5 Living with Polar Opposites and Finding the Good in Being Selfish

Unhappiness is an indication of sickness. Usually, though, we interpret unhappiness the wrong way, causing us to fight whatever we think is making us unhappy. In our distorted thinking, we think whatever is manifesting is itself the sickness. Yet if we were living completely in harmony with our Real Self and its universal forces, we would not be sick or unhappy. So disharmony and sickness—really any discontentment—are an indicator of our inner health.

When we are unhappy, it is our Real Self—our spirit being—that’s talking to us, sending the ego, or outer personality, the message that something should be changed. We are going about things the wrong way. This message arises from a desire to return to health, where we will be happy and in a state of well-being.

Being truthful in life is the same as feeling good in the deepest and best possible way, without reservation, and with security and self-liking. If we’re moving through life in a way that is consistent with such a state, our innermost self will be content. So then, any neurosis—any stress, depression, anxiety, obsessive behavior—or unhappiness is a deeper sign that points to the reestablishment of health.

The more free our Real Self is the more clearly such a message will register with the ego. Some may call such an experience, “having a conscience.” For a less developed person, whose Real Self is hidden and crusted over, such signs will register less with them. Such individuals can go for a very long time—perhaps many incarnations—without feeling their inner discontent. Their qualms, anxieties, doubts and pains about how they deviate from the truth at their core don’t make it to the surface. When they violate their own integrity, they don’t register any unhappiness. They might even feel a certain satisfaction at having given in to their destructiveness.

Neurosis then is not a problem, but a signal coming from a healthy spirit that’s rebelling against the person’s mismanagement of their soul. In our confusion, we combat the nonverbal language of the healthy spirit, thinking that’s what is sick. We then try to adjust to an unhealthy life condition, assuming that to rebel against “reality” is to be immature, unrealistic and neurotic.

People who live in such an unrealistic way also tend to flee from self-responsibility. They deny any kind of frustration, and hope to give nothing but get it all. These are the decisions a person has made, and their choices need to be faced and changed.

The funny thing is, the more people ignore their birthright to be happy, the more they overlook these inner messages trying to set them straight, and the more they want to cheat and get away with giving nothing. There’s a logical connection here. The more we believe we have to sacrifice our basic happiness because that’s what’s “good,” “right,” or “mature,” the more we become deprived. Inevitably, the more this happens, the more ruthlessly selfish we become. Underground, we will develop a secret destructiveness.

At any moment, these pressurized emotions could erupt. The harder they are suppressed, the bigger will be the likelihood of a breakdown since they contrast so greatly with the false version of ourselves we’re putting out. We’ll return to this momentarily.

For now, let’s look at an example of what can happen to a person who neglects personal self-development. No surprise, discontent will follow. But the conscious mind of the ego might misread that message, and make the wrong diagnosis. What’s more, professional help might try to make the person accept their condition, believing their frantic struggles are caused by rebellion to authority, or some kind of self-destructive behavior that’s sabotaging an otherwise safe and secure life. Our own resistance to looking for the real cause contributes to going astray.

What we’re afraid of are the consequences to making a full commitment to our personal growth. It seems easier to just remain an unruly child. All this is hard to unwind because, in fact, there is likely also immature rebellion and self-destructiveness going on. But they are merely an effect and not the cause of the problem.

Hence, it’s easy to be confused about what’s health and what’s not. Neurosis is sign of health—it is pointing us to health—and it’s also a sickness. It’s a message leading us to feel good again after having lost our way. Once again, we see how duality shows up and must be transcended.

From a dualistic perspective, we are either sick or we are healthy. So we look at our neurotic tendencies as though they are exclusively the sickness. True as that may be, it’s equally true that they come from, and lead us toward, health. If we can approach everything we think and feel with this view, it will benefit us far more.

Dealing with Duality

Duality is the cause of all our tensions and confusions, our suffering and our fear. In duality, everything is split in half. One half is then judged as good and desirable, while the other half is seen as bad and unwanted. But this way of seeing and experiencing the world is not right.

