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Effectively Selfish
24m

Effectively Selfish

Learn about what healthy selfishness actually is.

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Hello, and welcome to another episode of Mindfulness+. I'm your host, Thomas McConkie. Thanks so much for listening today. Last week, I had a conversation with Dr. Terri O'Fallon about development. If you didn't get a chance to listen to it, I recommend it. It's a conversation with a woman who's been an educator and studying human development her entire life, over 50 years. And a lot of gems came out of that episode. So I recommend it. And I thought in that spirit, I got a lot of messages, a lot of incoming communications to mindfulnessplus.org about that conversation. So I was feeling the momentum of development and I wanted to talk this week about an interesting, we could say a developmental practice, that involves being effectively selfish. So what does this mean. To kind of set the stage for practice I need to talk a little bit about development, particularly early development. So I didn't have time to get into this particular topic with Terri last week or many other topics. And I thought this would be a fun one to follow up with. So what does it mean to be effectively selfish? I'm gonna talk about it then we're gonna practice it. So when we're young, like really young, we're said to have a first person perspective, developmentally speaking. And what that means is that I can only see the first person, which is me. It's I, me, mine. And we, we talk about the terrible twos with toddlers because it's all about me. I, me, mine, and we're developing a really powerful sense of will and agency, when we're coming into our own. Starting, especially around 18 months but I'm raising a toddler right now, and it happened well before 18 months, but thereabouts after about one year old, the human being starts to become a little bit more active in their, wants their preferences. And you know, before you know it you have a raging toddler headbutting you, eating dog food, mocking you and all your attempts at parenting. But I won't go down that road today. I'm here to talk about something else. So first person perspective, we're just aware of ourself. We're not, we don't have the complexity of mind yet to imagine what other people want, what they need. We're trying to get what we want. That's what life's about. But then at a certain point, we start to mature into what some researchers call the second person perspective. And although we don't use that language in kind of, you know everyday use, second person perspective means I'm aware of a second person. Now I'm aware of you. I'm aware of others, not fully yet, but we have to start somewhere. So second person perspective. It's like when I start to make friends and come into, you know my first relationships in life, and this really happens like the sweet spot is four to six years old where this is really coming online, but it's on its way in embryo, you know, from the beginning. So it's hard to say exactly where it starts but I think four to six years old is a good sense of, kids are starting to share. And they're starting to see each other, and even take care of each other's needs. And when we take care of others people's needs we learn to repress our own needs. That's the key. So when we develop, we gain something, we lose something, but hopefully we don't lose it forever. What I mean by that is when we grow into the second person perspective, which we virtually all do, it means that I can now understand, I can put myself in the other person's shoes enough that I can get a sense of what they need, what they want, what they like what kind of friend I can be to them. I repress my own needs in order to win love from them, purchase peace. We do this in a family, you know, with siblings, with parents, where there are a lot of competing needs. And you know, after a few years of age, we realize, "Oh, there are a lot of I's in this system. And to get along, I gotta give, right?" So that's what's happening in the second person perspective. I'm learning to be in relationships, subordinate my needs to the requirements, the needs of the relationship. But at worst, I can start to really lose touch with what I want and what I need. And if it goes to extremes, I learn to erase myself whenever I'm around other people, starting from the time I'm four for the rest of my life. I will potentially cue off of other people's needs. And I'll be so absorbed in what other people want or need, I won't be able to find myself anymore. And on some level, even the healthiest of human beings, I think, can relate to this. When we lose touch with ourselves and we become overly accommodating to other people. So this is the shift from first to second person perspective. It's a necessary shift on our journey to becoming, you know, the beautiful complex beings that we are. But at worse, we can lose touch with our sense of self. What that means in practice is that if I've lost touch with my sense of self, I will often find myself in relationship with others and feel like my needs aren't being met. But because I've lost myself and I've forgotten that, well I actually know how to take care of myself, I know how to get my needs met. I started doing that when I