Wednesday 26 October 2016

Katie Byrne: Trying to find ourselves we can end up lost in our own egos

In trying to find ourselves we can end up lost in our own egos

Published 03/01/2016 | 02:30

Features writer Katie Byrne
Features writer Katie Byrne

The self-help industry in the US is worth an estimated $10bn per year. It's a little difficult to estimate the corresponding figure in Ireland, but it's fairly safe to conclude that I've contributed several hundred euro to it.

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Reading self-help, like visiting the tanning salon and enjoying The Late Late, is not something that people readily confess to these days. However, I'm not ashamed to admit that I've been reading, and recommending, this genre since my late teens and I sometimes think I'd still be at the starting stalls if I didn't.

I don't like the term self-help, though. It makes me think of Yanks with preposterously white teeth and grandiose book titles in the style of Get Everything You Want Without Doing a Thing.

I prefer to think of this genre as self-development - just as I like to divide the authors at its helm into sages and charlatans.

They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but I think I've done a fairly good job of disproving that wisdom.

Some of these authors have access to the sacred wisdom and some of them have about as much insight as the Aertel horoscopes page.

Decent self-development books don't make outlandish claims. It's unlikely that you'll change your life in seven days and the only real self-help 'secret' is the fact that authors put the word on their cover to boost sales. 'Miracle', 'transform', 'instant' and 'now' are equally persuasive.

The other way to separate the quacks from those with credibility is to look out for egomaniacal tendencies. Are they pictured on the front of the book and, if so, to what degree has their image been Photoshopped? Do they tell you everything they've achieved in the first chapter? Has their brand become bigger than their message? Most self-development authors advise us to release ourselves from the grip of the ego, yet many of them are still there themselves.

There is an egoistic stage of the spiritual-seeker's journey that tends to go undiscussed. It generally happens at the first glimpse of enlightenment and it is marked by self- absorption, megalomania and, in rarer cases, Messiah Complex.

They begin to think that they are better/purer/wiser than those around them, and they become highly insufferable - and slightly hysterical - as they spread the good word. Think of the friend that can't listen to your problems without offering a trite piece of bumper sticker wisdom and remember the hairdresser whose eyes became slightly glazed as she proselytised about The Secret and how she used it to manifest a free Burger King. Mercifully, most people transcend this phase, but some unfortunate souls stay there.

It is at this point that the self-development author invests in a white linen kaftan and starts performing quasi-mystical hand gestures whenever he's photographed.

It is also at this point that the casual self-development reader becomes a fully-fledged disciple - with increasingly delusional expectations.

I went to a meditation event in Los Angeles recently. The teacher told us to get into a circle after which she asked each of us to share with the group what it was that we wanted to gain from the experience.

The answers were fairly standard - rest, rejuvenation, guidance - until the turn came to a tall, slightly bug-eyed blonde woman in her 40s. "Immortality," she said without even the faintest blush.

The other problem with self-development readers of this ilk is that they don't take the time to absorb or integrate the wisdom of the book they just read. They get straight into the next one, and the next one, and the next one... It's like a dog chasing its tail.

It's also wise to remember that self-development is an inherently self-centred pursuit. People use it to manifest love, money and career opportunities without giving much thought to the needs of those around them. Likewise, I've never seen a vision board that imagines a beautiful future for anyone other than the person who made it.

Many people will be visiting the Mind, Body, Spirit section of their local bookstore this month. If you're one of them, be mindful that the ego takes many forms.

If that doesn't work, you could try the mantra I started using when I realised that my self-development habit was breeding self-absorption: "Get over yourself, love"…

Self-improvement isn't a quick fix. Like everything else, it takes hard work, dedication and consistency. Humility helps too.

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