I have said it before and I will say it again: Self-help isn’t a bad thing and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it! Yet, for many people – including myself at various times in my life – the “problem” with self-help lies in our endless searching and never finding. We think the next course, the next mentor or the next book will have THE answer. We never let ourselves arrive. We never let ourselves relax. We interact with self-help as if we are eternally missing something.
In an ancient Sufi parable, a tinsmith is wrongly imprisoned. To bring comfort, his clever wife delivers a prayer rug to his jail cell. Each day he rests his head on the rug as he prays while lamenting his predicament and proclaiming his innocence. One day, something catches his eye. After weeks of being so close to the rug, he sees what he hasn’t noticed before. His wife has masterfully woven a secret design in the rug that contains the code to the lock on his jail cell.
Realizing his potential freedom, he bribes the guards to deliver him tools promising them trinkets they can sell for profit. Meticulously, he fashions a key to unlock his cell. And one day when the guards are off bragging about their trinkets, he escapes.
This parable has many lessons including our false imprisonment created by our self-imposed limitations. So often we examine our problems so closely and we miss the bigger picture.
Once the tinsmith sees the pattern, he begins to experience freedom. He then takes action, by cleverly and patiently obtaining the tools and material he needs, while having to bribe the guards and preoccupy them. He fashions a key and patiently waits for the right moment for his escape.
Then, when the time was right, he jumped into action – and found true freedom.
On the other hand, a self-help junkie would have:
• Become entranced with the pattern in the rug – wallowing in its beauty and intricacy – much the same way we get fascinated with our which leads to a fascination with our insights.
• Then, beat themselves up for not seeing the pattern right away.
• Looked at their past to see how it was they could have missed something so obvious – and placed the blame on their 3rd grade teacher who never gave them a chance.
• Lamented over the times when they doubted the love of their wife.
• Become concerned about the guards not liking them after they make their escape.
• Realized they felt safer imprisoned where the world is certain versus making their escape into an unpredictable world.
• Been so absorbed in the internal drama that they feel compelled to process their feelings so they tell the guards about their discovery.
The self-help junkie stays imprisoned in their insights, never allowing themselves to take action. And then, makes themselves wrong for that.
I re-tell this parable to bring perspective and poke fun at those of us who get caught in the endless cycle of trying to fix ourselves. When we realize we aren’t broken, and therefore can’t be “fixed” then true growth can happen. We all have things that stand in the way of our effectiveness and full self-expression. There is nothing wrong with wanting more clarity and freedom. We just need to realize that the length of time we stay in our self-imposed prison cell is up to us.