You don’t have to choose between yourself and another; taking a seat at your own sumptuous table feeds everyone.
There is an old story that comes out of the East:
Just before the launch of Humanity 1.0 (so to speak) the Gods sat around in Heaven discussing the issue of where to hide each human’s soul. They didn’t want to make the greatest gift too easy to find.
One said, “Why don’t we hide it in an animal, like a deer? It is the most beautiful animal.”
But the others said, “No, that won’t work at all, because they will eventually catch kill the deer to eat their meat, and the soul will be released. They will find the soul too easily.”
Another one of the Gods spoke up. “Why don’t we hide it in trees? They are sturdy and will last for eons and protect the soul well.”
But the others said, “No, no, that won’t work either. They will cut down the trees to make fire and to build shelter, and that also will be too easy an access.”
The Gods pondered and pondered, bringing up suggestion after suggestion. For a short time – which for a God is still, of course, an eternity – they felt stumped.
Until one of them spoke up and said, “I know the perfect place. It is the one place that the human will never, ever look.”
The other Gods were very excited. “Where? Where is this place? How have we not thought of it before? Where will the human never, ever look?”
And the God said, “Inside her own self.”
Women often struggle with putting themselves on the list at all, much less coming last. The reasons I see span 3 areas: (1) a sense of not being deserving, something learned in childhood, (2) mirroring the insistently and insultingly low social expectations for women, which still exist, and (3) any spiritual/religious messages about attaining “good” only when you come “last”.
That last one is the kicker – the one that too many of us cling to to our own detriment.
And then there is the outcome of putting ourselves last, or not putting ourselves on the list at all: We never come home to ourselves, and end up pursuing everything that will never truly touch us.
Let me tell you another story. It is my story in brief:
Once upon a time there was a woman who pursued her goal in life with tremendous passion. She tried to the very best of her ability to reach her goal, sacrificing everything to it: her health, her money, her security.
She had learned society’s lessons of “work hard to attain your dreams”, and “go for the goal” and “never give up”, so that even when she had given everything of personal worth to her pursuit, she did not give up.
When at last she found herself broken and out of answers, she was beaten. She released the dream in favor of saving her life…which is when she discovered that the one goal she had neglected to take into account was not a goal at all, but a life: her own.
When I had to stop and take myself seriously, I found the process confounding. But I stuck with it, and I found the journey rewarding and completely transforming. How I look at life, at my realities – pleasant and unpleasant – and at my choices is not at all how I lived the first 50 years of my life. I can only see those 50 years as preparation for a life that is now filled with qualities that fill every day with all kinds of meaning, experience, and beauty.
The fact is, we are a mystery rather like a Christmas gift just waiting to be continually unwrapped, continually distracted from our own beauty. Work and family are big distractions, but that is not what keeps us distracted the most. Being a human doing, rather than a human being, keeps us on every treadmill, reaching for faraway goals…and away from our own precious moment-to-moment life, breath, essence, experience. And believing that we are less important than every other person keeps us efforting to deserve a place in our own life, finding reasons why we do – or should – put others first and ourselves last every single time. And then, of course, we feel resentful. Not at all what we were going for from the beginning!
Clearly this is a cycle that serves no practical earthly purpose. So why keep on doing it? Because we don’t know that there’s another option; we are that committed to earning, doing, and trying, and not trained in how to be.
Our true selves are given short shrift in this Go! Go! Go! world of external focus. But there is a powerful tool that gives yourself back to you, if you are willing to give it a shot: Question. Question what you are doing and why you are doing it. Question the purpose and the result. Ask yourself if you are happy doing what you are doing, and if doing it more will get you a different result. If not, chances are extremely good that you need another option. Don’t let yourself hide behind any kind of spiritual reason: for example, “I have to do this, because this is just who I am“, a.k.a. “a good person”, a.k.a. someone who sacrifices herself without boundaries. Understand that if you are miserable while denying yourself, that action does not actually make you a better person; it is not in fact a spiritual pursuit at all. And understand as well that by paying attention to yourself you are in fact playing and winning the game that life set up so long ago, and opening up that long-ignored gift that rewards not only yourself, but everyone.
- Allow me to remind all of us that we cannot give from an “empty cup”. If your cup runneth over, enjoy! But my experience is that if I want my cup to continue running over, I have to turn on the tap, and I have to find ways to keep it running! Exhausting myself, denying myself repeatedly every single day, and eschewing balance by only allowing my energy to flow out while never allowing goodness to flow in…that is not in any way a path to greater joy.
- The word “seva”, from the East, means service. It is a high honor to do service in any capacity whatsoever. In fact, that sentiment has been expressed in so many ways and is so pregnant in truth that we have taken it at face value, and that is where the take-me-last problem begins. Make sure that when you are doing service, it is coming from something in you that is alive and joy-based, passion-based, deeply meaningful. And make sure that you are not finding a good-looking way to self-flagellate, “earning” your place at the spiritual table. There’s a sign over God’s house, actually, that says “No. Earning. Necessary.” In fact, when you enter, you find out that it’s actually your house, and you didn’t know you were already home. So enter now. No reservations are required either!
- What you do, you demonstrate. Do you want to lift others? Find that which you are, and revel in it. Be your joy, your nuttiness, your love of art or science or math or sports, and let it show. Live all of your passion out loud! In that simple, seemingly selfish act, you change your world.
Put yourself first. Believe that when you see someone else in need, you will respond, because once you are putting yourself first in terms of having the energy, the love, the groundedness, the satisfaction of a life of balance, you will have everything you need to give to another. Moreover, you will give it in even more appropriate and authentically loving ways because you are no longer weighed down by resentment and exhaustion.
Forgive yourself for not having come “inside” before now. You were just preparing for the time when you are ripe for yourself.
Now, at long last, you have a seat at your own sumptuous table, and your own table is so rich the overflow alone serves your whole world.