This week I want to re-share this writing which offers a unique perspective on selfishness and the role of caring for ourselves as we care for others…
We live in a time of saving things. We spend much of our time and thoughts focused on how to fix the things, people, and world around us. This act of going out into the world and fixing its perceived problems is often viewed as selfless and sacred service. And in so many ways, it is. Putting our own needs aside and helping those in need can be a beautiful act of courage.
But I wonder, at the same time, if it’s also a mask. I wonder if by constantly looking outward and finding things to fix we’ve become a society that doesn’t know how to look inside and love what we find. I wonder if it’s the world that needs saving, or if the world is simply expressing what so many of us feel inside. I wonder if we’ve so ignored the little voice inside asking for love that the Universe feels compelled to scream at us in the form of war, disease, and planetary disasters. And I wonder if it’s even possible to save the hearts of the world when so many of us are nursing broken hearts ourselves.
I know these questions carry a great deal of emotional complexity. I know that each of us is doing our best, so when questions like this surface it’s easy to feel attacked. So let’s breathe together a few times and open up to an honest conversation from loving hearts.
I have a friend with debilitating cancer who’s in extreme pain, the kind of pain that causes me to ponder what kind of universe allows such things to happen to its people. She’s suffering is a way that makes it nearly impossible to find a lesson or any good in it. And yet she called me the other day to see how I was doing. I had to think a while before answering truthfully, “I’m good.” It almost seemed unfair for me to be feeling good in the midst of her suffering. I know that by focusing on others my friend is coping with her own pain, and I suppose that’s probably a good thing. But still I wonder if it’s also part of the cause of her disease. Has a lifetime of putting her own feelings last manifested itself in a body with a disease that now requires my friend to focus on herself or die? Is this the purpose of her disease — a sad, tired and abandoned body finally finding a tragic way to be heard?
My wife, Dr. Christy, and I attended a gathering recently of some of the world’s leading teachers and activists. We gathered to discuss the condition of the planet and what we could do to help. Throughout the gathering, as people became acquainted with Christy’s amazing work as a healer, they would — one by one — come and ask her a medical question about themselves. These questions reflected their tragic and deeply saddening state of health. By the end of a gathering focused on healing the planet, it was clear to me that what truly needed healing was its participants. While these beautiful souls spent their days traveling the world sharing love, they had forgotten to love themselves.
This is true everywhere we look.
We use words like “sacrifice,” “execution,” and “make a killing” to describe the efforts and rewards of business. While those words began as metaphors they have become reality in a business climate that is sick, tired, and finds rest only on the operating tables and in the recovery rooms of our hospitals. As parents we have heaped so many conditions on being good moms and dads that it’s nearly impossible to succeed. We make it our responsibility to please bosses, teachers, administrators, friends, and family members and then try to find time in the midst of that pressure to love our kids. Our children, under the same pressure, are faced with an avalanche of information, an antiquated educational system, and a lack of jobs, and then are told to “make something of themselves.” And we wonder why it’s easier to save a whale.
My teacher Sharon Salzberg once asked the Dalai Lama how he dealt with self-hatred. He looked at her puzzled, not because he didn’t understand her language but because he didn’t understand the concept. After much back and forth with various translators and explanations of the question, it became clear that he had never experienced the feeling of self-loathing. For him, it didn’t exist.
But for us it does … and often it’s the norm.
So back to the title of this post — Radical Selfishness — and the questions I posed at the beginning. Is this world we are working so hard to save a manifestation of the large part of us all that needs saving itself? Can we heal the world without healing ourselves? Will there ever be global love when we can’t even love ourselves?
Perhaps this focus we’ve placed on fixing and healing and saving is misplaced. Perhaps, like the Dalai Lama, the prescribers of this “save the world” philosophy assumed, however incorrectly, that we had already done the business of saving ourselves. Maybe we need to be a little more selfish.
It’s funny what a radical idea that is, right? How saying the word “selfish” is such a controversial topic. I’m sure I’ll get plenty of responses to this post explaining how misguided I am and that I don’t understand. And maybe I don’t. But one thing I learned in business is that extinction comes from continually doing something that’s not working. And as I look around the world, from my mom to the business people I know to the activists I’ve met, we are suffering from a lack of self-love. And that’s why, perhaps, the word selfish is so scary.
We think so little of our own self worth that we assume if we focused on ourselves and our own well being that the world would be worse off. We actually believe that buried inside us all is a greedy little monster who just cares about itself. But the evidence, as demonstrated by how we treat ourselves, tells a different story. We don’t care about ourselves … and that’s what’s killing us and our planet in aggregate. Our lack of care for ourselves has manifested itself in a unloved world. So a community of people who don’t know how to love themselves “save things” in an attempt to bypass looking in the mirror and in our hearts and loving the scared and lonely being inside.
We deserve better. We deserve to be loved. Breathe and take that in. You, exactly as you are, sitting there reading this article, deserve to be loved. You don’t have to save or fix or change a thing. You deserve to be loved. Breathe…
This week I invite you to stop. I invite you to consider the areas where you help and fix and save others while disregarding your own needs. I invite you to believe you are a beautiful, amazing spark of the divine who when healthy is a blessing to this planet and all who inhabit it. I invite you to love yourself and trust that when you are fully loved you will love your brothers and sisters and the trees and oceans too. And most importantly I invite you to breathe, and to send this message of love that dwells in the breath to each and every cell of your body: “I am here for you. I will never leave you alone. Together we will love ourselves and others.”
Big hugs of love,