My friend and co-author of the Mystical Hexagram, Gary Vasey posted a link to a response to an article on his blog. It doesn’t take a lot to set me off, sometimes… I occasionally feel the urge to respond in detail 🙂
Gary, after writing his thoughts with his customary openness, had asked the question, ‘where does selfishness begin and end?’
As it deals with a theme that I have found recurring in discussions lately, I thought I would re-post it here in case it strikes a chord.
I have often wondered if there is any such thing as a truly selfless action. I have spent a lifetime doing all I can for others, those I love and especially those I do not. Yet, I came to realise that while the conscious intent was genuine, there were, ultimately, ulterior motives. Whether it was a subconscious seeking of approval, a justification for my own existence or simply the desire to make someone smile… even that smile is a reward and therefore, in some ways, negates the selflessness.
Then I came to understand that the almost universal desire to protect those we love and care for from hurt, sorrow and pain, to shoulder their burdens and wish to carry them on their behalf, is also potentially fraught with the danger of selfishness. For by what right can I judge what is ‘best’ for the progress of another soul? In my desire to help, was I denying my loved ones the opportunity to learn and grow?
And yet, of course, there is the obverse side of the coin. Can I stand by and watch while a fellow creature suffers? Should I keep the life lessons I have learned to myself for fear of denying the opportunity of growth? No, of course not. What one has learned for one’s Self, can and should be shared.
As a parent, one gets no handbook. So we do the best we can and try to equip our children to the best of our ability, with the life skills they will need. Yet there comes a point when we have to step back and allow them to make their own choices. If that leads them to make mistakes, we pick them up, if they will let us, and help them through. Yet the choices they make must be their own. No matter how much we try and teach, only they can choose to learn.
As a partner, we can give and give… only to find that by doing so we have defined our own role as giver and our partner has been forced into the role of taker. Then when we need them, the relationship has to be redefined once more, with huge effort. It reminds me of DF’s comment on stopping the gears of the universe before one can change direction again. People, and relationships, can break under that kind of strain.
Or perhaps we try to ‘do what is best’ in our relationships. But again, the gap between desire and need can be a vast chasm. Stripped down to the basics, our true needs are both very small and yet all encompassing. Desire is personal, and can be based on a real desire to attain a goal, or merely a wistful longing, a daydream or a desire for change. That change may have no real correlation to the object of the desire, but may signal a desire to change a seemingly unrelated situation or relationship.
It is a minefield, of course 🙂
In a nutshell, my own belief is simple. All one can ever do is follow the dictates of heart and conscience. Our lives stem from the crossroads of every step we take, every decision and choice. Each choice leads us down the path of our own choosing. We cannot control circumstance, but we can always choose how we will react. And we alone are responsible for those choices.
It won’t mean we always get things right, but we learn from our mistakes, so the experience is not wasted. After all, if we were not still wearing our spiritual ‘L’ plates, why would we be here?
I had a conversation recently regarding Fate and predestination. His belief is that our entire lives are mapped out in advance and all we have to do is live them. So our choices do not matter as they have been made for us by Fate. To me, this seems a sad and pointless existence, and the more we learn about this universe through science, the less it seems possible that anything at all can exist pointlessly.
For myself I believe we choose the circumstances and broad outline of possibilities that will provide the soul with the learning opportunities we need. Once incarnate, it is up to us to choose what to do with those opportunities. If we fail or ignore them, life has a way of spiralling round to re-present them to us until we face them. In this respect, we truly are the architects of our own lives and we alone are responsible for the results.
So I reiterate, what is the line between selfishness and selflessness? Choice, intent and responsibility, I think, guided by experience, understanding and love. All we can do is follow where our heart and the still small voice within tells us it is right to go.