Selfishness and Death

March 20, 2013  •  2 Comments

A sunrise in ThailandDSC_7149 Living life in a way that promotes personal happiness, living on the edge, living recklessly but also calculated, wild but also with hesitation; I find myself acting in certain ways to promote my own personal happiness, while ignoring not only grave consequences to my life, but also the people around me: Selfishness.

Being selfish has given me many opportunities. I have seen spectacular parts of the world. I have done things from an athletic perspective that many aspire to do, while few others make the commitment to go along that path. This doesn’t make me better or more experienced than anyone else. We are all going through this world together, and aside from the deceptive physical descriptions of the world afforded by modern physics, we all are living on the same timeline. Each moment is to be enjoyed by each person, and it is up to that person to fully capitalize on that moment. We essentially have two choices: to enjoy a moment completely for ourselves, or to give our moment, as a gift, to another. Selfishness then becomes a choice: the choice to enjoy a particular moment for yourself.

With this rudimentary description, we can see that selfishness is rampant throughout most of our lives. In fact, most of us are selfish individuals, most of the time. This isn’t to say, however, that selfishness is a bad thing. After all, we are all in charge of our own lives and except for the very young and the very old, we are responsible for our own well-being. Something that I presently struggle with is determining when to dedicate a moment to myself, and when to dedicate a moment to others. I really enjoy living in “the moment”, discovering myself through constant growth and activity, and having freedom to pursue my passions. Consequently, I can see the other side of the selfishness token when I look at the consequences of my passions.

Death is mysterious, it is an unknown that we all try to understand, though none of us really can. The best we are able to do is to put faith in a belief system that provides grounds for understanding death. What is certain about death is that we will all experience it, and it has far-reaching effects: effects on your own ability to maintain a link between mind and body, and effects on the important people in your life. I love so many people in my life. How could I possibly do something that could cause them pain and suffering? The root cause is clearly selfishness.

Something to consider, and something that is a strong principle of Buddhism, is the concept of “anatman” or not-self. As far as the ideas of selfishness and death go, anatman is a very powerful idea. In a blog post that I wrote in 2009, I quoted a monk named Achaan Chaa about the “self”:

Achaan Chaa looked down and smiled faintly. He picked up the glass of drinking water to his left. Holding it up to us he spoke in the chirpy Lao dialect that was his native tongue: “You see this goblet? For me, this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on a shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say ‘ Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious”

As I read this passage again, I think more about my body as the glass. Death is certain for all things, both living and inanimate. But when I am broken and my body crumbles away, I will have no ability to change the actions of this life. How can I make the greatest use out of this life? I wrote before:

“If we use the glass as much as possible, in as many ways as possible, not worrying about the fact that it could break, because we know it will break eventually, then we use the glass in the best possible way. The same is true with our lives. We can live conservatively, creating false limits for ourselves, or we can live fully, embracing every moment that we have as a blessing and a challenge. Either way, our fate is already determined as mortal beings.”

I tend to agree here, and as I look at the idea of selfishness, my feelings are reinforced. I know that I will die, but to live fully, I act selfishly, I must make the most out of my life by embracing each moment. The key for me now, in order to grow into a better person, is to dedicate more of my life to the people around me, and to try viewing my experiences from a less personal perspective. In doing so, I realize how the things that are the most important to me are really meaningless in the terms of the goings-on of the universe. If I decide to BASE jump today, or to walk a highline, the earth will continue spinning and people will continue smiling. We all discover happiness in beautifully diverse ways, and I want to pursue that happiness in as many different ways as possible, not only with selfish acts, but selfless ones as well. For now, I’ll do my best, creating beautiful art to inspire others to look at their own lives from an outside perspective: to appreciate the abruptness with which life can expire and the importance of focusing on each moment, whether you take that moment for yourself, or dedicate that to someone else. Either way, we are already broken, we are already gone. Knowing this creates a feeling of elated freedom in me: freedom to look up to the sky, think of amazing possibilities, and smile. When I move past the fact that death is always present, I can live freely. My purpose is to help other people feel this freedom, to help other people to understand the beauty of the subtleties, of the spontaneous adventures that we can all have on a daily basis. What can we do to make this day more special for ourselves and for others? That’s what I want to commit myself to. When my time comes, I want to be the glass that touched the most people, saw the most smiles, the one that’s chipped and dirty, the one that was already broken, and the one that is replaced and forgotten.

 


Comments

2.Wizened and grizzely(non-registered)
Huge difference between being selfish and being self-oriented.

Your self orientation is very high toward others.

Pair that with the credibility you bring to your craft and your trustworthiness is extremely high. Hence your ability to have a positive impact on all those around you.

Keep teaching, mentoring, and being a great friend to all you meet.
1.Food for Spirit(non-registered)
"We essentially have two choices: to enjoy a moment completely for ourselves, or to give our moment, as a gift, to another. Selfishness then becomes a choice: the choice to enjoy a particular moment for yourself.

"I know that I will die, but to live fully, I act selfishly, I must make the most out of my life by embracing each moment."

Dear Scott, the two choices that you describe are both visible only from the perspective of separation. Enjoying a moment for yourself or giving that moment completely to another assumes that the two are distinct entities with often conflicting definitions of happiness.

We are ultimately an intricately interwoven tapestry of unified light and matter. Awareness in any given moment is the ability to see that. Happiness is the result. The choices that you provided are actually the same choice -- the choice to see one's actions, one's situation, one's happiness as independent of the whole, whether yours or another's.

Is it possible that there could be a perspective, an action, in which one enjoys a moment to the greatest extent possible while the others around him do the same? How would that feel? In those moments, would self fade away to a sense of greater connection and community that would inspire a feeling of living Fully not possible from one's own perspective alone?
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