Languishing? Not Loving Life? Here’s How to Turn Ourselves Around

The most highly read New York Times article of 2021 was about languishing. In it the author, Adam Grant, calls languishing “the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being…We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless.”

In fact, there’s a perfectly logical explanation for what so many are experiencing, for why we’re not fully alive. The good news is, we can turn ourselves around. But to do that, we’ll need to face ourselves.

If we want to live a meaningful life, we must turn ourselves around and face ourselves.
If we want to live a meaningful life, we must turn ourselves around and face ourselves.

What Must We Face?

Here’s the set-up. We all come into the world totally helpless. So it’s perfectly natural that babies can only receive. And if we could just stop there, things might end up OK. But in fact, children are not only wired to just receive. They want to receive all the time, in the very best way, and to always have their way.

And this, friends, is impossible.

For one thing, all children have parents or guardians who are imperfect. Even the most well-meaning parents are simply not capable of giving 100% pure love. Second, this world has limits. So having good boundaries is important. Which means children can’t have their way all the time.

Introducing the reality of life on planet Earth.

Since this is a world built on a foundation of duality, this means there are both good and bad forces here. So good parenting must involve setting boundaries. Then, as we grow up, we must each learn the difference between what’s “good” and what’s “bad”. And it isn’t always obvious. You could even say the human experience is all about learning to discern and make better choices.

So right from the start, we are set up for struggle. No one gets it right.

Fast forward a few decades, and now we’re adults. And yet we’re languishing. The only way out of this quagmire is for humanity to come to understand why we are here. What is the point of being human? How do we turn things around?

How Do We Turn Ourselves Around?

The short answer to the question of why we are here is this: We’re here to get to know ourselves. And this must include the parts of ourselves we’re not yet aware of. But to do that— to see what we haven’t been willing to face before—we have to turn ourselves around. For the answers to all of life’s puzzles are inside us.

In truth, we are each made up of many inner layers, some of which are hidden from our awareness. And this is the main cause of our all our problems. For by now, we’ve hidden so much from our own selves, we’re no longer aware there’s something we must search for. We look away from our faults, and we also don’t know our own strengths.

Here’s another important truth: There is no outer disharmony that does not have roots inside us. Every single teaching from the Pathwork Guide is pointing to this. They help us see where darkness dwells, and also understand how to transform it.

Our work, then, if we want to live a meaningful life, is to turn around and face ourselves. We must get to know all the parts of our ourselves, including the hidden parts.

(So yep, doing the Hokey Pokey is indeed what’s it all about after all.)

Meet the Selves: Higher Self, Lower Self, Mask Self, Ego
Meet the Selves: Qualities of the Higher Self, Lower Self, Mask Self, Ego (View PDF | View Text)

Learn more in Meeting the Selves, a brief overview of each layer of our psyche.

The Two Stages of Healing

There are two stages we must travel through on a spiritual path of healing. In the first stage, we’re clearing away our inner obstacles. This includes a long list of negativity such as our rebelliousness, destructiveness, resistance and defiance. We’ve also got buried misunderstandings to unearth and frozen blocks of energy to release. There’s much work to do.

The part of ourselves that orchestrates the healing process is our ego. In fact, what we need to develop is an ego that is strong enough to eventually let go of itself.

“When we are born, we don’t yet have an ego. As such, we act like the children that we are, and a child wants to be omnipotent, seeking 100% pleasure and bliss, and it doesn’t yet know about frustration and lack of fulfillment. Along the way to growing up, then, a person has to learn how to make do with limited pleasure, for that’s the deal here in this dualistic dimension. This we must do before we can go on to realize that, yes, total pleasure will be our ultimate stop. But we’re not there yet.

So to accept less is to accept life here on planet Earth. We must wake up to the truth that here on the Good Ship Lollipop, our only option is to let go of our childish ambition for super-perfection, super-power, and super-pleasure. Then, over time, when our egos become sufficiently strong, we can we let go of the ego as well.

