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I was sitting in the yoga sala, feeling the blood drain from my face. My breath jumped up into my throat and I felt a quick sharp stap in my solar plexus.

The woman in front of me continued talking as if what she was saying had nothing to do with me. As if 20 years of self development were not crushing down around me. But I knew: she was speaking about me. Complaining about me. Judging me. And generally doing the one thing I fear more than anything: not liking me.

It was the second day of my yoga retreat in India. My deep dive into self mastery with my long-time online teacher Kia Miller who I now finally met in person. The day before, we’d been doing an intense arm-sweeping-typical-kundalini-yoga-practise for 31 minutes (supposed to have a positive effect on all the cells of the body). To help us sustain that particular challenge, our in-house musician Ananda Das had played an intense, energy building mantra and invited us to join in.

Me being me, I went for it. Sweeping my arms like a crazy person, chanting hard. When people started to get up & dance, I was one of the first to join – moving and singing are great ways to sustain an intense practise, is my experience. I felt uplifted, energised, and part of the sangha (community).  For a moment, I wondered if my loudness would influence other people negatively, but Marianne Williamson’s quote popped up: ‘as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Yes, exactly! So by being my most vibrant, expansive self, others would feel free to be their most expansive self! Yay! All in!

But that was all yesterday….

Today I was sitting there, listening to the woman in front of me explain her insights of the day before. How she hadn’t been able to express herself because of the intensity of the expression of the people behind & around her. How she felt pushed in a corner.

And that’s when I felt that pain in my solar plexus, and my breath escaped me. She was talking about me. Not only me, for sure, but me nonetheless. And within seconds I was transported back to high school where one of my best friends was saying how my having so many ideas and initiatives, made her feel inadequate and stopped her from expressing her ideas and coming up with her initiatives.

That’s how quickly it can go, even after 20 years of being actively working on healing all those smaller and bigger hurts & trauma’s.

The most frustrating thing about self development…

…is that the most important things we’re working on, never seem to be done.
Our ‘core themes’ come up again and again and again.

Have you experienced that too?

You know, after that retreat or coaching session you think you’ve gained the insights. You’ve worked through some painful but necessary things, learned to deal with everything in a way that works, overall gained a big increase in self awareness, and you’ve happily moved on.

Only then, a year & a half later, you find yourself struggling with the same topics again. What the feep?

If this has happened to you, you’re not alone. And it’s actual not a bad thing at all. On the contrary, this is a sign of improvement and growing self mastery. Let me explain.

Self development is a lot like going to school

I don’t want to put you off, but in a way, it just is. In your journey, you’ve probably found that there’re a few issues that really made the difference. When you started working with them, things changed. These themes are what I like to call core themes for you. We all have a couple of those. For me, one of them is people pleasing.

These core themes are like our elective subjects, so to speak. And like a subject in school, after you’ve finished grade 1, did the exam, you move on to grade 2.


It’s the same with our core themes: you learn about it on a certain level, even take an exam (a particularly challenging situation that you wrap up well) and then, without you realising it, you move onto the next level. In the beginning of that new level, you get some new angles to work with. This stage is often happening in the background. And then gradually it’s the date of the exam is coming nearer, and the topic is making itself know in a really pressing way. You cannot it ignore it anymore and this is when you think: WHAT? but I’ve done is alreadY!

And you did. But on another level. And you’re learning it now in another way.

Self development like a spiral staircase

I also like the analogy of a spiral staircase, were you move up & up and come by the same view multiple times, but on different levels.

And that’s why, even after years & years of practising, you can still be confronted with your core theme right in the middle of an amazing experience. When you expect it the least.

But what is beautiful, is that the recognition is becoming faster & faster. You ‘work through it’ as it is happening (instead of a couple of weeks later when you’re discussing it with your therapist. Been there!). And instead of ruining my week, it added this huge personal win to it. Because I got to decide in the moment how I wanted to deal with that feeling of not being liked, and potentially not fitting in.

And I decided that it was time to stopping giving a f*ck and commit myself to what Marianne Williamson says: “Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.” and I spend the rest of the week singing & dancing my heart out.

Rosalie Puiman is the founder of The Sovereign Leader and the author of The Mindful Guide to Conflict Resolution. She works with executives and founding teams to bring forth effective, impactful and purpose-driven success.

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