Opposites should not be divided in such a fashion. In truth, only by reconciling opposites can we reach the state of unity. To arrive there, we’ll need to transcend duality, meaning we’ll need to face both sides and accept them both. Fortunately, doing so will relax our inner tension.

There are some dualities that we—as humans on this particular plane of consciousness—have made good progress in transcending. We see the polarity but no longer view one opposite as good and the other as bad. So from an evolutionary perspective, we’re making progress. We’ve existed in prior states of consciousness where we weren’t so evolved.

For example, we can look at the feminine and masculine principles. Only a person who is very disturbed will experience one as positive and the other as negative. Although the deep psyche of some people may still harbor obstructions that must be overcome, the average person doesn’t see the division as representing opposites. Both are seen to be good and beautiful. They have a wonderful way of complementing each other, forming one unity, or whole. They both contain aspects of the divine creative universe.

Here’s another example where, for the halfway healthy mind, opposites are transcended and seen as complementary facets: the forces of activity and passivity, which also relate to the expanding and restricting principles, or initiating and being receptive. So even in this largely dualistic state, more and more dualities are seen as mutually complementary rather than mutually exclusive. For instance, most everyone can agree that night and day each have their own value, function and charm. Only in a highly distorted person would we consider one good and battle against the other as being evil.

Perhaps these examples can help us open to the truth that in reality, it’s this way with all opposites, even the ones we find hard to comprehend. But as we discussed, even the apparent opposites of health and sickness do not, in reality, represent something good and something bad. For each contains both.

Case in point, if we remain healthy while violating our spiritual needs for personal growth—to have feelings of love and deep experiences of pleasure and union with others—and we remain healthy while our ego isolates itself and is unable to feel, that is not good. Conversely, if we are sick and we see this as a symptom that can lead us back to health, that is good.

As such, good and bad can’t be divided down the middle. Both sides of any polarity are all good in their natural and undistorted state. Both sides are bad when error and distortion set in.

Life and Death

We struggle the most in reconciling opposites when it comes to the greatest polarity of all: life and death. But in truth, it can’t be different even here. Both can be good, and both can be bad. The more we succeed in overcoming minor dualities, the better we will be able to grasp even this one. Both can be good and neither needs to be feared or fought against.

Once we start to see that any polarity, or duality, can be unified, we can discover the meaning and beauty in everything. But until we reach this stage in our own personal development, we cannot help but experience many opposites as good versus bad. To whatever degree we have evolved and realized our own divine nature, to that degree we will cease to experience life in this divided way. Only then will our soul find peace and our soul movements bring us delight.

For tension breeds unpleasure. It makes bliss impossible. But as long as we suffer under the illusion that there are things to fight against, tension will not stop. If we believe our soul is in danger, our soul currents contract and close up to the good of life. And since we are surrounded by opposites, we end up living in a constant state of tension, assuming only one half is good.

The consequence of continually grasping for the good is pain and frustration. And yet this is so confusing. After all, weren’t we doing what’s right by fighting against what’s bad and only reaching for what’s good? Why then are we so unhappy? Why the discontent? Why is our life so empty and lacking in joy?

Usually, our confusions aren’t that conscious and cleanly stated. If they were, it would be a whole lot easier to challenge the premise that led to this distorted way of being in the world. Yet our difficulties are an illusion, just like the notion that the world splits into good and bad. They sure do seem real, though, given all the discomfort they create.

God and the Devil

We have been geared for century after century to see the world through the lens of good and bad. It’s understandable that we’ve gotten lost in our confusion. We keep trying to resolve all our personal problems on this basis, and they never go away. We can’t find real solutions that bring us peace, for the groundwork we start from is illusion, and so of course we get deeper and deeper entangled in error. Tremendous tension prevails.