But if we fall short of developing a strong ego—one strong enough to make do with less—we’ll end up compensating for our weakness by always wanting more, more, more, which will make us even weaker. This follows along the same lines as the law which says that when we approach life from abundance, we produce more abundance; when we come from a place of poverty, we end up creating more need and more poverty.”

Spiritual Laws, Chapter 4: The Ego

In the second stage of our healing work, the ego must actively work to surrender and align with the guidance that flows from within. Whereas we need others to help us with the first stage—for our lack of awareness prevents us from seeing ourselves in truth—we must do the second stage by ourselves.

“When we are living with a weak ego, we lack the outer ability to do what the ego is good for, including thinking, deciding, discerning, and acting in an appropriate way. But when our egos are healthy, we have loving, trusting attitudes and are genuinely generous and open, self-assertive and realistic. When we go against the grain of these attitudes, we nurture hate and separation; we’re weak and distrustful and do things that go against our own best interest; we’re hung up in illusion. Boiling it down, when we operate with an unhealthy ego, we’re heading in the opposite direction from the lawfulness of the divine that lives within us.

And this answers the question of why the unhealthy ego works so hard to stay in control. For the ego can’t let go and fall into line with the deeper true self as long as the ego is still clinging to attitudes that aren’t compatible with the truth of divine laws. In short, if we want our inner being to enliven us and express our divine nature, we must become one with it. Our outer personality, then, has to make itself compatible with its laws and its way of being.

The spiritual law behind all this requires us to take risks and learn to trust the universe so that we can operate from a position of strength and abundance, not from weakness, neediness and poverty. Paradoxically, to do this, we must come to realize we can be just as happy with less. This is where we must land before we can become ready to abandon this level in search of an even higher state. This is the way forward if we want to avoid living the unfortunate life of a petty ego-bound spirit.”

Spiritual Laws, Chapter 4: The Ego

But this work cannot happen in a straight line. After all, the work of clearing away our Lower Self obstacles is always an act of our Higher Self. So the ego must grope for whatever inner light is currently available, using it to peer into the shadows of our hidden inner darkness.

“But where do we even start? We must begin with what we already have access to: we must put our existing conscious awareness to good use in order for new inspiration and wisdom to well up from our depths. Instead, what we so often do is meander along the path of least resistance, blindly settling for a would-be existence. We stay stuck in old ruts and we indulge in compulsive, negative and hopelessly circular thinking. We keep reacting from habit, and then go on to justify our less-than-stellar behavior.

As a result, we’re hard put to expand past the negative version of ourselves that we identify with. Moreover, if we don’t use whatever good values we already have developed, we can’t possibly realize additional positive values. This law of life applies up and down, across the board, to all levels of our being. It’s very important we come to realize this.”

Spiritual Laws, Chapter 16: Mutuality

Learn more in Doing the Work of Healing, a short overview of what this work involves.

Three Things Need to Move

The reason we’re languishing is that we’re stuck. And this, folks, is the human condition. For everyone has a Lower Self that is in some ways stuck, numb, rigid and unchanging. Such qualities are what the Lower Self uses to build inner walls that create our self-made prison.

And the thing that cements these walls into place? Untruth.

“This is one of the very best reasons to embark upon a spiritual path: to gain personal freedom from the chains of our inner distortions. For it’s when we won’t take responsibility for our own issues that we lock ourselves in chains. And then we claim someone else holds the key. That’s how we cut off our own freedom.

What we must realize is that there’s a fair and natural price we must pay for liberty. It’s self-responsibility. And the more we avoid it, the higher the toll becomes…

It’s our desire to dodge self-responsibility that results in our lack of understanding, our lopsided discernment and our inability to weigh the good from the bad. So it’s our attempts to escape and deceive ourselves that keep us stuck.”

Spiritual Laws, Chapter 17: Being Affected

“As we do the work of self-finding, we steadily march our way toward personal freedom. And while ultimately we all are capable of enjoying total freedom, our freedom will start out limited since we must journey through the results of what we have created. Indeed, we can’t skip past hardship now when our past actions and attitudes have been based on illusion and are therefore destructive.

