually are."
          How is that different that "growing out of your own enlightened potential?

          • yogijulian says:

            i don't know ben you're the one making the distinctions. for myself i think psychological work and spiritual work are technically the same thing – especially as one deconstructs the over-literalized dualistic myths that unwittingly rend us in two.

            perhaps the difference turns on how one conceives of "who we actually are." many dualistic spiritual systems suggest that we are something other than our human selves – that we are some kind of eternal, supernatural soul that is under the illusion of mortality, material existence etc….. this trickles down into an idea of growth that is about overcoming the supposed illusion of our human needs, fears, feelings, histories etc and a notion of enlightenment that takes certain altered states as "evidence" of "who we actually are" being something other than our human experience.

            a more existentially honest, integrated, psychologically informed point of view might say that who we actually are is a biological organism with emotional needs, a mortal existence and a longing for congruity and integration that partially rests upon facing and accepting vulnerability, death and reality itself. from this perspective many spiritual systems are a kind of delusional defense against the real work of coming to terms with "who we actually are"

            some people (like many transpersonalists) do a pretty decent integration of these two perspectives, but remain in thrall to some ultimate belief in the supernatural transcendent literalized vision of enlightenment, godhead etc…. my sense is that there is actually a further step i which one self-empowers beyond this fantasy and truly embraces "who we actually are" instead of maintaining wishful thinking and denial of reality.

          • Ben Riggs says:

            "Who we actually are is a biological organism with emotional needs, a mortal existence and a longing for congruity and integration that partially rests upon facing and accepting vulnerability, death and reality itself."

            I totally agree. Just like a seed our biological life cycle unfolds and spirituality is nothing more than a process of submitting and surrendering to this unavoidable truth through complete and total participation.

            It seems to me that self-help is an attempt to define or pin down the life cycle as certain thing or having certain qualities, and force the movement of our life to conform to these qualities.

          • yogijulian says:

            i am not sure i understand your definition of self help – i think at it's best self help literature is about becoming aware of psychological patterns and learning to work with them more consciously and effectively – which is basically a kind of spiritual practice.

            can you tell me more about what you are identifying (perhaps with some examples) as this spiritually antithetical self help?

          • BenRiggs says:

            Most fundamentalist forms of religion are what I would consider self-help. This pops up in Buddhism, Yoga, Christianity, and everything else under the sun. Any moralistic approach is a form of what I am calling self-help. When the practice becomes something that is meant to mold us into something else then I think it is self help.

            " i think at it's best self help literature is about becoming aware of psychological patterns and learning to work with them more consciously and effectively – which is basically a kind of spiritual practice."

            Moving beyond the psychological patterns is what I would call spiritual. Discovering psychological spontaneity and reconnecting with our emotional and biological life is what I would call spiritual, but in reality there is nothing "spiritual" about it. It is totally human.

            Self-help tries to take those troubling patterns and rework them into more efficient behaviors and patterns. The effects are more successful, but we are still caught in a psychological loop.

            As I said in the post, I am talking about literature or a particular category or group of practitioners. I am talking about a trend that is present in all forms of religion, psychology, etc because we all have a tendency to be hard on ourselves.

          • yogijulian says:

            well if fundamentalist religion is part of what you mean by self help, i think the vast majority of people reading this article will misunderstand you, because generally the term refers to a genre of books (some terrible and some fantastic) designed to support people in doing personal psychological work by reading and exploring them "self."

            i hear yo perhaps pointing out a kind of violence against ourselves that tries to improve or change or fix instead of embracing, accepting and letting go into our true nature, ya? i think this is a valuable perspective and tool…

          • BenRiggs says:

            Yes fundamentalist religion is a part of it. But it is not what I am talking about. I am talking about the way of relating to ourselves that splits our self in half then looks to reject our darker side in order to become an idea.

            Perhaps you are right to say, "if fundamentalist religion is part of what you mean by self help, i think the vast majority of people reading this article will misunderstand you, because generally the term refers to a genre of books…" But even though you maybe right, I am shocked. I literally said in the post and comment section, "I do not care how Amazon.com or Barnes-&-Nobles discerns between spirituality and self-improvement. I am describing the actual movement—the real life attempt to fix yourself—not some section of a bookstore or system of classification authors are shoved into willy-nilly."

            "i hear you perhaps pointing out a kind of violence against ourselves that tries to improve or change or fix instead of embracing, accepting and letting go into our true nature, ya?"
            Yep. That is all I have been pointing out. Nothing else. I have not been trying to get people to stop buying self-help books. Hell Pema Chodron is in the self-help category sometimes.

  7. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage. Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook. xoxo

  8. Katie says:

    Yogijulian makes the most sense to me. Ben's definition felt judgemental, as if I shouldn't try to self-help.I think the whole question is so much bigger than either learning to truly love yourself, or trying to become who or what you think you are supposed to be. Both definitions lack the greater spirituality of seeing beyond the self.

  9. doug says:

    "Spirituality" is being God or Spirit centered & service oriented. "Self-help" is being self-centered and self-serving.

    Either way has it's place. But there is a vast difference! :)

    • Hi, Doug. I personally can't separate the two. Most of us have considerable psychological issues to work on before we even have a chance of relaxing into the infinite wonder of pure spirituality.

      So, from a practical perspective, I think self-help is intimately connected to discovering one's larger Spiritual Self. At least that's the way it is for me.

      Most good self-help methods have as their primary goal simply to make one more psychologically sound, to enhance one's basic skills for coping with life, which I think is a requirement for being truly spiritual.

      Bob W. Editor, Elephant Journal
      Yoga Demystified
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  10. Excellent Post! Thanks!

  11. craigholliday says:

    And can we give ourselves to something greater than ourselves?

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