With Rodney Smith.
One of the first insights we often have early in our practice is also one of the most difficult to personally accept, which is how self-centered we are. Our thoughts and feelings envelope every sensory contact, we are front and center to every experience, and volitionally behind every action we take, and it is almost always undertaken for self-serving reasons. This I-centered worldview is so automatic, many of us cannot conceive of operating from a different perspective. But that is what a spiritual journey ultimately does. It takes us beyond a self-focused life where “I” predominate, into a life of inclusion where we are not the center of our world. This week we will investigate the continuum from self-centeredness to all beings. The right side of the continuum, “all beings,” represents the total inclusion of the heart, the left side, self-centeredness, is the state of isolation and separation where much of our life is lived.
How could we possibly move beyond our own self-concerns? Moving beyond what is best for “me” seems so implausible as to be impossible, but it only seems that way because we do not know what we are or how we are formed. As the practice progresses, we sense the porousness of self, that it is not as dense and isolated as we once thought. We begin to see the boundaries that separate us are self-induced. Slowly we learn how to release those boundaries, and in so doing join with others. This usually takes time and perseverance because as we release these divisions it upsets our world order. It is relatively easy to intellectually or imaginatively release the boundaries that separate ourselves from others (“may all beings be happy”), but very difficult to actually change perception and engage in the world from this perspective. The spiritual journey is easily stated but difficult to act upon.
When we sense a tenderness in our hearts for someone, let us not pass that by in the course of our day. Stay there for a while and let an appropriate action result from that tenderness. Maybe it will be nothing more than making eye contact, maybe offering spare change, maybe more. Let the heart begin to respond beyond our selfish demands. The Dalai Lama said, “We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder. We always have a choice.” Using life to soften our hearts is a wise orientation to Dharma and eventually brings everyone along within our hearts.
Without judging notice how self-centered you are. Observe how self-focused your thoughts, emotions, and actions tend to be. Almost every action is taken for self-service. Even your spiritual journey is to your advantage. This is how everyone begins his or her spiritual journey, but to move forward you must recognize how trapped you are within this perception. Ask yourself honestly if you have ever placed someone’s welfare above your own, perhaps your children or a relative? What were the conditions that made this possible? There is joy in self-relinquishment but you cannot get there by pushing yourself away, only by treasuring all things equally.