Enlightened Self-Interest

Selfish. Self-centered. Self-interested. She only thinks about herself. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, there’s an odd tension between our value of individual freedom and individualism and our values of family, community and good citizenship. If you don’t give back in some way you run the risk of being branded with the dreaded S—any of the three words above.

There seems to be a moratorium on this expectation of service and altruism. It’s called your twenties.

Adults are seen as developed. They have responsibilities. But if you’re in your twenties, you get to use your get-out-of-jail free card and live with wild abandon. Or at least with disregard for anyone but y-o-u.

This has been my experience at least. I’m a late-twenties gal now and for the past four years I’ve been adventuring around the U.S. and the world cooking up a storm, hiking mountains, and playing music on porches with friends. When I relay my stories to people more senior than I (even folks in their early 30’s), they say, “Ah. Good. Do it while you’re young.” (By all accounts, “young” ends when your twenties do & adulthood begins at 30, 31.)

Yet all that time I spent adventuring, I had an ulterior motive. On the outside it may have looked as if I was acting selfishly. I left ma and pa and the farm and ultimately became expert at saying goodbye to people I love and care about to pursue whatever called to me. And aside from the people, I’ve been betraying a cultural ideal of working hard and paying my dues by bucking the 9-5 (and all that goes with it) and truly loving my life.

But I never felt selfish. Not in a “I do what I wanna do” kind of way. See, I haven’t been adventuring for adventures sake. This lifestyle has helped me to see what stays with me in an ever-changing landscape of people and place. I’ve been on a quest to learn more about myself, to tune into my purpose(s) with a deep desire to understand some fundamental truths. Answering age old questions like: Who am I? What are my values? What’s the meaning of life?

I’m doing all this with a sincere and deep hope to learn how I can ultimately serve others with the utmost integrity and authenticity. This is enlightened self-interest—do for yourself so that you can do more and better for others. This requires self-knowledge and awareness. Constantly checking in and asking: what are my energy reserves so that I can give in a sustainable way? What are my values and will this work/job/project/service opportunity be in alignment with them, allowing me to act with integrity?

Know thyself by acting from a space of enlightened self-interest and then you can give BIG.


The Sea and the Captain. A poem.

She kept her wits about her, stood firm on her feet and let love surround her like the salt water winds coming off the sea
tousling her hair, billowing her clothes, even making her rock on her heels with their strongest gusts

but never sweeping her away

The salt water winds which change with the tides are directed by the invisible hand of Mother moon
Mother moon who shines her light for Us to show us the way
slowly extinguishes her light
so that we also know darkness and the beauty of a velvet black sky full of stars—winking.

Salt water winds coming off the sea; Yet I am The Sea and you are the Great Captain of a ship
And this is an even greater story than Ahab and his white whale.
With all the drama of the ocean—teeming with life
her storms
Deep Blue
tides and currents
And your skill with the masts and sails, reading the tides and gleaning information from the sky

We transcend the story line of Conqueror and Conquered where Greatness, in the end, is had by only one.
Where ego makes it impossible for each to see beyond their Object, consumed by it to the point of losing sight of self.

You, my captain, love and respect the sea.
On calm waters a pleasant smile emerges from the scruff of your beard as you enjoy the way she
buoys you
cradles you
rocks you
until you meet her calm.

When the water gets choppy and the winds hit the sails, reverberating like the strike of a snare drum, you find your footing on the spray soaked deck
and set to work from a new place of calm
mustering your power and wisdom
using what you know about Her,
not to placate her— you can’t— but to allow her to thrash
to be with It
one part
of all of Her

It does not diminish you; You emerge stronger, more resilient and full of admiration of her power.

And I, the sea, look smilingly upon you, the ship intact, you are whole, now resting on the bow of the boat with pink cheeks from pulsing blood and moving muscles.
Signs of strength.
Strong enough to be with me in the torrent
and vulnerable enough to enjoy the rocking calm when it comes again and makes you tender with slack muscles and deep breath from lungs expanded from the exertion.

Be Obvious. Getting unstuck by writing down the facts.

I make a deliberate effort to post only things that I feel add positivity to the world, so you may mistake me for an-always-optimistic-person. That’s the benefit of having such a curated online existence! But as an unedited human, living the day-to-day off the screen sometimes I too hit every red light, burn the toast, snap at the sales rep, or feel down for no clear reason at all.

In the early days of my interest in mindfulness and deliberate living, I thought the goal was to eliminate the down days and maximize and multiply the up days. But now I realize that the down days make the up days up and that I can experience the down as part of the beauty of the human experience with the full knowledge that I’ll get out of it.

Getting out of it, though, is something that I’m mystified and intrigued by. It eludes me a little less with this practice inspired by improvisational theater (improv).

Gary Hirsch gave an improv workshop at WDS and wrangled all 3000 of us into what may have been the world’s largest improv scene. It was awesome and Gary’s energy and enthusiasm was inspiring. If I hadn’t already signed up for an improv class having caught wind of how amazing it was from a different conference, I would have ridden the wave of inspiration and done so immediately after his 3000 person improv session. Gary was walking around in a shirt that said, “Be obvious.”

It struck me in that moment as incredibly insightful. In improv being obvious relieves the mental pressure to come up with something funny. Watching some professional improvisers do their thing the other week, one gal (or, rather, her character) completely misunderstood when her scene partner called her a “working girl.” We all understood it to mean “prostitute,” but she took it at face value. The entire scene then developed around this character’s naïveté. They just went with what was given. That’s the beauty of improv. It’s all “and” and no “but.” There’s no “you misunderstood me”; it’s all an opportunity to build something hilarious.

I started to notice the value this principle had off the stage in my daily life.

For example, I’ve recently moved to Portland, Oregon. It’s quite a transition to be in a new part of the country, to live in a city after 5 years of rural living, to be working again after 9-months off. Mostly it feels great, but as with any moment of growth (or just life), there is some pain. Some loneliness. Sometimes I feel anxious or sad or worried or irritated. So I started this practice of just listing off, in the most matter of fact way possible, the things that are happening in my life or my day. Be obvious.

In being obvious I might say something like: There’s sunshine today. You are looking out a window onto four rows of food and flowers growing out of the ground, you are sitting in your yellow room that came fully furnished in a house that feels good to be in.You’ve just moved yourself to Portland, Oregon. (And then I often marvel for a second that I actually did that, got myself here, and that everything is fine. Better than fine, even! Miracles happened…then I’m off in the vivacious circle of goodness in no time! Well, at least some of the time that happens.)

I try to start out with facts that are simple with a tinge of positivity, but nothing over-the-top optimistic or enthusiastic. I do steer a bit away from facts that give momentum to pouting, irritation, etc. And it turns out that it doesn’t take that many slightly-positively-tinged facts to start to shift my mood and my outlook.

Be obvious. What do you see in your life right now?