But buck up, for we do possess the complete freedom to now choose the attitudes that lead us to our self-produced fate. When we see that all our hurdles have been of our own making—a direct result of our inner distortions—we have the information we need to prevent recycling the same, and maybe worse, experiences. In this way, our stumbling blocks become our steppingstones.”

Spiritual Laws, Chapter 24: Creating

The way out, then, is to let in the light of truth as we actively work to free ourselves. And we must do this in three key areas: by moving our minds, moving our emotions and moving our bodies.

Moving Our Minds

“Anywhere we feel hopeless and have fear, we must also have an idea of finiteness that our mind has locked onto. As a result, we are locking out the great power that is here for all who are ready to honestly receive it…

We must start to puncture this closed circuit. Note, we can’t just immediately dissolve our mind, because we need it to live. But by puncturing our mind, the flow of new consciousness and energy can work its way into it. Any place it has not been punctured, we stay locked inside its narrow confines, which our spirit is quickly outgrowing.

On the other hand, our mind must become neutral. It must rest and not hold onto fixed opinions. This is what will allow us to be receptive to the great new force that is now sweeping the inner universe of all consciousness.”

After the Ego, Chapter 12: Creating from Emptiness | Podcast
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“Anywhere we feel hopeless and have fear, we must also have an idea of finiteness that our mind has locked onto. As a result, we are locking out the great power that is here for all who are ready to honestly receive it.

Once again, we are looking into the eyes of an apparent contradiction. On one hand, we need to open up our limited mind, opening ourselves to new possibilities and new ideas. This is what we are learning to do in meditation. What we’ll discover is that whenever we make room for some new possibility that we desire, it comes into our life. We’ll also find that when it doesn’t come, there is some reason that we are denying it.

We must start to puncture this closed circuit. Note, we can’t just immediately dissolve our mind, because we need it to live. But by puncturing our mind, the flow of new consciousness and energy can work its way into it. Any place it has not been punctured, we stay locked inside its narrow confines, which our spirit is quickly outgrowing.

On the other hand, our mind must become neutral. It must rest and not hold onto fixed opinions. This is what will allow us to be receptive to the great new force that is now sweeping the inner universe of all consciousness.

Opening the Mind

How do we go about puncturing the mind? We can start by telling ourselves that we are holding onto limiting beliefs. For we need to stop taking these beliefs for granted. Then we need to challenge these limited beliefs. This means we must take the trouble to really think about them, by observing and confronting ourselves. We need to practice doing this and get good at it.

We must start to see, not just that we have a false belief, but that we have a negative intention to hang onto it. This is how we are keeping the closed circuit shut, and thereby depriving ourselves of the inner abundance we are deeply yearning for.

It’s important that, as we go about this task of opening ourselves up to the greater universal consciousness, we don’t think of this as some kind of magical process that’s going to help us bypass the process of learning and growing. Yes, our ultimate goal is to be filled and sustained by this power, but our outer mind will need to go through the steps of acquiring the knowledge needed for this to happen.

We can look at how this process works in the areas of art and science. A person cannot be inspired as a great artist—regardless of how much genius they have—if they don’t develop the technical dexterity needed and learn the craft. So if our childish Lower Self hopes to find a shortcut to the greater universe, hoping to avoid the tedium of learning the ropes, then this channel will remain closed for us. For in the end, what this amounts to is cheating, and God will not be cheated.

When we cheat, we are seriously doubting that anything exists beyond our mind. After all, when we try to use “magic” to coddle our lazy, self-indulgent selves, we don’t receive any inspiration. None at all. For there is a spiritual law at work here that operates the same way in science, or really in any field, as in art: Effort is always needed at the beginning.

How does this spiritual law work when it comes to inspiration regarding our personal life and the decisions we make? Here again, our ego-self cannot fail to go through the work that’s necessary to become a proper channel for the universal consciousness, or God-consciousness. This is what we’re doing when we do the work of this spiritual path.

