Months ago, I friend of mine gave me a book of Buddhist thoughts with the heavy title of Life, Death and Afterlife by Lama Yeshe. This gift came after she and I had shared some thoughts about those three topic areas one night in my sauna. I’d avoided reading it for fear that it might suggest that the way I was living was unenlightened; that is, until last night when I finally picked it up.
Come to find out, I’m selfish to the core.
In fact, we all seem to be–even Lama Yeshe–though in varying degrees.
The main idea about our inherent selfishness is that no amount of self-centeredness brings about happiness: the path to “peace of mind” is found through active efforts to make others happy.
This applies to all acts, even the ones you’d think are totally selfish.
For instance, drinking good coffee. One would say to oneself, “I am having this coffee now to stimulate my thinking so that when the time comes for me to write in an hour I will be thinking clearly.” What is left off is the selfish piece: “I love the taste of hot, black coffee in the morning.”
Or, “I am practicing yoga to calm my mind so that when others find crisis in their lives I can be a safe harbor for their calamities.” What’s missing? The selfish notion of: “I like the way I look after years of working hard to become strong and flexible.”
Or, “I am working for my clients to help them find their own solutions to move them from conflict to resolution.” Absent? “I like getting paid.”
Examples like this can run on and on, but I think you get the point.
It’s a colossal mindshift to go from our culturally-sanctioned “all about me” to the Buddhist-approved “all about everyone but me,” but I think with adequate efforts, it’s possible to see nearly every action that one might choose as being in the service of others.
Even something as elementary and involuntary as breathing can be for others.
That friend of mine who gave me the Lama Yeshe book is married to a person whose favorite t-shirt reads as follows:
Some might see the words as selfish, i.e., “I’m taking in all the good and getting rid of all the bad.” However in applying the mindshift, the words can be seen as “I’m taking in the good and expelling the bad to increase my capacity for loving kindness that I will offer to others.”
So take a deep breath and know that you, too, can be an instrument to bring happiness by your expressions of gratitude and appreciation. It only takes a moment of reflection to see how interconnected you are with all those that surround you, intimates and strangers alike.
For me, today will be focused on how my breathing can be a concentrated effort to do for others. And after yoga, I might just have another coffee. Believe me when I say I’m doing it for you.