Only in truthful perception do we accept both opposites, allowing them to mutually aid one another. In distortion, they short-circuit each other. Yet in the darkness of our confusion, we have to make a choice. How, though, can we do so successfully? What if things have become too lopsided? Then an eruption, such as a crisis, may occur. But if the distribution between the two sides is more balanced, then all power currents become inactivated. When this happens, the two opposite sides annul each other and both options look bad.

From here, we move into a state of numbness. We deaden our feelings and become lifeless. We can often point to a fear of feelings as the underlying cause of our deadness, but really, isn’t such a fear based precisely on a dualistic struggle? We are struggling against polar forces in our inner lives.

We can understand this better by looking at the basic Yes and No-currents in our souls. The Yes-current is the principle that affirms life. It expands, opens, embraces and receives life. The No-current represents the principle that negates life. It retreats, denies and shrinks back into itself. We generally assume—perhaps even have a deep conviction—that only the Yes-current is good, while the No-current is sick and bad, and therefore undesirable.

Religion itself has furthered this division, making God good and the Devil bad. This is, at best, a half-truth. To blindly accept this is to bring untold confusion and pain onto ourselves. For the minute we believe this, we are involved in error. And all error can lead only to more error and misinterpretation of life. Eventually, we get incredibly lost in this maze.

Let’s try to demonstrate this in the simplest way possible. Isn’t it true that it’s just as undesirable to say Yes to being destructive, as it is to say No to something positive? If we’ve got ourselves believing it is only and always good to say Yes, anytime we say No we’ll have pangs of doubt and hesitation, uncertainty and guilt. This will happen even if it’s in our best interest to say No.

These pangs may be quite subtle, filtering up from our unconscious or semi-conscious mind. The next link in this chain reaction is that we’ll have trouble asserting ourselves. We will find it hard to claim our inherent rights, and it will be difficult to express healthy aggression.

Such a person is always going to feel compelled to submit. They can never say No to any demand, no matter how such a demand might exploit them. This is not true goodness.

Real goodness is based on freely giving love from a generous spirit that wants to give. Instead, there is a subtle fear that we can’t claim anything good for ourselves. This is a lack of freedom that reduces our capacity to love. Below the surface, there is an increased sense of separateness and selfishness that are both destructive.

So even with the seemingly good versus bad notion of the Yes and No-currents, things aren’t so black and white. It’s never one against the other. We’d be completely in the wrong if we decided to adopt the affirmative principle for all situations, and give up the No-current across the board as well.

From the vantage point of the ego, which can only see in black and white, such a dualistic world view leads to error and confusion, suffering and tension. None of these things lead to true solutions. The only way to relieve the tension is to search for the good in both sides of all opposites. This alone leads to truth, to health and to the expansion of consciousness.

Every teaching from the Guide builds on this underlying theme. As we go further and further on our spiritual path, traveling deeper and deeper within ourselves, we need to keep gradually reorienting ourselves to align with the principle of unity. First, this applies to our thinking process; later we can apply it to our subtle emotional reactions. Slowly, our perceptions will shift.

Over time, we’ll reach the point when we can easily embrace opposites. We’ll see how both sides can be in truth, and both can be distorted. More and more, we will be able to recognize which is which. We will be able to feel, rather than judge, the difference.

Selfishness

Let’s turn now to the topic of selfishness, which is incredibly important for everyone because it applies to every human psyche. As a result, it shows up in every person’s life. It’s a tricky subject, though, as it can easily be misunderstood by childish, self-centered people who want to proclaim their separated lives and destructive selfishness to be a sign of self-assertiveness and health.

Hopefully, if we’ve read this far, we’ve progressed far enough in our self-development that we can distinguish between healthy selfishness and the destructive kind. Try to avoid the trap of pretending that one is actually the other. If we stay out of that trap, we can find tremendous liberation in these words.

Generally speaking, people universally accept that it is wrong to be selfish—it’s bad and undesirable—while any and all sorts of unselfishness are good and right, and therefore to be lauded. Rarely do we make the distinction that some kinds of selfishness are right and intrinsically healthy. These kinds guard our inalienable right to be happy, and they protect our ability to prosper and grow.

