Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tips From My Mom #5

Lately I have been thinking a lot about balance.

Balance and perspective.

And as with most things in life these recurring themes have come at me from varied, unusual and seemingly unconnected sources; Dolly Parton, my mom and two children’s books I recently read titled Zen Shorts and Zen Ties by Jon J. Muth.

I have been grappling with these ideas in relation to the notion of selfishness. What does it mean to be ‘selfish’? Can we say another person is being ‘selfish’ without understanding the motives behind an action? Is it sometimes right and proper to be ‘selfish’ when it is necessary to continue one’s sense of well being?

Here are some scenerios…

I have a friend who used to work out regularly and would sometimes say that he couldn’t do such and such because he had to work out. Sometimes this would interfere with my plans and I would think “how selfish”. I figured he should be available to do as I wanted because he could work out anytime. But you know my perspective on that has changed greatly as I have gotten older. Because really, who was being selfish in that situation?

I have come to understand that taking care of ourselves and attending to the needs of our bodies and spirits is not at all selfish. If our bodies or spirits are lacking in some way, for instance either due to illness or depression, how can we then be available to others?

I read an interview with Dolly Parton this morning in which she spoke about the fact that she is not always happy but that she tries to be happy most of the time. In the article it became clear to me that although she is pushed and pulled every which way, by all kinds of folks, it is her inner strength and truth that allows her to be there for others and carry on. Dolly taking care of Dolly is not selfish, it is necessary to keep the machine running.

It is interesting that I should even have to debate this whole issue because growing up my mom was never big on laying down guilt. She was always intuitive enough to realize that her children had their own lives to live but that we would also continue to come back to home base when needed.

My mom always allowed us to be who we are. No judgements, no guilt. And she trusted that we would (and could) follow our inner Jiminy Cricket down the right path.

She understood that we needed to explore, learn, make mistakes and tend to our desires and needs. Unlike some parents she let us do just that. And through our teen years, when many children act out against their parents, we remained solid and loving towards one another.

Conversely, I have seen what can happen when individuals are not allowed to be ‘selfish’. Those perfect persons who constantly ignore their own needs in order to fulfill everyone else’s wishes usually end up paying the price in some way. They can become physically or mentally ill because they can not keep up the pace.

There must be balance; a balance between taking care of others and taking care of ourselves, a balance between meeting our responsibilities and finding time for ourselves.

It was in reading Zen Shorts and Zen Ties that this all came together for me. In simple terms these books bring the message of inner peace and looking inward. These are messages that my mom has always allowed us to live, although they were not necessarily spoken of.

I am grateful that I can begin to understand what it means to be ‘selfish’ in the very best ways so I can be there for others. I am
grateful that I can begin to understand that those who accuse and judge others are not quite there yet so I can release my desire to slap them silly and have some compassion.

And I am grateful that I have the opportunity to experience all of this, that I can question, that I can grow and that I can still shake my head in wonder.


Lynda said...

I love when you talk about your Mom and the wonderful way she raised you.

I have learned just recently
to ask for help when you need it-don't try to do everything yourself. Ask co-workers, friends, family for a "helping hand".
I have not been refused yet, and it sure helps with the everyday stress in life.

So that's Lynda's Pearls of Wisdom!!!

dennis said...

Dennis used to be a people pleaser until Maya Angelou gave Dennis permission to say "no" to others.
Dennis says no quite often now.

kimy said...

what a wonderful post. I've always loved hearing tips from your wise mama.

taking care of one's self is so necessary and relates to how we also need to love our own self first and foremost. if we can't/don't love our self, we are unfortunately unable to love others....

I have a friend where I feel I am his 'no' coach. he is giving to a fault (which seems like a bizarre thing to say) put my poor friend gets into just awful situations and personal crises because he is always saying yes to people and tasks... but, really, he could give more to others if he gave more to himself and protected himself. it's a hard for most of us to realize that.... ah "to thine own self be true"

thanks gary for much food for though. xx

marxsny said...

You make a really wise and important observation here. I certainly have a renewed understanding of the importance of taking care of oneself. Good advice!

Mona said...

wow! another Mom post!
I love them , specially that picture of hers :)

i agree with most of what you have to say here. If you are not selfish, you will not be altruistic, you will not be unselfish. Only a deeply selfish person can be unselfish. This sounds like a paradox right?

