Once, when living in Los Angeles, I came across a circular metal patio table that someone left curbside in my neighborhood. It was the perfect fit for my postage stamp sized backyard area. I brought it home, spruced it up with spray paint, and marveled at my new find and estimated cost savings. The only problem was that I had not thoroughly examined the table’s condition. There were huge circular rust patches underneath its top. No amount of painting over it would remedy its corrosion. The paint would repeatedly peel off. It needed a good deal of sanding and repair prior to any coat of paint.

I often feel our self-improvement quest is like that patio table. We search for some new thing; a weekend retreat, a class, a bestselling book, an online program and we hope it will fix our problems. We take remedial sound bites from the inspiration we retrieve and ‘spray paint’ our current circumstances with our interpretation of the materials. It may provide a temporary patch to our immediate discomfort; yet, it is the rust within that keeps resurfacing. We keep searching and longing for that next big miracle cure.

The ‘rust’ is the internal beliefs we’ve accumulated and allowed to define us – limited, damaged, fearful, unworthy, etc. With all that rust, we undoubtedly seek relief from our pain filled lives. We’ll even decorate or paint over it in hopes to disguise its presence. Yet, unless we become equally aware of the rust and our capability to sand it down, we will only decorate our external selves with patchwork spirituality.

To sand away the rust of limiting beliefs requires awareness, forgiveness and courtship.

First, one must be aware of the thoughts of unworthiness and fear that reside within. That awareness takes a willingness to look at the repeated patterns of sabotage, disappointment and anger and own that the common denominator throughout all storylines is ourselves. This takes unwavering commitment. Our human ego wants to attach pain to something outward. I want my upset to be about the other person/group and how their lack of respect, attention and accolade has brought me undeserved damage. If I’m not aware of the ongoing reflex to blame, then no amount of feel good philosophy can provide substantive change.

After awareness, I must forgive myself for my ignorance and actions. The statement, “If I knew better, I’d do better,” isn’t always applicable. I feel many of us are intellectually aware of the concept of personal responsibility but do not embrace it as an ongoing practice.

When we are aware and dutifully willing to own our part in the multiplicity of human dramas, then we sand down our faultfinding and allow self-directed compassion to guide us towards a more empowered and loving way of being.

Then, I remain in courtship with the process of thoroughly feeling my feelings, acknowledging the rust, understanding why I chose those beliefs, acknowledging that in spite of it all, I am still willing to grow and learn. I begin a committed, compassionate relationship with myself. I lovingly sand away the parts of my identity that I’ve fearfully collected throughout my years and prep myself to be painted with the energy of beginner’s mind.

When I resolve to evolve, I begin a new way of living. As Joseph Campbell once wrote, “When we are so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value, then we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive. This is what it is all about.”

Our inner value lies beneath the rust of false thought. Let’s get busy sanding.