It really would be good to spend more time thinking about yourself, said no spiritual person ever. Because spiritual people know it is always way better to think about others. Occupation with the self only ever leads to one thing—selfishness. Right?
Of course, it all depends on how we go about such things. In fact, if our mind continually runs in unproductive channels of self-pity or constant complaining, brooding about how life seems to be passing us by, we need to take a closer look at ourselves before we’re ready to think about others. We need to turn in a new direction—namely, a productive one.
Then again, it may be good to get outside ourselves and think of others for a change. After all, doing something for others that causes us to forget our own worries for a while is a win-win. So then helping others and helping ourselves may not need to be mutually exclusive.
Where we get into trouble is when our occupation with others is more like being all up in other peoples’ business in the wrong way—constantly thinking about what others are up to, criticizing and judging them as we please.
No, thinking of others is not proof that we are spiritual. Likewise, thinking of ourselves is no certain sign that we are selfish. It all depends on how we go about it.
There are people who are actually highly developed spiritual beings and who are all about self-sacrifice and helping others. Here’s the gotcha in this. When someone is “highly developed,” that means even more is expected of them. As in: their motives need to be squeaky clean. There is no room for neglecting one’s important inner work under the guise of, “Oh, don’t worry about me—I’m just all about helping others.” That would be skipping out on a part of one’s task.
In fact, once we reach the point in our spiritual development where we are exposed to deeper and richer teachings, we are ready to step up our game. Now we need to become more rigorous about getting to know ourselves. Because here’s the deal: if we don’t know ourselves, we can’t know others. If we don’t love ourselves, we can’t love others.
The kind of self-love we’re talking about here is not self-indulgence. It is not shirking the unavoidable pains of life. That comes from the little self, the unhealed ego, which needs to be seriously looked at. This kind comes from respect. Because if we don’t have healthy self-respect, then we don’t love our own greater being—which is the divine being we all are—and therefore we can never truly love others.
This kind of self-love and self-respect—which is the right kind—can only come about by doing the spiritual work we set out to do when we were preparing for this earthly adventure. If we neglect to do this work—no matter how we may sugarcoat our actions—we are, in effect, escaping. We’re shirking our duty—to our own selves.
Surprisingly, it is this very thing that leads us to despise ourselves and feel less than others. But if we do the work we came here to do, we will open up a well of self-respect in ourselves, and then voilà, we’ll discover a true respect for others too. What comes ‘round, goes ‘round.
So the more we practice the right kind of self-occupation, the less selfish we will be and the more we will be able to help others. If we think critically about ourselves—in the right way—we’ll find compassion for others. But we, being the “spiritual people” that we are, so often do just the opposite. We ignore the log in our own eye but notice the speck in someone else’s.
As is so often the case, our work is to find the right middle path. We need to find the way to accept our own shortcomings as well as those of others. We need to accept our own faults without self-abusing despair or feeling discouraged because we’re imperfect. At the same time, we don’t want to remain as we are—imperfect. The devil is in the details of how we go about this.
In theory, we know that the only thing we can actually change is ourselves. And sometimes, of course, this affects others. So the best way to go about changing anyone is by setting a good example.
When we find ourselves out of sorts because of someone else’s faults, this is actually pointing to a deep resentment in us about the simple fact that we cannot change them. And it gives us good information about where we really stand in humbly accepting ourselves.
If inside ourselves, we balk at others for the way they are, we are not accepting ourselves. If, however, we truly remain serene, even in the face of their gaping faults, then we have come to accept ourselves as we are—warts and all. And which are the faults in others that tend to bug us the most? Of course, it’s the one’s that are in us. You spot it, you got it. So if we want to feel and be more loving towards others, we need to get to know ourselves better.
It’s not true that to love another is to not see their flaws. Being tolerant doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye. No, we need to keep our eyes wide open. To do otherwise is to be truly intolerant. In truth, if we can accept others’ imperfections, we don’t need to look away. If our tolerance requires that we not see reality, then we are the ones donning a mask to cover something up.
But real tolerance and real acceptance require real work. We need to be willing to see another’s faults and not love or respect them any less for it. What a huge help such an attitude can be—for ourselves and everyone around us. That is what it really means to do good in the world.
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