At the same time, we rarely notice that being unselfish has the potential to be self-destructive, exploiting others by the way we enslave ourselves. When we do this, we aren’t genuinely concerned about other’s rights. For only when we can be selfish in the healthy way are we capable of having genuine concern for the rights of others.

The origin of being selfish is actually healthy. It says: “I matter. I am an aspect of God and, as such, in my healthy and free state, I am happy. For only a happy person can spread happiness. Only a person growing according to their potential and their life plan is happy. So being happy and fulfilling my destiny is the same thing. I can’t have one without the other.

“I am responsible for my own life and the shape it takes. No one can determine my growth for me, so no one else is in charge of my happiness. I won’t pretend that I am unselfish so that I can ‘buy them,’ and subtly hitch my own responsibility onto them. I won’t give up my rights, effectively enslaving myself, and fake how unselfish I am.”

It’s important we take this in as deeply as we can. It’s not possible to assimilate it too much. Meditate on these words. We need to look for ways in which we inadvertently drift from this attitude. For the more we live in a self-responsible and healthy way, the more secure we will feel. Because security is what we feel when we are anchored in ourselves. When we are in truth, the divine kernel can sprout within and these roots become our anchor.

When our selfishness is fake, we lose our center. Then we are anchored in someone else for whom we sacrifice. This kind of sacrifice, though, is not made in genuine love. There is no free, spontaneous giving going on. In fact, when there is genuine love present, the idea of sacrifice is not there. Then the act of giving is so pleasing, it’s as selfish as it is unselfish. Being unselfish is selfish, and the other way around.

In contrast, there is an inner bargaining taking place in sacrificial unselfishness. There is a sentimentality on the outside, and a secret desire to get away with something on the inside. On the outside, we pretend we are being good. But this goodness is loveless and in no way helps us grow.

When our security gets anchored in the approval of others, rather than in our Real Self, we are counting on it bringing self-respect and happiness to us. But we can’t understand the messages being sent up from our soul. We’re disconnected from our vital life center, so we flounder, flopping back and forth between contradictory alternatives. We get confused about what is right and what is wrong, for ourselves and for the people in our lives.

In this decentralized way of being, we head down a path in which being unselfish is correlated with unhappiness, which is correlated with being good. And we’ve only just gotten started. This error compounds, picking up speed as it goes. Many chain reactions spin off that have destructive emotions attached. Here are just a few of our errors: We deceive ourselves about what “being good” means. We mistake dependency for concern for the person we are dependent upon. Our helplessness and false humility turn into anger, rage and rebellion. The more we work to keep these under wraps—so as to not disturb the house of cards we have built—the greater discrepancy there is between our surface emotions and those that smolder underground.

The more we assume an outer unselfishness that’s false, the more the ensuing hostility builds up a hidden selfishness that is wholly destructive. Now, emotionally, we don’t care at all about others whom we would gladly elbow out of the way and out of all their rights. The other has no reality for us, for we have given no reality to our own self.

Where does our hidden desire to be selfish come from? Our fear and our guilt—which forms a seemingly insurmountable obstruction inside us—caused by how different the picture is on top from what’s happening below.

If we don’t know how to be selfish in a proper, healthy way, we have no sense of ourselves in reality. Then all of life becomes a game to see who can skate by the most easily, gaining the most while making the least amount of investment. For if we don’t take ourselves seriously, as though our growth and happiness are something to be reckoned with, then how can we experience other people as real? And if others aren’t real to us, how can we care about them and their true being?

When we are lost in the illusion that it is always bad to be selfish, and always good to be unselfish, duality and error are running amok. Inevitably there will be conflict between what’s best for us and what’s best for others. This will seem, indeed, like a real conflict. And on this either/or level, it is.

