I had this astounding moment of clarity today where I could see that human beings, with very few exceptions, are primarily self absorbed and self-interested. Myself, most definitely included.
This is not a condemnation – it is simply a fact. It is the way we are designed, therefore we can hardly despise ourselves for it, and when we accept this and begin to look beyond it, a whole different perception arises in our reality.
I guess it is a biological thing. I don’t have the scientific words to explain it. I haven’t had the time yet to research it, but my feeling is that it is grounded deep within a survival instinct both in the mind and the body. That makes it a powerful force. I wouldn’t imagine it is possible to transcend it completely, without a high level of spiritual awareness and an absolute sense of living in a completely supportive universe thereby feeling safe enough for this survival instinct to be unnecessary.
With 7.8 billion human beings walking on this earth almost all of whom are operating out of an ego that is primarily self-interested, it is a wonder there isn’t even more conflict than there is. Fortunately we have evolved sufficiently over thousands of years to understand that co-operation tends to bring more positive results than individual endeavour. It is still pretty hit and miss though. Most people are not yet consciously aware of their biases.
Everyone operates from, and sees the world through their biases. We filter everything through our biases and belief systems, unconsciously choosing anything that fits in with our views and generally discarding the rest. If we are lucky, something comes along and shakes us out of our indifference, forcing us to change the way we live. Usually this is a trauma or an event that culturally we would label as bad. Any culture whose priority is towards physical comfort rather than personal/spiritual growth is never going to welcome or grow easily through trauma and difficulty.
We all spend our lives trying to adjust our world to make ourselves comfortable. And we waste a lot of time and energy taking things personally that aren’t about us at all. We have probably all had the experience of someone not acting towards us in a manner we expected – perhaps a new acquaintance not being as friendly as we would have liked, or a friend seeming a bit distant, and we have decided that it is about us. They didn’t like us, we must have done something wrong, we feel slighted and indignant, sometimes holding onto it for days or even years, and then we find out that something big was going on in their own life, and they had simply been focused on that, distracted, it wasn’t about us at all, and suddenly our feelings towards them or ourselves change, . We realise it wasn’t about us, but we had taken it personally. This happens everyday, many times a day, all over the world, because we are the centre of our own universe.
It’s all about us.
True altruism is very hard to come by. Many of us do things for other people out of the kindness of our heart, but there is still always an element of self-interest there. It can be to get our own needs met, it can be to get positive attention, we may need to “people please” because we have an unconscious belief that we won’t be liked if we don’t keep others happy often to our own detriment. Until we manage to transcend our ego through constant self-awareness and spiritual work, we are locked into operating from a position of self-interest. This may seem like very sad news, but it isn’t. As we accept that this is so, (awareness and acceptance helps us to stop protecting our self-interest), we can begin to be more open to life, less reactive, and more tolerant of other people. It is possible to grow into a space where we understand that our self-interest, in the form of wanting to be happy, peaceful, loving, fulfilled, doesn’t need to be in competition with everyone else’s self interest because we are able to generate these positive feelings from within ourselves. We don’t need other people to provide them for us. We don’t need physical circumstances to be a certain way, We don’t need all our ducks lined up perfectly for us to be happy. When we reach this state, we can be genuinely altruistic.
Everyone is simply wanting to be happy and loved and loving.. including the drug addict and alcoholic. There is nothing wrong with this self-interest – in fact it is healthy. The problem lies in what we are doing to achieve it. If the majority of humans were able to realise that going inwards with honesty and integrity and a genuine desire to know themselves was the way to happiness and love instead of looking for it outside of themselves, in the bottle, the drug, the other person, the possessions, the power, the position, the world would be transformed into a much nicer place to live very quickly.
There is a very obvious example of under-lying self-interest in a common experience of life which we are mostly oblivious to because it is “normal”.
Lets look at grief. This is probably going to make me very unpopular, but I just want to put this out there as a beginning in recognising self-interest for what it is. You don’t have to agree with me. I am just saying.
I believe that when we grieve for someone who has died, the sorrow is predominantly about ourselves. This does not make it bad. It just is, but there is something very liberating about recognising that we are actually crying for ourselves. Crying because our life has changed. Crying because we no longer have someone who we felt made us feel loved, safe, protected, comfortable..whatever it is, (these feelings actually come from within ourselves and we project them on to another), and from the fear that we may no longer feel them again from someone else. Crying because the dreams we had for a future have been broken. Crying because our life has changed and we were comfortable. Some people who have horrible spiritual beliefs that don’t include an unconditionally loving God are cursed with the burden of believing their loved one has gone to hell if they haven’t shared the same religious beliefs, in which case grief can masquerade as noble and not self-interested, but I still believe on a deep level it is.
Liberation comes from realising that if we are crying for ourselves, then we are not stuck as a hopeless victim of grief as a result of a loved one dying. If we are mourning for ourselves, and the effect of the death on our life, then we have the power to change the story we tell ourselves, and change the way we experience the loss. The big problem arises when we believe we are mourning the person who has died, we realise we can’t bring them back, and then we think we can’t change the way we feel, because they are gone. We end up trapped in grief, close ourselves off from life and new opportunities and fail to recognise the potential for love and joy that underlies everything in the universe. Including death.
