“Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others.”
~ Parker Palmer
Contrary to what many of us read or are led to believe, we must completely love the self that we have before we can ever consider losing it.
To realize the enlightened state of consciousness that is often referred to as selflessness, each of us must first come to love our “self” unconditionally.
Many of us on a spiritual path today aim to lose ourselves through spiritual practices, or through devoting ourselves to what we perceive to be selfless service, because culturally, spiritually, and religiously we’ve been taught that by helping others, as opposed to helping ourselves, we are living in an enlightened way.
Living a life of service to humanity is undoubtedly an evolved way of life that we’re all ultimately heading toward; however, too many of us unconsciously try to lose ourselves in other people’s needs, desires, and problems before we’ve actually healed our own internal conflicts and unresolved emotional pain.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll see that many of us use spirituality and religion as a means to escape or avoid what’s really going on in our own lives. In many cases, we believe we’re helping other people without self-interest when in reality we’re unconsciously trying to lose ourselves in the desires, needs, and troubles of other people just so we don’t have to look at ourselves or our own lives honestly.
For many devoted parents, teachers, employees, health care practitioners, and religious followers, selfless service, martyrdom, or a fixation on selflessness, often becomes a means of denial and repression rather than a pure intention to help and serve other people.
In reaction to not loving all of who we are, many of us unconsciously try to lose ourselves and distract ourselves from the self, the past, and the life that we do not love. We often try to be “selfless,” “spiritual,” “religious,” “good,” or “holy” because deep down we’re not at peace, happy, or satisfied, and we mistakenly believe that our inner battles will just go away if we simply divert ourselves from them.
Viewing ourselves from this perspective, it becomes very clear that selfishly cultivating unconditional love, kindness, and compassion for ourselves is the only way to meet the world and serve the world consciously and genuinely, essentially because we can only give what we actually have to give.
If we do not have a conscious, kind, and self-aware relationship with ourselves that is based on unconditional love, then we cannot truly be loving, kind, and compassionate toward other people without resenting what we give or do for them.
When we unconsciously focus on other people’s problems or needs in an attempt to avoid our own struggles we not only cause ourselves and the world more pain, but we also betray the purpose for which we were born. As we selfishly heal our psychological, emotional, and physical pain and thus grow in love for ourselves, however, we truly do become a pure source of selfless love in the world.
As Mahatma Gandhi so beautifully expressed, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” And the best way for each of us to be this change is to be selfish enough and brave enough to master loving ourselves unconditionally.
A person who seeks help for a friend, while needy himself, will be answered first.
~ The Talmud
When we live without love for ourselves, we always meet the world from a place of lack, inadequacy, and insecurity, no matter how well we mask it by our so-called selfless acts.
From this place of denial we can never truly feel good about giving, because we always resent ourselves and others for giving what we do not truly have or want to give.
When we live with parts of ourselves, our lives, or our past that we have not fully embraced, there’s no amount of selfless action that will ever offset or cancel out the unresolved guilt, shame, insecurity, anger, or hurt that we’ve stored in our body and which is now unconsciously driving our actions.
Regardless of how many “good deeds” we do in the world, our soul will always call us back home to heal and love what we do not love within us so we can live in the world and give to the world from a place of purity, wholeness, and authenticity.
The truth is we can only help other people or help the world to the degree that we’ve already helped ourselves. And the only way to help ourselves is by loving ourselves enough to free ourselves from the psychological and emotional suffering that most of us prefer to deny and avoid.
If we genuinely want to love and care for the world, each of us must (1) continually love and care for ourselves and (2) keep our own reserves not only full, but also full of pure intent.
Thus, the most selfless and most challenging goal we can aim toward is to become a shining, enlightened example to others of true inner peace, health, happiness, and fulfillment, because in all honesty, what good are we to anyone if we’re in pain, poor, starving, unhealthy, or miserable?
At some stage in our spiritual awakening is becomes crystal clear that loving ourselves unconditionally is the path to the enlightened state of consciousness that we term “selflessness,” because as we liberate ourselves from our suffering, we transcend the constricting boundaries of our ego and we begin to experience our true self as being united with the universal self and with God.
Eventually, our old ideas about who we are and what we are fall away, and our felt self-awareness finally expands to include everyone and everything that exists in the entire universe.
In terms of spiritual liberation, loving ourselves unconditionally is unquestionably the most direct path to enlightenment, because as we come to love ourselves at progressively deeper levels of our being, we shed the limiting beliefs that separate us from our true selves, from each other, and from all life, and thus liberate our soul.
Simply through healing our psychological and emotional wounds here in the present moment, our perceived identity changes and expands until it eventually includes more magnificence, wisdom, and love than we could even begin to imagine.
Genuine selflessness naturally occurs when we’re able to lose ourselves fully and purposefully in love, in the here and now, without avoiding pain or fear. Whether our love is directed toward ourselves, toward another human being, toward nature, toward the universe, or toward God, we eventually experience freedom from the confines of a separate self when our consciousness, attention, and energy are focused solely on whom and what love.
However, in the same way that it is impossible to have selflessness in the world without also having selfishness, it is also impossible to have unconditional love in the world without having unconditional love for ourselves.
These seemingly contradictory opposites not only define each other, they also exist purposefully to wake us up and to illuminate our ever-present wholeness. In fact, it’s the mysterious space between these paradoxes that creates the most direct path to our psychological, emotional, physical, financial, and spiritual freedom.
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Assist. Ed: Jade Belzberg/Ed: Bryonie Wise