The bad news: there is no self to help.
The good news: there is no self to help.
The self-help industry is huge. Go to any bookstore or search the Internet under this or other related headings and be overwhelmed by the options (Amazon has 100 pages under ‘self help’). Taglines read something like:
‘If you don’t like what you’re thinking, replace it with a better thought.’
‘If you don’t like your image, change it.’
‘If you don’t like the story of you, make up a new and improved version.’
And why is self-help such big business? Because the personal self can never be satisfied in its search for happiness. No matter what it yearns for, it will always yearn for more. If it wants to be good, powerful, or rich, it can never be good, powerful, or rich enough. On the other side of the coin, if it wants to be bad, deceitful, or domineering, it can never be bad, deceitful, or domineering enough. Like a hungry ghost, the individual self craves for more and more with no possibility of fulfillment – because there is no substance to fulfill in the first place!
All self-help does is temporarily ease the yearnings of a fictitious character – you. This is not to say that self-help can’t be useful. As long as you take yourself to be an individual self and want to improve, you will try. You should try. It will give you temporary relief, and that can be necessary and helpful at times. For example, meditation can bring about a glimpse of the unknown or a momentary calm.
But why can the self only be helped on a limited basis? Because the self itself is limited, and that which is limited cannot know the unlimited. The self is nothing more than a hodge-podge of changing parts bound by space and time, and that which can change can change again and again. Something ever changing, like our thoughts, can’t be called real. Only that which is unchanging, ever-present, can be called real.
Notice that this self that you wish to help is made up of ever-changing thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions – all objective qualities that ultimately come and go. And this is who you take yourself to be.
The truth of the matter is that no enduring self can be found to improve in the first place.
That which is changeless is that which knows all change. Become more interested in that which knows the coming and going of objects, rather than the objects themselves. Just notice that which is ever-present – call it the ultimate subject, or pure consciousness, or aware presence, or nothing at all – and the need, the desire, to become anything or anyone else dissolves in this understanding and we simply are.