We must come to truly know ourselves. This means we must get to know our Lower Self by seeing our weaknesses and knowing where we tend to be dishonest. We must learn where we are corruptible. This is hard work, but it has to be done. If we keep avoiding it, our channel will never be reliable. We will be filled instead with wishful thinking that stems from our “desire nature,” and our channel may reveal “truth” that is completely unreliable because it is based on fear and guilt.”

Moving Our Emotions

“Obviously then, if we want to move on down our spiritual path, we must directly concern ourselves with what hurts. We have to look at the suffering we endured as children and have gone on to defend ourselves against feeling. We need to allow ourselves to express our until-now unfelt feelings. And then we’ll have the realization—the felt reality—that denying the original hurt is what compels us to recreate it in our lives, again and again. And every time we recreate the denied painful experience, we rub salt in the wound. Now it’s time to feel things in a new, intentional way. We can do this safely and finally healing what hurts.”

Bones, Chapter 2: The Importance of Feeling All Our Feelings, Including Fear | Podcast
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“One thing that most people are catching onto is how essential it is to face everything inside ourselves: our feelings and convictions, attitudes and negative aspects. Many of these we are either completely unaware of, or not sufficiently so. If we don’t cultivate this awareness, we will never find the center of our being. And that’s really the point: to reach our core where life springs eternal. In the nucleus of our being is where we’ll find our connection to God—because that is God. Or at least an aspect of God. But still, that is everything.

The place to start then is by considering just what is it we must become aware of and contend with. The laundry list includes our selfish feelings and our hostile attitudes, our cruel impulses and all our destructive, negative ways. Plus we need to get a handle on how our defenses work. What a huge difference it makes to start to see ourselves in action.

When we stop trying to be so perfect and quit sticking up for our woefully ineffective defenses, we discover that we can own up to our foibles. We are all fallible humans who are vulnerable and irrational as well as needy and wrong, not to mention weak and unhappy. Admitting this makes us stronger and not so self-righteous, which leads to being truly right and independent, and therefore fulfilled.

The grand irony is that admission of inadmissible feelings is the gateway to inner unity; it’s the bridge to expressing ourselves fully. When we accept our hate, we become more loving; accepting our weakness is the doorway to finding our own strength; accepting our pain is the way to find our bliss. No question, a spiritual path is filled with many a paradox. When we shed our defenses, we become more real. And that makes it easier to take the next step and the one after that. This is good to know, because frankly, the first steps in beginning any new phase are always the roughest.

The reason it’s so incredibly difficult to remove our illusions about ourselves is that we all vaguely believe that the truth hidden below the surface—currently out of our awareness—is unacceptable. And that makes us unacceptable. This double-whammy needs to seen and ousted. Because it’s not true what we believe, nor is the cover we use to hide it. Let’s not kid ourselves, this excavation work isn’t going to be easy. And we won’t complete the job in one fell swoop. The going is tedious and proceeds in stages—and usually also in fits and starts…

Obviously then, if we want to move on down our spiritual path, we must directly concern ourselves with what hurts. We have to look at the suffering we endured as children and have gone on to defend ourselves against feeling. We need to allow ourselves to express our until-now unfelt feelings. And then we’ll have the realization—the felt reality—that denying the original hurt is what compels us to recreate it in our lives, again and again. And every time we recreate the denied painful experience, we rub salt in the wound. Now it’s time to feel things in a new, intentional way that is done safely and which leads to finally healing what hurts.”

Moving Our Bodies

Our bodies are the vessels that hold our spiritual beings. If, in our emotions, we are tight because we’re holding back old unfelt pain, we’ll experience that tension in our bodies. This is why, on a spiritual path, we need to move our bodies. We want to free up the stuck energy that’s held frozen in our physical being.

