IN PRAISE OF SELFISHNESS
Episode 14: It was St. Francis who said that "In giving, it is that we receive." And while there may be much truth in that, there is also a hidden danger that awaits those who give too much. Join me for an exploration of the magic of service—and just as importantly, how you can avoid the trap that leads millions into lives of exhaustion, overwhelm, and worse.
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For it is in giving, that we receive.
Welcome to Real Yoga, a podcast dedicated to helping you use yoga's ancient wisdom to unlock your life of radical happiness, connection and meaning right here, right now. I'm your host Eric Walrabenstein, and I'm glad you're here.
Putting others first. Living a life of service. Giving more than we take.
These are seemingly universal tenets, not only for those on a spiritual path, but for anyone wanting to live a rich and meaningful life.
The quote we began with comes from the Christian tradition. It was Saint Francis who said "For it is in giving that we receive." But of course we see this same sentiment elsewhere as well. From the Buddhist tradition, the Dalai Lama reminds us our prime purpose in life is to help others. In the Bhagavad Gita, it's said that "those who renounce selfish desires are forever free." And even Albert Einstein got in on the action when he counseled that "only a life lived for others is a life worth living."
But as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Those who know me know that I love to flying. And I'm fortunate enough to have an airplane in which I can do that regularly. It's a small plane, it seats four people, and while it's not all that big or all that fast, it does make the world a bit smaller in a good way.
From my home here in Phoenix, Arizona, I can be in the mountains. And about 30 minutes I can be at the beach in a couple of hours. And it turns the 15 hour drive to see my sister into a flight of just under three hours.
But even more than simply allowing me to get from one place to another. The beauty and magic of flight is something I never tire of. As I soar along, looking down on the majesty of man and nature alike, I see tiny communities nestled in mountain valleys, the meandering paths of rivers that are hidden from earthbound travelers and so much more.
But on a recent flight, I was struck by a startling contrast between the different landscapes that were passing beneath me.
I happened to be on a puppy rescue mission flying a paralyzed Siberian Husky named Blackjack to his new forever home. One of my favorite things to do, by the way, I mean if you can't rescue puppies with an airplane. What's the point? Right.
Anyway, as we were flying over Northern Arizona, I looked down to see a sprawling complex of excavations, a mine, probably a copper mine, but what struck me the most was the staggering damage that had been done to the earth.
Humongous scars and pits littered landscape, mountains of tailings of dirt and rock, and ponds, no, make that lakes of toxic sludge were everywhere. It looked like a war zone.
And almost as quickly as the destruction passed beneath my wing, I looked down to see a beautiful, verdant farm; Alive and vibrant with more shades of green than you could ever imagine. There were tree-lined roads, ponds, and even at grand red barn flanked by long lines of white fencing. It was like a scene out of a hallmark movie.
Now, to be clear, it wasn't so much the contrast between the appearance of these differing landscapes that moved me. It was more of the contrast between the different psychologies that were required to produce them: the different psychologies, a miner and a gardener.
Because in that difference there is a lesson for us all.
Before we dive in, let me make it clear that what follows is not an indictment of those in the mining industry any more than it's an endorsement of those in agricultural pursuits. Rather, we're just seeking to use these two examples together with more than a dab of hyperbole to make a useful point to explore the psychological tendencies that live within us all.
And maybe more importantly to explore the pros and cons of those tendencies. So please don't write letters.
We'll start with mining.
The miner is an opportunist. He is someone who is ruthlessly locked down on getting what he wants.
The minor hunts for a piece of land--or metaphorically, a relationship, a job opportunity, a friendship--but one that he believes he can use to get his needs filled.
And once he finds that "land", he goes to work. Mining, digging and taking and taking and digging, for as long as it takes to get as much of what he wants as he can. And once there's nothing left of value in that mine, or the relationship or the job or the friendship, once the mine is left barren and often scarred and sometimes poisoned, the miner moves on.
At its heart, mining is about taking
Gardening is a different kind of animal.
Now to be clear, the gardener too is an opportunist of sorts. She's also seeking to gain from the garden. Again, it could be a literal garden or a metaphorical garden called a relationship or a job or a friendship.
But here's the crucial difference.
The gardener knows what Saint Francis taught so many centuries ago. "It is in giving that we receive."
So instead of looking for something to take, the gardener looks for something to nourish. And once she finds it, she gardens.
That is to say she lovingly prepares the soil. She plants the seeds, nourishes the seedlings with water and fertilizer and protects them from harm from invaders. But most of all she trusts. She trusts that in giving. She will receive and as a result of all of this, the most amazing thing happens.
The Gardner doesn't have to move on.
