“There is only one important point you must keep in your mind and let it be your guide. No matter what people call you, you are just who you are. Keep to this truth. You must ask yourself how is it you want to live your life. We live and we die, this is the truth that we can only face alone. No one can help us, not even the Buddha. So consider carefully, what prevents you from living the way you want to live your life?” ― Dalai Lama
I read a great article this week by Robina Courtin, a Buddhist nun who teaches Buddhism for modern living, about why you mustn’t live your life for others. It was fitting in that I interacted this week with a number of people who please others, are terrified of upsetting anyone else and work terribly hard to appease or satisfy those around them. I reflected over times I had done the same. The cost to me was corrosive. It ate away at my peace. It ate away at my self-respect. It ate away at my joy in life.
Fulfilling other people’s expectations is, according to Buddhist philosophy, an “attachment to reputation” and is so strong in some of us as to be more important than other basic needs such as security, money, food etc. I’m not talking about genuine kindness here. I’m talking about the fear of saying no, the fear of upsetting someone else, always putting other people’s needs before your own. Courtin dispels the misconception that it is selfish not to put others first. She explains this “attachment to reputation” is fuelled by fear and our innate need to be seen as a ‘nice’ person. It also sets us up to define ourselves by how others see us.
Are you starting to see how destructive this can be?
This concern over what others think of us is one of the reasons we hold on to friendships, relationships and situations that have passed their used by date. The need for approval and acceptance from others is often the reason we find ourselves saying ‘yes’ to something, so someone else feels good, at the expense of our time, energy or our own wellbeing.
Courtin encourages us to be ‘the boss’ of our own lives. This is imperative. But first we must ask ourselves what is it we truly want in life? The Dalai Lama says we should aspire to do what is most beneficial, in the long term. In other words, get our motivations right. Agreeing to help someone with a project in itself isn’t what counts but the motivation behind it does. Do you give those two hours every weekend freely, or are you resentful of the time you’ll lose with your family as a result? We need to look inside ourselves for the answers, says Courtin, to what motivates our actions.
With deep introspection we will more likely aspire to do what is most benificial. From this pure place of decision making and honouring ourselves we will then be free to enjoy the pleasure and fulfillment that comes as a result.
With this coming week have some fun with this information. Be mindful of the motivations behind your decisions. Are they the most benificial to all involved? Are your decisions building or eroding your self-respect?
It isn’t selfish to address your own needs.
Here’s to a week of noticing what drives our decisions and actions. Here’s to a week of doing the right thing by our own selves.