was about 16 months old, I just, you know, kicked and screamed and made noise and took what I wanted. I mean, that's not the best way to go through life but that's where we start. We know how to take care of ourselves but then we can forget that we know how to take care of ourselves in relationship. And then, because we've repressed that, we find ourselves complaining about the relationships we're in. "You're not giving me what I want. You're not making me happy. I hate it when you do this, stop doing that." And unconsciously, we start to believe that it's other people's job to make us happy. That's the deal. So this is, you know, by any other word, by any other name it's co-dependency. It's like I can't be okay within myself and my own experience. I need you to be a particular way so that I feel okay. So we erase ourselves. We lose ourselves to the other, to a group, to the family, to the church, to the community, whatever it is. And the moment we remember like, "Oh yeah, I can take better care of myself." That becomes an opening to the next level of human flourishing. This we could say, this comes up really powerfully in the third person perspective. In a third person perspective I can take a perspective on myself and say, "Wait a minute, like I have needs. And I forgot about those needs." So not only can I look at other people and their needs I can take an objective perspective on my own needs now. And remember that I have them. I love this teaching, that the best place I've heard it yet among all the practitioners and psychologists and developmentalists, there's an author a practitioner, a therapist named Bruce Tift, who we recommend strongly at Mindfulness+. He talks about the skill of being effectively selfish. And what that means in practice, Bruce Tift will ask "Can you take such good care of yourself that you have nothing to complain about?" Feel that for a moment, what would it be like to take such good care of yourself that you have nothing to complain about? It doesn't matter what other people are doing. It doesn't matter if they're doing things that you love or you don't love 'cause you're taking such good care of yourself, it's all good. Now, practically speaking, we're in relationship. And we can talk to our partner about like, "Hey, you keep leaving a mess in the sink. And I'm doing dishes at the end of a long day at work. And I'm exhausted." It doesn't mean we can't make a behavior request and say, "Hey, when you dirty a dish would you mind cleaning it?" Right? So we can ask people to change their behavior. But when we're taking impeccable care of ourselves we're perfectly aware that that person can say yes or no to our request. It's not their job to make us happy. It's our job to make us happy from a healthy integrated third person perspective. So we're not waiting for other people to conform to our expectations of them to make us happy. It's freedom. It's a stage in development. It's not the last stage. There's always more and more complexity. And beyond the third person we learn to, you know hold both more fully, but that's for another episode. Today, I want to talk about being effectively selfish, and I have a story about it and I have a practice about it. So the story is, we're going into my bedroom for this one. Ha, ha, ha. It's actually not that salacious but I'm trying to make good radio here. When I first got married, my wife moved in, we ended up moving into my apartment. It so happened and I was like, totally blown away. Even deeply disturbed that like day one of marriage, I could tell like how irritated my wife was. And she confirmed this to me that she was in fact very irritated. And part of her, this is really funny, It sounds so confessional. Part of her irritation not all of it, but a good part of it, was that moving into my space, she felt like she didn't have her own space, pretty normal, healthy reaction. So what she did was quite brilliant. It was a two bedroom apartment. She claimed the second bedroom for what she later called her woman cave, which I have a lot of respect for as a guy who appreciates his man cave. She, she took the second bedroom over. She commandeered it. It wasn't a conversation. "Would you mind if I put my easel in there and my art supplies and my meditation cushion?" It wasn't a conversation. It was just her taking really good care of herself. And you know, I'm no dummy. I could see how happy it made her. So it was just, it was an agreement with no discussion. Like the second bedroom was a woman cave. And I knew when I'd walk into the woman cave, like to, you know, ask her about this or that, or "What are we gonna do for dinner?" I remember distinctly this is several years ago in our marriage. I remember I would walk into the room and there was this energy like kind of a tension. And it was like, the time was ticking and she would look at me and she wouldn't even have to say anything but the look and the energy was, "You're on borrowed time, communicate what you need to efficiently. And then please leave." So I was totally conditioned to take no more than like a few steps into the room, state my business, then turn around. It's funny to think about, but as I was reflecting on development and the episode this week I thought that was a really good example of being effectively selfish. We have these