The first basic thing is to be self centered . The second basic thing is to look for your own blissfulness.If you are self centered you will be selfish in whatever you do. You may go & serve people but you will do it only because you enjoy it, Because you love doing it, because you feel happy doing it.You are not just doing your duty,, you are not serving humanity, you are not sacrificing yourself or being a martyr. You are simply being happy in your own way.

A self centered person is always seeking his happiness. and this is the beauty of it. the more you seek happiness the more you will help others to be happy, Because that is the only way to be happy in the world. You cannot be happy if the others around you are unhappy, If you want to be happy, you have to help others who surround you to be happy.
Teach everyone selfishness because unselfishness grow out of it.Unselfishness is ultimately selfishness. It may look unselfish in the beginning, but finally it fulfills you.

Gary said...

Mona - Wow, in trying to write this post I became a little worried that I would be unable to make my point properly, but I see clearly that you got it perfectly. I hope if anyone has any questions about what I mean they will turn to your comment and between the two grasp this potentially confusing notion. Thanks so much. I appreciate your feedback.

Mark - Of course you come into play as well here. You can't continue to be SuperMan, doing all things for all people. It is time to get a little 'selfish'.

Kimy - The best part about these Tips from Mom posts is that she is always just as surprised as anyone else by her advice. She just lives it, I am the one to pull it apart. :) In this case it was a matter of learning from her 'mistakes'. She was/is a selfless mom always putting everyone before herself and I think sometimes that took a heavy toll. She is more capable of saying 'no' now (as you mention) and that has made her happier I think. God bless my mom! For that matter "God Bless us all, everyone".

Dennis - A cat saying "NO". I don't believe it.

Lynda - I love 'Lynda's Pearls of Wisdom'. That can be the name of the blog you are contemplating. It leaves so many avenues to explore.

WAT said...

Why yes. Who else can better take care of yourself than you right?

With the flu and my recent eye issue, I had to stay home, rest, and recover, but it's hard sometimes for friends to understand that when they wanna hang out and have fun, but I gotta do what it takes to keep my machine running, so this post fits me like a nice ring on mee finger.

I have a dear dear friend, an ex, who is so unselfish and has lots of heath issues afterwards because of his lack of personal/self care and I wish he'd change that and start loving himself more.

For if you do not love thyself, how can u truly love others?

Professor Montblanc said...

My mother was wonderful like yours.

Reya Mellicker said...

Self care is definitely not valued in our culture. Running yourself ragged is rewarded over and over again.

So glad you're thinking about this and sharing your thoughts with us. Thank you!

Gary said...

Wat - Exactly! I had an ex who would always end our phone conversations with "take care of yourself" and I hated that at the time. But now I see it differently. We really are the experts of our own bodies and know best what we need to take care of ourselves - even if that is knowing that we need someone else to help out. Glad you are on the mend.

Prof - Tell me more...

Reya - I am guilty of that attitude. As someone who is constantly on the go I sometimes look at others who do 'nothing' as wasting life. They are probably thinking the same of me. It is all about perspective. BTW, you have a present coming...

lettuce said...

gary, reading this has left me in tears, for all sorts of reasons...

i do like you

Steve said...

Those Zen books are FABULOUS. And such beautiful artwork!

Life really is all about balance. For me, it's almost instinctive -- I can tell when I'm getting out of balance, when I'm feeling pulled too far one way or the other. I try not to be selfish, but it's interesting that you regarded your working-out friend's behavior as selfish -- because that's something I'd do, and it made me think, well, what IS selfish, anyway? We all see things so differently.

Dolly Parton is remarkable. She has a good head on her shoulders.

Lirone said...

Great post, and some lovely comments too. I'd only add that sometimes holding back on expressing your needs to look after others often doesn't help them either!

Sometimes what they need is entirely different from what you think it is, and sometimes they need to take responsibility for the problem themselves.

Kimberly said...

I always wished I would have had parents like this. My friends are also so close to their mothers and fathers and it fills my heart to see the connection to why they are the beloved friends they are to me. At the same time I have a longing for that for myself which will never be. When I dwell on this too long I try to cover up my dispair with humor or even better, I just randomly go out and do something generous and giving for someone who REALLY has a hard life. so I can get out of my selfish wallowing, and it always makes the day brighter! Thank you for this post!! I think I will call my mom anyway.


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