Personal growth can look different for everyone.
At its core, it is a natural and ongoing process of our human existence. If you are reading this article, you could view this as part of your personal growth.
According to yoga philosophy, we have five bodies or sheaths that cover the Self. In the yogic language of Sanskrit, these sheaths are called the koshas, and the Self is called the atman. The five sheaths include the food body, breath body, mind-body, intellectual body, and bliss body.
In yoga philosophy, personal growth can be seen as removing the illusions that created these sheaths. We can get bound to these coverings, making us feel stuck, uninspired, and afraid to act. The coverings can feel so “real” that we allow them to have power over our true Self. The ancient yogic text, The Bhagavad Gita, says that,
“The soul is indestructible and eternal (2.18)… It does not suffer, nor can it be tainted (2.22)… Weapons cannot pierce it, fire cannot burn it, water cannot moisten it and wind cannot dry it (2.23). It is impenetrable, incombustible, all-pervading, stable and immobile (2.24).”
The blocks that the koshas create are just a layer that needs to be peeled off in order to live more from our true Self. Personal growth could be described as coming into contact with what the layer is, learning about it, figuring out the best way to remove it, and acting with that knowledge. Since our samskaras, impressions of the mind, have been activated repeatedly throughout our lives, we need to monitor the clever koshas so that they do not glue back on to cover the atman. The goal would be to stay steady in the process of keeping the layer removed and to feed what is coming from the true Self.
To say it simply, we know we are acting from the true Self when we are not suffering. We feel a sense of purity—connecting to the ever-flowing current of love. We are in the flow, accepting everything just as it is, and we see beauty and imperfections with equanimity. There is a sense of openness, flexibility, and attraction to the wisdom of oneness.
Living an engaged life, we experience this continuous process of growth as coming in waves. The illustration below represents this energetic process of growth. We are moving along in life, and suddenly, something has changed. We recognize something intrinsic and/or extrinsic has come into our awareness, and we are no longer the same as we were a few minutes ago.
As a person on the path of awakening, I can see that I have been experiencing this personal growth cycle all throughout my life. Yoga found me when I was 22 years old, and it opened me up to seeing life in this rhythmic cycle.
Throughout my 20s, I struggled with tendinitis in my wrists, then knees, then neck pain, and a variety of other health challenges. With each one, I brought a willingness to learn, grow, and use my power to take back my health. With this mindset, I have healed many of the health challenges I experienced and significantly reduced the chronic pain I have felt by being open to this growth cycle.
While the soul does not tire, the body and mind do. Growing can take an enormous amount of energy as the impressions of the mind, samskaras, are being updated; the cellular memory in the body is cleansing and changing and all of one’s koshas are being affected to embrace this new awareness. This period of work is part of the natural flow of personal growth.
With all of this productive expenditure of energy, these waves of growth need to follow with some rest. In this period of rest, the new awareness becomes clear, assimilates within, and becomes a new action to practice. After enough practice, it will become the “new way” and feel almost effortless.
In my life, the periods of learning were often followed by profound manifestations of my dreams, amazing opportunities, and tremendous joy and gratitude. At these times, I could see why the hardships needed to enter my life, as I came out stronger, more resilient, humble, wiser, and more loving.
Going through the challenges actually brought me to a deeper state of peace and a brighter radiance than I ever had before.
This cycle of personal growth continues to occur throughout the lifespan, in as many lifetimes as needed, until the true Self is fully realized. The personal growth illustration reminds us that there will be waves of loving work to remove who we are not. Thankfully, these will be followed by more peace, where we can rest and assimilate what has occurred within and around us.
As my singer-songwriter yoga student Daniel James Vinett sings, “Life comes in waves.”