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I know I’ve spoken about this before, but I really do think this is important for us.

I used to think of personal growth as linear. In this case, we progress along a line, a continuum, like a snail, slowly but surely. We leave our past behind us like a trail, and it dries up as we move on and we forget about it. We leave behind our former selves.

Then I used to think of personal growth as stages. In this model, we move up the scale, like climbing stairs. We move up, improving ourselves, as we ascend the stages of progress. In this case, we leave our past below us, and we may even look down on our former selves in condescending ways.

The problem with both of these models is that our former selves are behind or below us. We’ve moved on, left them, or even rejected them. Many people even experience guilt, embarrassment, and shame over their former selves. 

Then, I began to understand personal growth as spatial. That is, as we grow, we grow outward. We expand. And when we do expand, we include, assimilate, integrate, all that has gone before. We don’t leave our former selves behind, but subsume them all into our whole lives.

I think this model is the healthiest (so far) way to think about our growth and even our radical transformations. This way, we don’t need to feel guilt or shame or embarrassment over who we were. Somehow, like compost, we understand that both the good and the bad get folded in together to compose the nutritious soil out of which we grow. It’s all good!

Learning how to integrate ourselves, even those strangest and darkest parts of ourselves, is what it means to grow and become a fully individuated human being. This is what health looks like.

The thing is, this is most natural and organic. This is actually how things grow. Including the universe!