I’m realizing that one of the big components of living and developing a spiritual life is to continually train in the art of lessening our tendency to be self-absorbed. The less we feed and nurture our sense of self-importance, the more we are able to build a strong foundation for living a happy and contented life.
For the sake of attempting to avoid misunderstanding, it’s important to mention here that self-importance and self-absorption are not the same thing as being self-assured or having self-confidence. When we are self-absorbed we have a heightened sense of self-importance. When this happens, we have the tendency to be very self-conscious, thinking that others are always paying attention to us wherever we go. We have little awareness of how others are feeling or what’s going on for them in their lives – everything is about us and how things affect us. We tend to get caught up in our own busy affairs and have little time to extend ourselves to others. I’ve also found that highly self-absorbed people tend to be surrounded with constant drama – there seems to often be something of a dire nature happening that consumes all of their time and energy (the law of attraction at play). This quality of being frequently presents itself as victim-hood, as well. People who are self-absorbed are filled with people to blame for their situation and have very little ability to take responsibility for things – they experience a problem and know right away who to blame for its creation, but are unlikely to do anything about it themselves, other than complain and point out problems.
The more we come to understand that our life is not our own, the more we step into the interbeing nature of all that is. In my experience, living a spiritual life is a matter of learning how to care well for ourselves so that we are able to care well for others. It’s about making each aspect a priority in our lives: self-cultivation and care/support for others – time for ourselves and time for others, in an intentional and skillful way.
Here are some things I myself do that serve to help me lessen my own levels of self-absorption:
Every day practices: sitting meditation, mindful breathing, paying close attention to my words and actions and investigating why I’m doing and saying what I’m doing and saying, gratitude practice (which I do after sitting meditation and also before each meal), cultivating joy, and finding quotes/videos/articles/teachings to post on both our sangha and our mindfulness center facebook page, in order to help support people’s day and practice.
Weekly practices: volunteering, mindful morning Saturdays (where I spend a few concentrated hours deepening my mindfulness practice), reaching out to friends & family members (which might be as simple as sending a text or email checking in with someone or simply saying hello, letting them know I’m thinking about them and sending love, or it might involve writing a letter or meeting people in person for tea), reading sutras, and practicing certain chants.
Monthly practices: attend films/trainings/meetings/public forums which serve to inform, inspire, or widen my perspective and/or understanding (I actively search this kind of stuff out and devote my time and energy to learning more about a wide array of topics – and I’m grateful for living in a place like Missoula, which has no shortage of these opportunities).
All aspects of developing a mindfulness practice, regardless of whether or not it’s in conjunction with wanting to walk a spiritual path in life, require ongoing cultivation and strengthening, if we are to maintain our forward momentum. There is no attainable end destination in regards to building a foundation of mindfulness, understanding, compassion, and self-transformation. These are all ongoing skills that we need to find ways to practice and integrate into our daily lives, on-goingly. It is the same, too, with beneficial qualities of being, such as: humility, lightness, playfulness, diligence, patience, resiliency, solidity, and so on.
Ah, but it’s not so easy to keep on applying effort is it?
Constant enthusiastic effort is the greatest challenge to maintain. ~Lama Surya Das
So, we take small steps. Consistent steps. We do our best. We stay as patient as we can. And we practice on.