The rise to media prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the discussion around white privilege have made it glaringly obvious to me how we all operate from our own biases. Until last week, I genuinely had no concept that I had privileges simply because of my skin colour. I am not insensitive, however I had no idea that racism is so systemic and covert. I have always strongly condemned aggressive and overt racist attacks without understanding that these are simply the tip of an iceberg. The fact that I felt affronted initially at the notion of white privilege, feeling like the bad “other” (a feeling that people with darker skin than mine experience many, many times), showed to me that without conscious awareness of the fact, I had a belief about myself that my ego felt compelled to defend. Initially, everything within me arose to reject the notion that I was privileged or in anyway responsible for enabling a lack of equality. It was liberating to be able to acknowledge how I felt and simply allow myself to open to the possibility that I had a bias that I wasn’t consciously aware of. We all do. It shouldn’t be shameful to admit this. From this point, it was then easy to move into a space whereby I could see another point of view without feeling the need to defend my own. It actually takes a lot more energy to stay in your bias and defend than to acknowledge it and open to other points of view. It also feels so much better.
The last three weeks has brought me a health challenge in the form of fluid around my heart which has irritated the heart. The timing of this has puzzled me, because on the one hand, the Chinese Medicine I am taking is reducing the tumors, and I have a strong belief that I am healing, and yet I suddenly develop fluid around my heart which I am aware medical professionals believe is the next stage of the disease. I never believe that a symptom is here to stay. I always believe that it is here right now, but there is as much possibility that it will pass as there is that it will stay.
I ended up in the local Emergency Department again yesterday with ongoing heart palpitations on even the smallest of exertion. I really didn’t want to go as the last time I was there, I was stuck in an isolation room for 12 hours, but I felt it was important I went to find out whether I should be resting, and why the palpitations were happening. I was very fortunate. There was only one other person in the waiting room, and I was on a bed within 15 minutes, being examined. My good fortune continued… the nurse was lovely, and I was allocated a beautiful woman doctor from Jordan who was fully supportive of my past decisions to refuse conventional treatment for the cancer, assuring me it was my body, and she would respect my decisions. She told me that many women in her country were choosing to use herbs to treat cancer, and that she had thought she would never meet someone ” like me” in this country.
They took blood samples to check my electrolytes etc, and within an hour came back to report that the blood results were excellent. The senior consultant, another woman, accompanied the doctor, and remarked that looking at my blood results and looking at me, you could not tell that there was anything wrong with my body. She also, was fully supportive and non-judgmental and told me to continue what I was doing, because it was clearly working. It was decided that I needed to rest for a few days while the “water tablets” began working, and that the palpitations were not life threatening unless I started to find myself losing consciousness or really struggling to breathe. I was happy with this, and was on my way home within three hours of heading up to the hospital earlier.
It was lovely to receive support from the medical profession, because some doctors are less than happy if you don’t do the treatment they believe in. Today I have stayed resting in bed, much to my annoyance because I feel so well, and I have had no palpitations whatsoever, even on getting up to shower and toilet.
So I was lying in bed this afternoon mulling over the events of the last few weeks and the last two days in particular, and idly wondering why this was all happening, when I suddenly thought “what if its not all about me?… what if I simply needed to be at the Emergency Department yesterday sharing my story?… what if one of those Doctors or nurses is able to give someone else much needed hope in the future by repeating my story?”. I may never know why, or even if, it was necessary for me to be at the hospital yesterday. I may never know if it was meaningful in the scheme of things or not, but it seemed so clear to me how much we limit our own potential and our own growth, by having a tiny, tiny biased view on what is happening. Usually one based almost totally on how we are being affected. We really have no clue.
Because you showed up yesterday and smiled at the homeless man, you may have just implanted within him a sense of hope that helps him move towards a better life. Because you thanked the elderly gentleman who opened the shop door for you, met his eye and smiled warmly, you may have alleviated his loneliness and feelings of being worthless to society now that he no longer works. Because you listened, really listened to the person who poured out their life story to you on the train, they may have felt seen and heard for the first time in their life and that was enough for them to choose not to take their own life that night.
It is never all about us although we tend to live from this paradigm. Quantum physics talks about how a butterfly flapping its wings in South America has an impact on the other side of the world. It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that we do not live in isolation. If, as many believe, we are all connected by a field of energy, then everything we do, everything we think, everything we say, is impacting on that field and everything in it.
Our little self has no understanding beyond the most basic, as to what is going on. We have no idea what truth is. Everyone sees everything through their own unique biases and filters. Including you. Including me. The media is particularly skilled at pretending to have no bias. It does. Once we truly understand this, it is difficult to take a stance, then vehemently defend it.
We should be fluid.
This does not equate to weak and easily manipulated. When we are clear about our values and centred in them, but not rigidly attached to a viewpoint, we are able to live life open to new experiences, new wisdom, new possibilities. We are open to change, therefore we are open to life. Life is change. Life is movement.
Underlying all the universe is Love, Joy and Peace, but we may never recognise or experience this if we live our lives within rigid, preconceived parameters of good and bad.
Drop the need to label events or people, or anything, right or wrong. Anything can be used for good. It is in our power to do so. Individually or collectively. We can choose to open, soften and grow or we can chose to close, harden and stagnate. Our world is changing rapidly at the moment. It seems that chaos abounds. Maybe it isn’t chaos. Maybe this radical global upheaval is ushering in change that will benefit the earth, ourselves and future generations. If we all choose to be open, soft and to grow, the change will not be painful. If we resist, we will eventually be dragged kicking and screaming. Either way, change will happen.
Imagine if happiness became a national ambition instead of material wealth. Imagine if politicians stood in pure integrity, seeking what was best for the people instead of trying to work out what agenda will help them get elected. Imagine if everyone realised that co-operation, tolerance and kindness made life much more enjoyable than competition and selfishness.
Humanity needs to wake up.
I think it is.