We are all taught from a young age that selfishness is bad, and in general it is, but how does it manifest? Does it really start from childhood and that old tale of only children being more selfish, or those from large families that have been deprived who hold on to what they can and don’t share? What are the boundaries of selfishness and are they any defined guidelines? How about those who are secretly selfish and who hide it?
As the eldest, I’ve always felt responsible for my sibling and yet as I reflect, I envy those who can be a little selfish and freer at times than I. Being responsible is a subconscious act and an unselfish one. It is one of an unspoken duty to look out for those who rely and depend on you, and should never be taken lightly. That’s why it’s difficult for truly responsible people to be selfish, as it doesn’t come naturally and is something that is learnt often through circumstance. You automatically think of others first, and while that may sound like an excellent trait, at times the unselfish neglect themselves and end up suffering in silence. This can lead to problems, such as not taking care of health issues (mental and physical), not putting time aside to rest properly, and then not taking the time to enjoy things because you are too busy worrying about others. Selfishness has some advantages!
Being selfish or having the ability to switch it on means that you can often do things guilt free. You look out for your own needs and pleasures and sometimes that isn’t a bad thing. At times I see people caught up helping others with charity work, or helping out friends or family that they end up neglecting their own lives and compromise their jobs and relationships. Too often have I seen couples file for divorce or separate because one wasn’t selfish enough to put the relationship first and work at it. They forget that relationships are like plants that grow constantly and need tending to every now and then. Dead parts need to be cut off and they need to be nurtured to grow.
Are you selfish enough to go on holiday when someone needs you? Maybe you need the holiday to relax and stay sane, so is that selfish by putting yourself and your health first? It’s like on the airplanes when they say to put your oxygen mask on first before you help others, because you can’t help anyone if you have passed out. Sometimes you have to be selfish to protect yourself even if others won’t understand it. They don’t need to, nor do you need to justify your actions and choices to anyone.
Selfish people find it easier to walk away or to end friendships, or to leave jobs with no notice. Sometimes these instances arise from necessity, and while some will feel guilt or regret others will have no feelings at all. That sometimes isn’t a bad thing, for at times toxic friendships need to be broken, and at times leaving a job with a bad atmosphere is the sensible thing to do. What I have learned in life is that in terms of work you can always be replaced, and as for friendships, that too. Things do not stand still, but you can remember the good times for they in time pass.
At times, being selfish is the only way to survive when others demand your time and zap you of your energies. It’s okay to put yourself first, because if you don’t, who will? Guilt often holds us back, yet by adopting an outlook of self-care, it can actually help us for we all need our own personal space and time. Being selfish always sounds negative, but it isn’t when you need to protect yourself. That means spiritually as well as physically and mentally. Everyone needs some space, time to relax, and to be in a position to make their own choices rather than be tied to a schedule.
I recall my time living on a spiritual retreat, and it taught me that the ideals of what some consider spiritual are very far removed from reality. The concept of having no keys for rooms as people can be trusted went down the pan when the takings were stolen (before my time) and only bathrooms had locks apart from a couple of offices. There wasn’t even a lock for the front door, which in this day and age isn’t that bright and when I was alone sleeping in a building with the front door unlocked, it wasn’t comfortable.
Then you have people sharing rooms in dorms, and while it saves space, long term is that healthy? For children it maybe fine at school who are out at class, but for adults who need their private space is that a good thing? How comfortable are you sharing a small confined space with strangers where you are embarrassed to fart or snore when you sleep? Maybe you want to pray before you go to sleep, but how can you when someone is playing music next to you or on the phone having a conversation?
Sharing a dorm long term (as in not in a hostel on holiday) actually made me more selfish. How? You had to fight for the best positioned bed, nicest bed linen, and cupboard and drawer space; things that make your private space more comfortable. In fact we used to refer to ourselves as ‘inmates’ because it was some days like a prison. We worked 40 hours a week and got in return food and lodgings, but also had to do washing up during workshop weekends and community projects (disguised as work they needed doing that no one else would do like shovel snow). When your time is abused, you become more selfish to protect yourself.
Can you be spiritually selfish? Sometimes you have to be, because you can’t help everyone, plus not everyone needs help although they think they do. At times I get messages sent to me on my blogs asking me for help, and sometimes I do feel drawn to respond, but other times I sense people just want a reading or want to hear that things will be okay and that something must be to blame for what has happened. Often people don’t want to take or accept responsibility for their actions. Many don’t want to hear the truth or want to work on their issues and have been dazzled by some of the spiritual shows on television that sorts things out and makes it all look hunky dory. In reality, helping someone can take months and years even, and so I do not start something I can’t or won’t see through.
At times you have to be spiritually selfish, because if you spread yourself too thinly, you end up with less energy and you become more vulnerable to negative energies that may want to steal your energy. This applies to the physical and mental side too, and in a demanding world that doesn’t stop, the self needs to exert an element of selfishness in order to thrive and survive. Learning to say ‘no’ when necessary and not feel guilty is a skill that takes time to acquire, and it’s not selfish although some may see it like that. It is merely creating the boundaries that each of us must decide upon as individuals, and finding a balance to protect the self and to retain the strength to evolve, and to help others when possible without harming or endangering the self.