How might the following be a metaphor for your Daily Life?
You take a sip of your ginger ale and lean against the headrest. Behind you a 5-year-old starts kicking your seat and the parents are arguing with one another. You look at them imploringly… blank stares. “Unbelievable” you think to yourself and close your eyes.
Suddenly, the plane takes a lurching dip, and does not recover. You’re losing altitude and fast…
Everything is shaking. A soft moaning sound is coming from somewhere and you realize that it’s you.
The bright-yellow masks drop down.
The grandmother in the seat beside you is gasping for air and you are becoming light-headed. Your hand reaches for her mask and you try to place it on her. In her terror, she is resisting you and as you begin to lose consciousness you realize that you have failed to get the mask over either of your faces…
I’ve written this dramatically to emphasize a point: this is your Life we’re talking about here. When you disallow any down time because you have “too much to do”; when you let your Self go because of your job, putting the needs of others before your own; you begin to live at a deficit… all the breathing room gets sucked out of your life.
What is the first thing that tends to go through your mind when you think about doing something for your Self? For most of us it’s “I’m being selfish”. But what does it really mean: to be “self-ish”? One online dictionary* states:
1. devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with
one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others [italics mine].
That’s certainly what most of us think “self-ish-ness” is all about, but is that what the word literally means? Let’s break it down to its component parts:
b) the uniting principle, as a soul, underlying all subjective experience.
1) a suffix used to form adjectives from nouns, with the
sense of “belonging to” (British; Danish; English; Spanish); …
“inclined or tending to” (bookish; freakish)…
How did the definition of this word, that essentially means “tending to the [individual] soul”, also come to include “regardless of [the welfare of] others”? There is a pronounced stigma in this society against taking care of the Self. And yet let us consider these words from that bastion of wisdom, the F.A.A.:
“Put on your own mask before assisting others.”
Why is that? Why is it “self-ish” to put yourself first in your own life, but “self-less” to first put on your own mask when the plane is going down? What are the implications here?
Can we not be expected to help anyone else if we ourselves cannot breathe?
(Hmmm… who knew that when we climbed the highest mountain, that the wise yogis at the top would be flight attendants wearing yellow rubber masks?)
Many of us are running about in our lives deprived of air, starving for meaning, longing for a feeling of completeness and of Self. So many of us don’t even breathe in fully! We gasp our way through life, which, incidentally, our autonomic nervous systems interpret as, fight or flight! Is it any wonder that we are totally stressed out? And why do we do this?
Because to do otherwise,
- to pause and breathe deeply…
- to enjoy a hobby or entertain a passion…
- to stand and watch a hawk flying overhead…
- or sit on the beach while the ocean reaches for our toes…
- to truly nurture ourselves…
And yet we have seen that to tend to another before we tend first to ourselves, can risk the lives of us both.
So what does it mean to breathe in your life?
The short answer is in living a meaningful life. This will be unique to each individual and will come about through a series of conscious choices. One thing remains consistent: when your inner Saboteur** tries to convince you that to effectively nurture others you must disregard your Self, that is a lie: pure and simple. In fact, the very opposite is true; nurturing others, before you are yourself nurtured, is the destructive act! The F.A.A. even says so! Perhaps in a “perfect world”, each one of us would put on our neighbors mask first and then we’d all be covered… except for that guy on the end.
We have been conditioned to believe that there are “self-ish” people and “self-less” people. The “self-ish” people only think about themselves and the “self-less” people only think about others. Does that make any sense at all? You are either one OR the other?
When we attempt to move beyond its comfort zone, the Saboteur tries to block our path with excuses and recriminations, remember? And living a fulfilling life is WAY out of the Saboteur’s comfort zone… For the Saboteur, the bigger the step beyond its feeling of safety, the heavier the artillery it will need to deploy to force you to stand down: and “selfish” is a Big Gun.
As always, it’s your choice… When you dare to choose a fulfilling life, not only do you reap the benefits, but you also have a deeper place to give from. The more of “you” you have, the more of “you” there is to give. The more authentically you live your life, and give yourself the room to breathe, the better you can model for others what it is possible to be as a human in this world.
So, what do you choose? Are you content to gasp?
Or are you ready stand strong and breathe in your life?
**For more on the Saboteur, see previous articles: “Are you ready to send your Saboteur Packing?” and “So, What’s your Story?“
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