Updated: Jul 26
I'll admit, it sounds like a easy question. You may already be answering it without much thought. But I want to explore this question more deeply, because I think there’s more to it than we realize. I think it is a simple question with a clear answer, but not the answer we're used to.
There are many things we mistake as personal transformation which aren’t. True transformation is something we can miss when we're looking to the wrong things for change, in order to change the wrong things.
So, what is true transformation? Let’s start with what is commonly thought of as personal transformation, and go from there.
It’s not hard to pinpoint how personal transformation is commonly defined. All you have to do is watch television, paying close attention to commercials. What most commercials are selling is a kind of personal transformation. If you’ll notice, most commercials aren’t just selling stuff, they’re selling the good life. They’re trying to tell you what it means to be fulfilled, happy, and content. And what, according to these commercials, is the key to contentment? External acquirement. Maybe that concept sounds strange or unfamiliar to you, so let’s break it down.
External acquirement has to do with getting things. These things are external because they are, by definition, outside of you. You do not have them, and must get them in order to become a better person, or achieve a better life. That’s also the acquirement part. There is something you don't have and must get in order to be happy. But don’t think this just applies to material things. That's certainly part of it, but not the whole, because one can also acquire knowledge and relationship in their attempt towards self-improvement. The main idea behind external acquirement is a mentality of lack. We are not content as we are, with who we are, or where we are. We must get something or become something more in order to be fulfilled and content. With external acquirement, the key to contentment is always outside ourselves.
From commercials about college degrees to getting the latest tech, it all boils down to the same simple message; you are not happy because you do not have what you should. In the game of external acquirement, there’s always another hoop to jump through, thing to get, place to be, possession to own, or experience to have in order to be that better person. It is always a message of "more, more, more," masking a message of never enough. In this paradigm you are never enough, because you do not ever have enough. The problem is that, no matter how much you get, there is always more. There is always another peak past every mountain top you reach. It never stops. As soon as you get that next thing, or reach that next goal, another hundred seem to pop up just to let you know that, having arrived, you really haven’t. The common by-line of this mentality is, “if I could only….”, fill in the blank.
Keep in mind, all this is pursued in the spirit of contentment and fulfillment. That’s important, because there is a real truth behind that impulse. We all feel a real and present sense of lack. There is something missing in our lives, and we know it. The problem is that what’s missing isn’t more stuff. External acquirement is a false promise of fulfillment that never delivers the goods. Sadly, some spend their whole lives chasing external acquirement never figuring out it's false promise.
We all want to be fulfilled. We all desire contentment. The message proves enticing because it speaks to a real need. We are missing something. We don’t feel fulfilled. We understand on some level that something inside us is not right. We are often unhappy and discontent. But, it isn’t that hard to see that external acquirement isn't the solution.
What is the opposite of external acquirement? If getting more and more stuff is not the answer, then what is? The key is in the need we are trying to solve. What are we really trying to accomplish through external acquirement? We do not feel happy. We do not feel content. So, what is the key to contentment? What truly makes us happy? What is happiness itself? It is an internal state of being. It is not just something we feel, as an emotional or mental state. It is something that permeates us at the core of who we are. It is a state of being where we know that we have all we need. It is the lack of need, in way, a state of existing in a way that we somehow know that we are alright, and that the world is right.
When we chase fulfillment as something external, we find that we are ever running, and never fulfilled. But when we can settle down into the reality that we actually have all we need within ourselves, just by being ourselves, then we begin to understand fulfillment as something completely different.
True fulfillment, which is the opposite of external acquirement, is internal stillness. It is the opposite of attainment, because it entails the reality that deep down, we already have all we need within. We do not need to become something more in order to be who we are meant to be. What we are really looking for, then, is not the next thrill, but to rid ourselves of the false ideas that led us to think we are lacking anything to begin with.
True fulfillment come through less, not more. It’s a kind of stripping down and removing what has convinced us that we were never enough in the first place. It is a beautiful truth, because it speaks to what is available to everyone, no matter who we are, how much we have, or where we were born. It is, by nature, simply the journey of discovering and uncovering who we already are. We discover contentment by stripping away the false narrative that our identity is found in anything outside ourselves. It is a kind of unlearning, more than a learning, because we have to reject the lie that there is anything we need to get or become in order to be more ourselves . What we are really seeking is this inner stillness, because what we are trying to solve is the feeling that we do not feel content.
It's rather simple. The solution to our lack of feeling content is contentment itself. But how do we get out of this false pursuit, and onto the path of self-discovery? That is the journey of personal transformation.
The journey of personal transformation is simple in concept. It's the journey from selfishness to selflessness. If we feel like we are missing something, then we are all about what we must get for ourselves in order to be fulfilled. But when we are truly fulfilled, then we no longer need to get anything for ourselves. If there is nothing I need, or need to get, then I no longer need to focus on myself. I can easily and freely become "other" focused, which is actually the most fulfilling state of all.
Picture yourself like a container. If you are empty, then you feel that emptiness, and must fill it. If someone else wants something from you, yet all that you feel is emptiness, then you will not be able to give what you yourself still need. How can we operate effectively in a world where everyone feels empty, and needs someone or something else to fill them? How we operate in that world is from a constant state of desperation. No matter how much we may get, we know that we must be careful not to let ourselves be emptied again, because we are constantly fighting against that state of emptiness. But, what if we were the opposite. What if we were containers that were completely filled, always filled, and never needing anything external in order to fill us. What if we had an internal, inexhaustible source of filling that never ran out. Then, not only would we cease fearing emptiness, we could actually begin overflowing out of ourselves and into the vessels of others. But, how is that possible? Is it really possible at all? It is, but only if we understand what it means to be fully human, and fully alive.
As human beings, we actually have three centers of being. These three centers of being are body, soul, and spirit. The body is our physical self, the soul our conscious self, and the spirit our eternal self. It is from the source of our spirit that we can experience this inner, inexhaustible filling. This is also the part of ourselves which is connected to God, who is the true source of this filling. When we know that we are fully held, loved, and fulfilled by the source of all life, then we can know that we are always enough, just in being who we are.
However, the extent to which we are disconnected from God in our spirit center, is the extent to which we will feel empty and unfulfilled.
In our body center, we are, in fact, lacking many things. Our bodies require constant filling. They are continually running out of energy, and will actually cease to exist if they are not properly maintained. So, the state of our body center can speak to a reality where we exist as empty beings needing to be filled. But we also know just as easily that tending to the body really doesn’t bring true contentment. We are not fulfilled by mere, physical survival. But neither are we fulfilled by our soul center. The soul is our conscious self, our thoughts and emotions. It is the part of us which speaks to a larger, inner reality. But it is not our spirit. Our conscious self is more like the surface of our being, that part of ourselves which we can more easily see and know. The soul is that part of ourselves which is intended to act as an arbitrator between the body and spirit. But if we are not in much contact with our spirit center, then our body center dominates the messaging of the mind and heart to such an extent that all we know is how to live out of this desperate state of lack.
To be a vessel truly filled from within, and overflowing, we must come into better contact with our spirit center. As we are able to do that more and more, we begin to understand who we are more fully, and that we actually have all we need within ourselves in order to be fulfilled. Then, we are no longer an empty vessel desperately grabbing whatever we can in order to satisfy our need for fulfillment, we are filled vessels who have more than enough in order to pour out to those around us. Then we can truly become selfless.
The goal of personal transformation is leaving behind the false narrative of need which feeds my selfishness, in order to become someone who pours into others. This is only possible as we come into greater contact with that part of our selves grounded in the boundless, eternal nature of God.