I was chatting with my soul-brother from the crystal bowl shop the other day about how our sense of service is shifting from a focus on selfless service (aka “fixing everyone else”) to focusing on our own growth and happiness (aka fixing your own house first”). He mentioned the emerging concept among spiritual thought leaders of “divine or enlightened self-interest” as the cornerstone of the evolving new consciousness.
It is a great term to describe what I have been feeling for some time. Yet it is not new. Twenty five years ago, my first spiritual teacher was often given the suggestion (criticism actually) that the thousands of seekers gathering to learn meditation should be mobilized for more service projects. As a recovering “save the world” legal aid attorney, this seemed a compelling argument to me.
While the guru had already established service projects, she always responded the same: “Do your own inner work; that is the highest service.” She continued that it is relatively easy to focus on what everyone else needs. Yet it takes the greatest courage to “Know the Self”. Go within. It takes a true warrior to do battle with the ego, and become Enlightened. Then, your very essence will uplift all humanity.
Many people believe self-interest is what gets in the way of enlightenment. We should, instead, live a life of selfless service. But this can lead to a constant state of depletion and “never enough.” Who is that actually serving? It reminds me of a famous D.C. homeless activist I really admired who became so depressed he committed suicide. That woke me up.
Enlightened self-interest is becoming present and aware of what really energizes, motivates and inspires you. Following your divine self-interest therefore aligns you with who you really are. When you come into the present moment with your enlightened self-interest, you are in the flow. It propels you forward in such a way that allows you to contribute your piece of the puzzle in this divine play of consciousness. You then are truly are able to offer your authentic contribution to the world, which in turn inevitably leads to abundance, joy, and true fulfillment.
During the holidays it is easy to become pulled in a million directions with the needs and “shoulds” of others. If you were to fully come into the present and ask yourself what is it that you truly want to do that will inspire and uplift you, what would you do differently this holiday season? How would you nurture and tend to yourself and your soul?
What a different world it would be if we all could make sure that our deepest desires for true connection, loving conversation, quiet reflection, and playful abandon, were no longer considered selfish. If total exhaustion and depletion were no longer worn as a badge of the righteous, but were seen as the misguided reality that it is. If we could recognize that this type of self-sacrifice, of risking our health and happiness to please others was not a gift to anyone.
How would our life shift if we knew that when we are stable, healthy, balanced and joyful, when our giving and receiving is in balance, then the cup of creativity and grace runneth over.
I challenge you to include yourself–mind, body and spirit– in this path of divine self-interest this year. You may be amazed at how much you are actually “giving”.
With great love