But once we transcend duality, such conflicts disappear. For what’s good for our Real Self must—absolutely and inevitably—be good the other person’s Real Self. Ultimate happiness and growth will be served for all. In the realm of universal truth, which is found in the depths of inner reality, there can never be any conflict between what’s best for people. Conflicts only exist when we superimpose falseness, destructive selfishness and demands that exploit other people. Only those things that block the unfoldment of truth and happiness stand in our way.

When duality parses selfishness in such a way that it becomes destructive, that which destroys growth and happiness looks to be the right way to go. For the one who sacrifices, this lends a false humility, and therefore a false pride. The one who accepts the sacrifice then becomes an exploiter, although they do so under the guise of being righteous. Neither the one who falsely sacrifices nor the one who accepts and exploits are doing themselves any favors in terms of unfolding truth and beauty.

Even if, on the surface, it looks like this arrangement is righteous, can it be, really? What is happening in the psyches of the people involved? The one who accepts the sacrifice must have a mounting pile of guilt. But they can’t allow themselves to look at it because then this flimsy structure that’s been built might collapse. And they don’t want to part with it. As already mentioned, anger and rebellion begin to simmer in the self-sacrificing person, covered over by a false sense of goodness and a sense in their psyche that they are a victim.

Why We Need Courage

When we reconcile the polarity between selfishness and unselfishness, we accept ourselves as the center of existence. We don’t do this by crediting ourselves with being more important than anyone else, but by knowing that our ego is responsible for our life. It’s the carrier, the captain who determines which way we should go.

Only then can we grasp that we are one with others on the inside. We’ll have the experience and perception that our self-interest never interferes with the interest of another, not where it truly counts, on the deepest levels. But our healthy self-interest almost always interferes with someone else’s egotistical self-interests. It is for this reason that it often takes a lot of courage and much struggle to follow one’s true self-interest.

Ironically, we’re surrounded by a world that fights this, deluding itself into claiming that when we follow our true self-interest, we are being egotistical and destructively selfish. This is why it is necessary for us to be strong enough to stand up to the disapproval of the world when we determine to follow our own spiritual path. If we are truly following our own spiritual path, it can’t be anything but blissful. But since the world is geared to believe that anything blissful must be selfish and wrong, we’re going to need a dose of independence to not be influenced by that, or feel falsely guilty doing something that deserves no guilt.

Of course, bliss will not be the first thing we experience. Sorry to say, we’ll need to overcome quite a few obstructions and resistances before we come to feel that walking a path of growth is anything but drudgery, let alone blissful. And yet, it truly can be the most blissful experience imaginable. Before this truth can unfold for us, however, we’ll need to eliminate all our self-deceptions.

If we understand this, and are ready to proceed from here doing the work of self-discovery, we are bound to experience a wonderful new awakening. We might begin by asking: “What makes me the most happy?” If we go deeply into answering this question, we’ll find that what makes us truly happy must be constructive and bring growth. Whatever it is, it will connect us more with life, and therefore also with God.

Further, if we keep going with our inquiry, not hesitating, we’ll find that what is in our best interest cannot go against the true interests of anyone else. Indeed, it supports further unfoldment for those whose egotistical, unhealthy interests play into our dependent and fearful self. This is the part of us that doesn’t want to take self-responsibility. It’s also possible that what’s best for us goes against the interest of stagnation for ourselves and others.

Once we see this with clear eyes, and without sentimentality, we’ll find the courage to be ourselves. It will arise from our truthful vision. Falsities will fall away, and with this, much suffering and tension will vanish. The simple kernel is all that will remain. This is the seed of growth and unfoldment in the soul. It bears the fruits of happiness, pleasure and vibrant stimulation. For this is the stuff the goodness of God’s world is made of. It’s a distortion of God’s world to make something commendable that does not further the evolution of one’s soul.

“Be blessed, all of you, my friends, be deeply in the truth of your divine being. Let yourself become more and more what you truly are—God.”

–The Pathwork Guide

Learn more about the self in Finding Gold: The Search for Our Own Precious Self

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Read Original Pathwork Lecture #164: Further Aspects of Polarity—Selfishness

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