Self-Help is Bad for Us.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Apr 6, 2013
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pema chodron quote

Ki Ki, So So!

Today, I deleted a quote on elephant’s spirituality page that was typical Positivity. You know, “imagine what you want and you will be it” kinda thing. Here’s why:

“We have a fear of facing ourselves. That is the obstacle. Experiencing the innermost core of our existence is very embarrassing to a lot of people. A lot of people turn to something that they hope will liberate them without their having to face themselves. That is impossible. We can’t do that. We have to be honest with ourselves. We have to see our gut, our excrement, our most undesirable parts. We have to see them. That is the foundation of warriorship, basically speaking. Whatever is there, we have to face it, we have to look at it, study it, work with it and practice meditation with it.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa

So thank you, again, Trungpa Rinpoche, for having the sweet heart and good cheer to remind us all that we are fundamentally good—we don’t have to pretend to be so. We can be thoroughly cheerful, not just temporarily, conditionally, externally happy. We can afford to be generous to others, and we need not be afraid of being alone—or even loneliness. Half the yoga world, these days, is afraid of its own raw, naked heart.

“Warriorship is so tender, without skin, without tissue, naked and raw. It is soft and gentle. You have renounced putting on a new suit of armor. You have renounced growing a thick, hard skin. You are willing to expose naked flesh, bone, and marrow to the world.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa

We are, these days, consumed with petty lusts, professional jealousies, sexual doucheries. The examples held up in my town and on facebook and at conferences and expos are too often those who have made money, who can speak shamelessly about themselves, who are best at suckering others.

I am not of that clan. I am of the Mukpo clan, and we don’t f**k around. We are willing to stand tall, connecting to heaven—the realm of vision, inspiration, compassion—and earth—the notion of details, practicality—and we are willing to join heaven and earth in our hearts even as they break in a thousand sad fragments.

For it is through our own broken-heartedness that we remember compassion, and it is through generosity, not ego, that we discover true joy.

So this sadness I feel is good news—a hangover from a week spent longing for genuine happiness—when all I have to do is look around me at the love and sunshine and peace in my own home and among some of my friends.

~ Waylon H. Lewis
Boulder, Colorado
April 6th, 2013


For more, click:


“One of the main obstacles to fearlessness is our habitual patterns. Ordinarily, we don’t let ourselves experience ourselves fully. That is to say, we have a fear of facing ourselves. Experiencing the innermost core of their existence is embarrassing to a lot of people. We cannot do that. We have to be honest with ourselves. We have to see our gut, our most undesirable parts. We have to see that. That is the basis of conquering fear. We have to face our fear; we have to look at it, study it, work with it, and practice meditation with it.” ~ Chogyam Trungpa

Bonus, via @waylonlewis on Instagram:


“A tool is to be treated reverentially, for it symbolizes, in the most practical manner possible, the notion that whatever confusion or suffering lies ahead, we have within us the means to cope.”


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


34 Responses to “Self-Help is Bad for Us.”

  1. MichelleQuinlan says:

    i like this article. thank you very much.

  2. Tracy says:

    I couldn't agree more!! Thank you for posting this article! : )

  3. It is possible to be positive, deal with your own suffering and shadow, and be free from suffering. It is true, there is much fake positivity in the spiritual world. And the opposite is true too, some focus too much on the shadow side with their suffering, and become almost proud of it, while making everyone else wrong and making judgements. I personally choose to not put people into categories, there is much freedom in that.

  4. Shel Tofte says:

    "I am of the Mukpo clan, and we don’t fuck around. We are willing to stand tall, connecting to heaven—the realm of vision, inspiration, compassion—and earth—the notion of details, practicality—and we are willing to join heaven and earth in our hearts even as they break in a thousand sad fragments." — Waylon Lewis (Three years now I have been reading, reviewing, contemplating, and copying clips from varietal Elephant Journals. Free. This post, particularly re-pasted quote, propel payment for privilege, going forward. I do not know Mukpo clan, but my clan doesn't fuck around, too. Thanks for being Real, Waylon, and True. Deep Bow.)

  5. Lori Lothian says:

    A lot of the positivity mantras are aimed at the personality/ego which is never happy for long anyway and thrives on the quest to find happy. What is here all along, is neither happy nor sad. It simply is. That "isness" has a fragrance of delight, with notes of joy and peace. But still, those positivity posters make me smile.

  6. Drlaurel says:

    Great article. But the notion of one clan being better than another….it's separation and judgement…creating groups with opinions has killed people for all of history. I agree with your clan but I don't claim identity and separateness from it.

  7. Jack Elias says:

    Well said Waylon!!
    Jack Elias (of the Mukpo clan)

  8. Muks says:

    I don't see the link to self-help. I am in a self-help groups that supports facing our selves with all its beautiful and ugly bits. I read self-help books along with it and answer the book's questions. By the time the answers get deeper and truer. I am not trying to hold on to happiness, maybe I hope to be happier more of the time. Before doing so I have to accept myself and I know that.

  9. souldoula says:

    Yes. At the heart of much spiritual seeking is that same old little twitch that drives us to do most other things. That familiar deep-down anxious sense that I'm not okay and I have to fix it. This anxiety is our inheritance as humans. Integrity and impeccability have to do with full acceptance — which is not to say self-indulgence, or that we get a free pass. It's a commitment to honesty. Thanks for yours, WHL.

  10. elephantjournal says:

    Not sure where I said "we" are better than anyone else? Can you remind me?

    Our clan is not defined by blood, race, age, gender, class, creed…anyways. And our clan in any case would be happy to have your clan over for a picnic, how's tomorrow?