“So here’s something interesting to ponder: the active principle in distortion—as murderous and harmful as it might be—is never able to cause as much damage as the receptive, passive principle in distortion. So the lowliest attribute on the bad-ways-to-be scale of humanity is not to be hateful, it is to be lazy. Inertia—including laziness, apathy and unwillingness—is the freezing of the flow of divine energy. In inertia, the radiant matter hardens and thickens, being blocked and deadened…

Inertia doesn’t take action in defense of good. Instead, laziness and inaction support selfishness and lack of engagement, keeping things stagnant and not growing; change is thwarted. Even if activity swings a bit wide in the opposite direction, it at least prevents us from being lulled into the ever-present temptation to stop.”

Gems, Chapter 9: Why Lazy is the Worst Way to Be | Podcast
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So here’s something interesting to ponder: the active principle in distortion—as murderous and harmful as it might be—is never able to cause as much damage as the receptive, passive principle in distortion. So the lowliest attribute on the bad-ways-to-be scale of humanity is not to be hateful, it is to be lazy. Inertia—including laziness, apathy and unwillingness—is the freezing of the flow of divine energy. In inertia, the radiant matter hardens and thickens, being blocked and deadened.

Inertia is part and parcel of both our primary and our secondary guilt. Our primary guilt is for helping and abetting evil, subtly approving of it lest we become the one disapproved of. Our secondary guilt lies in pretending we’re not doing that—we’re just being good—when really we’re a coward and are selfishly covering our own tails, thereby silently giving permission for evil to carry on. This is why Jesus Christ was a bigger fan of the evildoer—the one who is nearer to God—than of the self-righteous one who is trying to appear good.

Inertia doesn’t take action in defense of good. Instead, laziness and inaction support selfishness and lack of engagement, keeping things stagnant and not growing; change is thwarted. Even if activity swings a bit wide in the opposite direction, it at least prevents us from being lulled into the ever-present temptation to stop.

Some of us believe that to be lazy is to be restful and that to be active is to be exhausted. On this, our wires are crossed. And yet we may use this to justify taking a more laid back approach to our spiritual path. To being more silent and receptive. But it’s in the active motion that we build and create, change and grow. As we adjust to this movement, we find it enjoyable and relaxing.

So as long as this kind of wrong thinking prevails, we need to question our desire to sit in stillness and quiet. Such practices can become an excuse for staying inert, for avoiding effort and taking any risk. Our souls will establish the right balance if we tune into and trust the inner movement.

Gems: A Multifaceted Collection of 16 Clear Spiritual Teachings

The void is totally stagnant and inert. So it needs the enlivening power of the spirit to penetrate it. And we can’t achieve this by holding back. Sometimes we feel we shouldn’t have to try so hard; we should be able to find enlightenment through easier means. But sitting and waiting for God to come to us may be false receptivity, which is inertia behind a mask; the more we go this route, the less real receptivity—taking in God’s ever-present grace, for example—is possible.

On a spiritual path of self-confrontation and self-discovery, effort will be required. We need to push through the inertia that wants to keep us in resistance to our own growth process. We must actively confront the exact nature of our laziness, and more importantly, see how we rationalize it in order to keep on indulging it.

Wherever we feel weak, confused and unfulfilled, bouncing between giving in and putting up a fight, our inner house is divided. We are not yet walking straight in the world. The path to true autonomy involves surrendering our will to God’s will. Part of the course-correction process may involve a temporary disadvantage, a hurt or a rejection, and it most definitely will require a bolt of courage. We may need to sacrifice a selfish aim. Plus, we’ll need some faith that God is looking out for us and always has our best interest in mind.

Therapy versus a Spiritual Path

The work of personal healing is largely what people are doing in all the various forms of therapy available today. A key difference between therapy and a spiritual path is that therapy is usually a limited-time treatment for dealing with a particular life problem. A spiritual path, on the other hand, deals with any disharmony in life. Because all our problems in life are pointing us toward our inner work.

Both, however, are valid and effective vehicles for working through the first stage of our personal healing work. And we’re never too old to start. After all, there is no other reason for the human experience than transforming our negativity and getting to know our true selves.