negative connotations in culture often around being selfish, but we can liberate those connotations and those value judgements around being a selfish person, and be effectively selfish. And being effectively selfish means being a healthy, happy human being. It means I'm gonna be clear on what I need, what I want, my boundaries and so forth. And I'm gonna communicate that. And I'm gonna take such good care of myself in the process, that I don't need you to be a particular way. I'm taking such good care of myself that I just feel good. And that actually translates into happier relationships, 'cause if I'm so happy and I'm not putting demands on other people to make me happy it turns out I'm a lot easier to be in relationship with. So I don't know if the idiom, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander" is appropriate here. I'm always wondering where I can throw that into a conversation, but you get the idea. The question it's Bruce Tift's question. And it's a deeply developmental question and I love it. And it's a highly appropriate material for Mindfulness+, this podcast about waking up and expanding our consciousness and developing into healthy, thriving human beings. The question "Can you take such good care of yourself that you have nothing to complain about?" Let's reflect on this. Start by just settling in. Take a posture with an upright spine that lets energy really flow through you. Nothing catching. Everything, just circulating Gather awareness in the physical body. Just feeling all of sensation at once, as best as you can. When we're not bringing mindful awareness to the moment we tend to fixate on a thought, on some small aspect of experience. And just to stretch out into the full field of sensation is good for our brain. Good for our mind. Good for everybody. So just feel all of sensational at once. Your feet on the ground, the support of the ground beneath you. The expansion and contraction of the breath. Let the dust settle here. With each breath, especially each out breath just feeling a letting go, into deeper and deeper rest and stillness. You're not trying to make something happen. You don't need to make something happen, and you don't need to prevent anything from happening in your own experience. You can feel all that you're feeling. Just be totally engaged with the reality of your present moment experience. Appreciate the natural rhythms of the body, of nature itself, settling, settling. So you start to get this sense just like a wave on the ocean. You're just an expression of life, continuous with life and nature, no separation. It's so good. It's so good. We almost can't believe it. Just this simple feeling of being. Next, I want you to call up this meditation, this question, "What would it look like to take such good care of yourself, that you had nothing to complain about?" Let your awareness just sweep through the different situations, the context, the relationships of your life. And notice if there's a way in which you're not taking care of yourself, just feel into this. Leave your awareness open, your heart open, your body relaxed. Just noticing what you become aware of when you hold this question. As you feel into this question into your life you can also become aware of the energy of complaint. Is there a relationship, a situation in which you find yourself complaining as though you are a victim of a situation that you have no control over. You're unhappy because of how other people are being. And it's not to say that those people aren't being awful, they could be. But what if you took such good care of yourself in this situation, you had nothing to complain about. You don't like how they're being. You request a behavior change. They decline, you walk away. No drama. You just take perfect care of yourself. At the far end of this spectrum of forgetting ourself, expecting other people to make us happy, is this question, "Have I been waiting for somebody to rescue me?" Notice if this is the case, "I've been waiting for someone to rescue me", shift your attention, shift your awareness one degree, instead of waiting to be rescued, you just take better care of yourself. You take care of yourself, to the point that you don't need to be rescued. You're happy and whole. And of course, other people bring you great joy and happiness. Relationship is the juice of life. And yet you don't need people to make you happy. You're already happy. And so relationships can make you even happier. Being effectively selfish is to take such good care of yourself that you have nothing to complain about. Oh, I felt that hope you did too. Well done. Good practice. So that's our show today. If you are enjoying Mindfulness+, share it with a friend, leave us a review where you review your podcasts. And if you're interested in a deeper dive into this journey of development, this amazing journey of discovery you can start back with our episode from last week with Dr. Terri O'Fallon. We also have a cohort program a cohort learning situation that we talked about in last week's episode that we will post a link for in the show notes. Feel free to check it out. Lots of opportunities out there. In the meantime, thank you for listening to Mindfulness+ and we will be back with more next week. Signing off.

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