  11. elephantjournal says:

    There's nothing wrong with helping yourself, or kindness toward oneself. This is pointed at the notion that you can and must be other than you are, instead of more fully and directly and simply oneself.

  12. elephantjournal says:

    To quote Princess Bride, "I am not sure if that word means what you think it means."

    The problem isn't judgement—discernment, prajna, is helpful. The problem is prejudgement, preconception, an attachment to what we believe instead of what is.

  13. Maria says:

    Thanks for this post, Waylon. It hit the spot <3

  14. elephantjournal says:

    Suzanne: "the notion that we can "positively will ourselves into having whatever we want" is a bit of an ago trap. We are here to learn to be genuine and present to whatever is there; to become comfortable with and befriend ourselves as we are, imperfect, sometimes hurtful to ourselves and others. It's through seeing, owning and forgiving our own shortcomings that we free ourselves of false pride and ambitions. It's through experiencing the Dark Night of the Soul that we let go of the trappings of this world and begin the journey home."

  15. Andy says:

    I enjoy your writing Waylon. I wish EJ had more of it and less mediocre writing that comes from any joe schmo.

  16. elephantjournal says:

    Check that link to Mindfulness isn't Positivity, in the cartoon at the bottom, above–it's by another writer–we have so many worthwhile writers, but yes many of them get a bit lost in the mix, sometimes. It's a challenge we're working on. And, help us: contribute? anytime, would be our honor.

  17. Fleur says:

    The positivity quotes are simply another way to cling to some kind of "hope" that we can be "fixed." A wish to be better, brighter, bigger. They are tiresome. They sell hope when we could rather focus on acceptance – of who we are, of where are and of this moment. What ever works for you I guess, but thank you for deleting the quote, there is enough crap out there. Keep Ele real 🙂

  18. elephantjournal says:

    Amen. They're tylenol, but the root of the headache remains unaddressed.

  19. Mary says:

    LOVE IT. Middle ground, sometimes above it sometimes below.

  20. Sydney Solis says:

    So much white shadow out there in the yoga world, and then we hear it all blow up one day with sex scandals. Etc. Best to delve into your shadow and accept who you are! A fantastic book to read is Barbara Ehrenreich's "Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America." Love your dark side!

  21. Charlotte says:

    Love the breath of fresh air here. This philosophy of ruthlessly and tenderly getting to know who we are eventually widens to encompass our regard for others. It's often just as scary to accept others as they are, in all their variety and differing viewpoints, isn't it? This kind of objectivity can be very threatening to our sense of self. What a wonderful challenge this is!

  22. Paul says:


  23. Emily Perry says:

    Yes, yes, yes! Thank you for putting to words what I have been thinking… Big love!

  24. occultfan says:

    "we are fundamentally good—we don’t have to pretend to be so"

  25. yogaspace1 says:

    from ms. self-help, thanks for this. it is true – at the end of the day, it's about our own authenticity and it's not always "positive". =)

  26. Ashley says:

    beautiful, thank you.

  27. bill says:

    Maybe this is why writing is sometimes difficult. MAybe the bandaid gets ripped off and I am left in a sweating heap. Maybe the distraction of whateverin thehellis happening seems better than that sticky bandaid. MAybe seeing the inside is lets say a lot like a web encrusted cave that we know we have to get into. It starts well enough but then it darkens and and our torch isnt quite as bright as we like. Pretty soon its just us and the webs, and whatever is crawling about.
    Hell maybe I will write more. But I know I am apt to get a glimpse of something I may not like, but thats a chance I will have to take.

  28. Waylon – sweet article characteristically spattered with your irreverential humour, uncompromising warriorship and sweet insight. Thank you. Can you tell us the source for the tool quote at the end, please? As a woodworker, I am charmed 😉 Warm wishes, Edmund

  29. Alice McDaniel says:

    Lots of interesting quotes from wise folks.

    The title of this post hit me the wrong way. Self-help comes in many different forms, sizes and qualities. Aren't yoga and meditation forms of self-help?

  30. Jaime says:

    What this means to me is that "self help" is not about changing oneself but about working through the layers of habit and muck that we have accumulated throughout our lives in order to reach our true and raw selves. Thank you so much for this. I've always looked at it as needing to improve myself, I just needed to shift my perspective.

  31. Stephen Bushi says:

    Saying self help is bad for us is like saying attending school is bad; learning to read is bad; learning to ride a bike or car is bad; reading about Ghandi is bad; exercising is bad; being a vegan is bad; etc. We do these things to to broaden our horizons, and in the process usually feel we are a better person in some way for doing these things. Even if an active alcoholic talks with us about the value of soberiety, we can gain something to enrich our lives. Even reading an essay about the evils of self help has helped me.

  32. Bay says:

    All I know is that I have a sadness from losing love and I hold onto it. Otherwise, I take things for granted and get frustrated at the people sitting at green lights in front of me.

    Ha, "sexual doucheries".

  33. m_ma_belle says:

    I think it's different than that: going to AA out of knowing that alcoholism is harming oneself (and probably others) is not self-help, it's wisdom. Veganism out of painful compassion, knowing how much animals suffer unnecessarily for our own selfish aims is not self-help, it's compassionate action…The term "self-help" in this context, it's used in terms of anything artificially imposed to become a "good person," with the expectation to become a better person…this way of thinking, it's brilliant.

  34. Yahweh's Blanket says:

    Interesting, considering Chodron continues to return to her seated practice (self help technique?), and Trungpa was both an intense womanizer and alcoholic. The highly developed spiritual practices like weight-lifting… wait… seated meditation, chi gong, asana, etc, will continue to yield growth. There is a balance between growth and acceptance– no easy stuff here.