“For we each have a task to do. We’re all carrying some negative aspect that is in need of transforming. There are laws governing what we’ve brought with us, and these distortions are now ours to work with. That’s the purpose of coming here: to integrate something negative back into God’s fold, and each of us deals differently with how we go about refining our unpolished bits. The thing that’s common to everyone is needing to find the way to reconnect with our essence, with our core. Doing so brings us into alignment with the truth.

As we heal and become more whole, we will see the spiritual principle of orderliness surfacing in our lives. When order is not evident, that gives us a lot of information about where we stand, inwardly. For the spiritually unified person is also going to be an orderly person.

More and more we’ll come to realize that boundaries and structure are an integral part of a loving creation, and they are present in every aspect of our reality. So as we work to build a more harmonious life experience for ourselves, we will discover the value of God’s laws in helping us create and maintain balance. Just think, if there were no laws and no boundaries, this entire world would disintegrate in a mad ball of chaos and destruction.”

Spiritual Laws, Chapter 16: Mutuality
Key Aspects of the Spiritual Journey

Learn more about the key aspects of the spiritual journey in Finding the Treasure, a quick look at the greater arc of human development.

Holding the Whole Truth

Balance. Harmony. Order. These are spiritual qualities that all of life is working to create. But on this plane of existence, we can only reach these worthy goals by surrendering into both sides of every duality. This is how we develop the ability to hold opposites. For that’s what makes up the whole truth, which is a spectrum so big it includes both ends of anything and everything.

When we live primarily from our ego, we cannot hold opposites. So life will then necessarily be limited. It’s the same when we’re caught up in immature feelings, with young spilt-off fragments swimming in emotional turmoil. For these inner-child fragments are also lost in duality.

As we integrate these parts, we become more whole. This is how we mature and develop more awareness. Maturity, then, is what results from the ability to hold a greater level of awareness—to hold opposites. Note, the Pathwork Guide defines a “sin” as the lack of love resulting from immaturity of the soul.

“The solution? We must always look within. For if we aren’t willing to grow up and become a mature adult, we’ll be preyed upon by fears of how the harmful behaviors of others can hurt us.”

Spiritual Laws, Chapter 17: Being Affected

In the course of our work, we must move from the childish position of only receiving to becoming authentically willing to give, to be of service. And then, when we’ve released this lever and are able to freely give of ourselves, the goodness of life will abundantly flow back to us. We will naturally receive.

In a similar way, if we’re doing the work necessary to claim our self-authority, then we’re learning to set boundaries and stand up for ourselves. But our work is only half-done if we aren’t also fully stepping into selflessness. And don’t forget, living a half-truth is the same as living in untruth. That’s why living in duality is so difficult.

So to live from a place of wholeness—to be in unity—is to treat our brothers and sisters as ourselves. Because “If I hurt you, I hurt me,” and vice versa. This is a truth we will inherently know when we are living from our deep divine center, or Higher Self. When our egos have grown strong enough to surrender our self-will and align with God’s will, which shines from our Higher Self.

“But if we want to give our best to life and to everything we do, we must go beyond our egos and see that we have nothing to fear in our involuntary processes…As it turns out, we are the only thing standing in the way of crafting a better life for ourselves.”

Spiritual Laws, Chapter 20: Self-Realization

This is how we pull together. This is how we turn ourselves around and stop languishing.

– Jill Loree

Phoenesse: Find Your True You
Learn more in After the Ego
Explore the work of healing
Read more profound teachings in the Real.Clear. series:
Holy MolyFinding GoldBible Me ThisThe PullPearlsGemsBonesNutshells

Find Which Pathwork Teachings Are in What Phoenesse Books • Get Links to Original Pathwork Lectures • Read Original Pathwork Lectures on Pathwork Foundation website

Read all Q&As from the Pathwork® Guide on The Guide Speaks, or get Keywords, a collection of Jill Loree’s favorite Q&As.

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