Selfish is a negative word, an accusation, it is something we do not want to be.
Yet to be whole, happy and enjoying life, we need to know how to both please our own self and how to be considerate of others – we need to be in balance with our giving and taking in the world.
Society’s subtle message is often to deny ourselves, to be ‘hungry’ and so-called ‘good.’ We then feel we need to fill the emptiness inside with ‘consumption’ of people and objects…
Real selfishness is a willful ignoring of the wishes and needs of other people, animals and earth, a compulsion and addiction to demand and grab for oneself in competition with others, to seek pleasure as entertainment, distraction or balm for the inner emptiness and pain.
It doesn’t have to be that way… Pleasure is an innate part of everyday life, a subtle potential in every moment, in every relationship. But it takes time, commitment and effort to unlearn some of the ideas we have been taught, to slow right down, get honest, and discover a more sensual immediate experience of the world afresh.
To discover what pleases us, some of us have to be so-called ‘selfish’ for a while…
Most of us were not parented in the way that we most wanted to be. Most were not loved ‘to the bone’ and allowed sufficient time for childhood discovery and play… it is commonplace to see small children instructed to “share” before they have had their fill of their own toy…
As adults, it is our responsibility to discover what works for us and what does not. Real growing-up is not in years but in parenting ourselves – loving ourselves, giving ourselves what we really need (and not what we do not), taking responsibility for our thoughts and actions, maximising our potential, discovering how to enjoy our unique life.
Learning to pay attention to our physical self is our first task. In ancient Hebrew there is no word for self, only for body, bone, flesh that we might translate as self. The question we need to keep asking ourselves throughout the day is, how do I feel right now?
Most of us spend much of our time being nice to others out of habit, to protect ourselves against their judgment, criticism, rejection. The early 20th century mystic Gurdjieff spoke of this as ‘false consideration.’ Changing this automatic behavior is necessary to find our pleasure…
Aswell as becoming more sensitive to our own needs, we also need to learn to genuinely consider others more, to become sensitive to their needs. To be interested in others and not view openness as an impediment or threat to us receiving what we need.
Being in service to others can be immensely satisfying, in service to a baby or child, delivering a job well done to a client, or being with and attending to an intimate lover…
For many of us the habits of me, me, me are entrenched. It does take effort to stop being self-absorbed (with great me or poor me), to look out and to really see, hear and feel other people. Real contact with others brings real pleasure…
And so we can learn not to squash ourselves politely back, and not to thrust ourselves rudely forward. Gently going for what one wants, at the same time as being aware of and in relationship with others, is a sophisticated approach and is really pleasureable, a kind of bliss.
Being in touch with my pleasure is more efficient, I get better quality work done. Being in contact with my pleasure also gives others subtle pleasure, is attractive, inviting and welcoming. Real pleasure is intimately connected with vulnerability and with self-authority.
Dropping the mask of how we think we ought to be, enables descent into the deeper pleasure of what is happening right now… When energy previously tied-up in guilt, shame, fear and defence is released – and knowing we are just fine as we are – we open for real deep relating.
Attending deeply to ourselves, and to what gives us our pleasure, is the most generous thing we can each do, for ourself, others and planet. As others have previously and famously said it, “Happiness is the path,” Gautam Buddha, and “Follow your bliss,” Joseph Campbell.