Unlike the mine, the garden doesn't become a barren, scarred, poisoned leave behind. In fact, the garden becomes often something better than when it was first found. Something that has been nourished through the gardeners giving, through her patients and her trust.
Gardening is about giving and creating.
Sarah is a friend and a student of mine from Seattle. She lives in acquaint home upon queen Anne Hill with her three children and her husband and best friend Kyle and their pyrenees named Beauregard. By day, Sarah is an attorney for a nonprofit focusing on protecting the environment, and at every other time she's laser focused on being the very best mother she can be.
Sarah is a gardener.
Now, when Sarah first came to see me, well, the word exhausted doesn't really even begin to describe it. She was tired, bone tired, but beyond that she was also conflicted.
There was a war raging within her. Her desire to give her children and her family what they needed was pitted against reality. The reality of what she actually had to give. So, there she was exhausted, conflicted, oh, and one other thing, failing. Failing not because of her lack of devotion, but because quite simply Sarah had nothing left to give. No energy, no patience, no understanding. Sarah was a scarred and barren mess.
Sarah had stumbled head long into an age old trap, a trap that has crippled untold numbers of loving mothers, dedicated fathers, caring partners, and devoted caregivers and so many more.
The fact is that our well-intentioned orientation towards giving, towards gardening can actually backfire.
Here's the obvious truth. A gardener can only give what she has, and no amount of good intentions or well-meaning effort can make up for frazzled nerves and depleted energy. In a most ironic twist, Sarah's commitment to nurturing her family was the number one thing that was getting in the way of her nurturing her family. Her dedication to gardening had inadvertently turned her into a miner.
She had become a miner, digging and taking from very own self.
As anyone who has ever traveled by air knows, in the unlikely event of cabin depressurization, you're instructed to put on your own oxygen mask before you help your children or anyone else who may need your assistance.
Now the reason is obvious: If you lose consciousness while helping someone else, you will ultimately help no one--and you both lose. But if you nourish yourself with oxygen first, you'll then have what you need to serve others and everybody wins.
This is the wisdom of selfishness, and it's the wisdom Sarah used to put herself and her family back on track.
At the risk of stating the obvious, when I say the wisdom of selfishness, I'm not speaking of unbridled self-indulgence. Rather, I'm pointing towards one of the most common, and in fact, one of the most devastating missteps of those of us with gardener personalities.
And that is neglecting the garden within, which happens to be every bit as important as the gardens around us. And the predicament that Sarah found herself in is the perfect example.
You see, before this epiphany, Sarah had felt like any time she spent on herself was her being selfish time at the gym felt selfish. The weekend yoga workshop felt selfish. And even a Saturday afternoon lunch with friends felt selfish. And Sarah, being the gardener that she is, hated the feeling of being selfish.
And so she gave and gave and gave until everything began to fall apart.
Sarah had long ago recognized that the garden that was her family needed nourishment, but she neglected the fact that the garden of her very own self needed the very same kind of nourishment as well. And thus she became caught in what is the classic caregiver trap.
But this epiphany was the thing that enabled her to turn the tides.
You see, once it became clear to Sarah that her giving nature, the thing that she was in many ways the most proud of, was also her own worst enemy. Everything shifted.
We worked together to create a self-nourishment plan, a scheduled regimen of contemplation and exercise and relaxation that allowed Sarah to be at her best so that she could be there for what mattered most.
And now, she starts each morning with a brief guided meditation. She attends three yoga classes per week and regularly schedules time to be in nature with friends. And rather than feeling like she was being selfish as she once thought would be the case, her husband, Kyle and her three kids enthusiastically support her in all of it. Because they've seen the change in her. And more importantly, how with this change, they've seen how every one of them wins.
Yes. Now Sarah and her entire family knows that it is in giving that we receive, but that part of that giving must be to ourselves.
And so from this comes the invitation to honor the gardener within you. The part of you that recognizes that giving and nourishing and patience and trust have magic in them
But also to recognize that only a gardener that is nourished and whole can truly make that magic happen.
So, tend to the garden of your family, tend to the garden of your children, tend to the garden of your career and your friends and your community. But never ever forget that none of this is possible. If you don't first tend to the garden of your very own self.
Well, that's all the time we have for today. I'm hopeful that our discussion will serve as a reminder to us all that self care is not selfish. In fact, it can be its very opposite.
As always, I'd love to hear from you. So drop me a note from my website ericwal.com. Also, if you could help me spread the word about the life changing power of these ancient teachings by sharing the podcast with friends or family, I'd be more grateful than you know.
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Thanks again. I'm wishing you a wonderful week of nourishment and nurturing. And of course, if there's anything I can do to be of service, please don't hesitate to let me know. I'll see you next time.