The Two Sides of Selflessness


When you think of selflessness, what's the first thought that comes to mind?

For many (myself included), my first thought is usually some sort of unselfishness. For others, it might be more along the lines of self-sacrifice. While unselfishness is definitely an aspect of selflessness, I'm not so sure self-sacrifice is...unless you're God! Unfortunately, for fallen humanity, self-sacrifice is often driven by a self-centered desire to expend oneself for others in the hopes that such seeming selflessness will make-up for something missing in the life or personality of the sacrificer. For example, a self-sacrificer may let her spouse have his way in a particular financial decision because (1) she doesn't have the courage to stand-up for herself and, in the interest of avoiding conflict, capitulates to her husband's desires; or (2) she's found that letting her husband have his way makes her feel less self-centered than he is and that makes her feel better about herself because it bolsters her own feelings of moral superiority (or something along those lines); or (3) if she lets him win in this instance, she can use it as a bargaining chip later to get something she deems more valuable to her. While there may be other, more specific motives at play in the circumstances we find ourselves in at times, many of our self-sacrificing motives probably fall into one or more of the above categories. If we look really close at our efforts in self-sacrifice, most likely, we're going to uncover at least a hint (if not gobs and gobs) of self-centeredness. Hence, why I rarely consider self-sacrifice a true aspect of selflessness. (Unless, of course, your the Lord Jesus Christ!)

To steer the conversation to a more focussed analysis, I'd like to offer a different way to look at selflessness. In my estimation, true selflessness is the absence of self-consciousness. Further, I believe there are essentially two arenas (or sides) to this "absence."

ARENA ONE: Forgetting Oneself in One's Interactions with Another

This is where one loses one's self-consciousness in the presence of others. It's not that he (or she) doesn't care what others think of him, it's that he's not really even thinking of himself at all. He's just right there with whomever is with him in the moment. It's as though his sole purpose in life in that moment is to be with the person (or people) before him. Whether it's to listen to that one, or help that one with her math homework, or hold the door for whomever is following behind him into the Barnes and Noble. In the moment, he's forgotten himself and, as such, there's not even a hint of embarrassment or of feeling the need to make an impression on someone or measure up to anyone or anything. He's just there as himself for another...without contrivance, without artificiality. In the moment, nothing else matters to him. In that instant, he becomes an event: the doing of being his self-emptying self (however he [or, rather, it] might manifest itself).

ARENA TWO: Losing Oneself in One's Actions

Have you ever been so engrossed in an activity you lost all consciousness of time (and maybe even worked right through lunch and dinner) and didn't even realize it? Or have you ever been so focussed on performing a skill, be it attacking a double black diamond trail at Ski Roundtop or executing a round off/back handspring/double somersault in your final tumbling pass, that nothing else existed except what you were doing in the moment? These experiences are also an aspect of selflessness: The condition of forgetting oneself through total and complete immersion in a particular action (or series of actions). Even though the skill may be performed in the interests of achieving something (even if it's just the painting of a living room wall), the desired outcome merges into the background as your absorption in the activity takes center stage. Again, you become the action itself as it expresses itself in and through you.

Or as you.

All of us were created for selflessness. It's THE WAY (e.g., "the Christ Way") of doing and being I think we most want to live out in our day-to-day lives. I believe living selflessly (and basically doing so all the time) is home-base where the experience of true happiness is concerned. Think of a time recently when you were truly happy. What was the context? I'd be willing to bet it was either during a moment where you forgot yourself while you were with another person or a moment where you lost yourself in whatever it was you were doing.

I urge you: Pursue selflessness. It's the way you were meant to live; and it's the way, too, you most want to be (even though you often let the anxieties of tomorrow and the regrets of yesterday kick it to the curb).

God's peace to you friends...

 

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The Life You Were Born to Live