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Current Update as of August 15, 2004

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Edited by HENRY REED, Ph.D.

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Sacred Selfishness

Sacred Selfishness

Inner Ocean)

Book Summary by Linda Brown

Some years back, while living and working as a songwriter in Nashville, I arrived at a point where I was completely out of control of my life. There had been one emotional loss after another, leaving me feeling both abandoned and alienated. I stuffed down my feelings and allowed myself to experience neither grief nor anger. I was "burned-out," emotionally, physically and spiritually. My distress was about to overtake me.

Although over a fifteen-year period since then I have arrived at healing, love of self and a life full of happiness, how I wish I’d had this fantastic book to guide me while I was searching for a path to wholeness. Perhaps the process would not have taken so long. As Bud Harris so aptly puts it, "It is sometimes necessary to die to live."

The goal of sacred selfishness is to become a person of substance. People of substance live authentic lives that represent them as being who they truly are. As a result, they give back vitality and hope to the people around them. They have inner knowledge and self-love and the world can’t victimize them. They take responsibility for fulfilling their own needs and desires. They know and live from their essential natures.

Sacred selfishness means valuing ourselves enough to make whatever changes are necessary to become one of these people of substance. It encompasses living purposely and consistently a life of joy and meaning.

Few of us would argue that we are products of our biological makeup, our childhood experiences and the attitudes of our society and cultural heritage.

In order to understand our present we first need to understand our past.

Understanding our past involves looking at the expectations and values we grew up with. We may need to revise how we saw ourselves when we were children.

We must reassess what we consider to be virtues and realize that every so-called virtue (or so we were led to believe that’s what they were in childhood) can have an equally negative effect. The things we upheld to be admirable as children can be quite the opposite when we really confront them as adults. For example, "Children are to be seen and not heard." And, as a result of being belittled or rejected or ignored, we may have learned emotional detachment. We numb our feelings, believe we don’t matter, and put on a good front.

Or, if we grew up in a home where we were praised and felt loved due to our accomplishments, now we constantly strive to perform well because of that compulsion we have for praise. We do things not for our own enjoyment of them, but so that others will praise us and love us. And if we are not the best, we feel we are a failure.

There may have been secrets in the family as we grew up – alcoholism or sexual abuse. Repressing our feelings or secrets that have carried over from our past can take all our energy, so that we have none left to put into the rest of our lives.

In order to start becoming people of substance we need to ask some of the following questions in regard to childhood: What did my self-esteem depend on? What emotions and behaviors were encouraged and what ones were discouraged? Did I think of the world as supportive or hostile? We can especially learn from our fears. If we give in to fear, we do not live our potentials.

It is never too late to change the rules by which we live and the beliefs we’ve maintained.

Self-knowledge leads to wholeness and fragmented people cannot be people of substance.

Often, what appears to be a breakdown can become a breakthrough. Breakdown often occurs when we have learned not to listen to our creativity or our personal needs and wants in order to adjust to our families or the culture around us.

The suppressed parts of ourselves that don’t fit our self-image often show up in the form of disowned emotions or physical symptoms. Our bodies often warn us when we are endangering ourselves. We must recognize and understand our needs, such as love and having people to love. Too often we try to substitute our minds for our hearts, by "closing down our feelings."

There are consequences if the mind is able to prohibit our having awareness of our emotions. One consequence is that we will begin to lose any sense of our body, to know how we "feel" in simply a physical sense. Also, the unconscious ultimately won’t be able to repress the feelings and they will manifest in our bodies.

(If I may be allowed a personal comment, I should mention here, in support of what Dr. Harris is saying, that my panic attacks got so severe I would not leave my apartment. It was as though my body was totally disassociated from my mind – my body had a mind of its own. My inner world was in big trouble and it was finally letting my outer world know it. It was during that time I left Nashville, entered a hospital and began the slow journey of learning who I really am. Linda)

Breakdown is our call to take notice of how we are living and to make changes. It is a chance to develop higher consciousness. Suffering can be turned into a search for meaning, which can be found through sharing our stories, offering support to each other and studying myths and legends for the messages they offer about our lives. There are two kinds of selfishness: sickly and sacred. Sickly selfishness is egotism, self-centeredness and self-infatuation. These are people who are emotionally needy, who are always wanting or needing some product to feel good about themselves.

They have been taught to believe oneself depends upon our worldly success and what other people think of us. Sickly selfishness leads to self-hate, depression and exhaustion. We cannot live our lives to please other people and be happy at the same time.

If we are to lead fulfilling lives, we must face the challenges and changes required. We do this through inner growth. We realize that we are living "roles". We start questioning who we are and the meaning of life. What is my purpose? We seek to discover the parts of ourselves that are still unconscious.

When engaging in inner exploration, there are a number of tools that can aid us – journaling, dialoguing, befriending our dreams and getting acquainted with our shadows.

Doing these things is a way of showing that you value your inner life.

Journaling is an inner exploration. Like a diary, it usually starts as a way of recording daily events in our lives. However, with practice it evolves into our feelings about those events, reflection, self-examination and learning to know ourselves better. Journaling requires a commitment to ourselves through attention and regularity. Writing a journal implies living in the present. It often leads us to images of the past and our potentials that we have lost. Journaling takes us directly into ourselves and, since we grow best when we feel safe, our journals need to be private.

Another method of inner exploration is dialoguing. We can have a dialogue with qualities (fear, anger, depression), with physical symptoms, with figures we meet in dreams and fantasies, and with psychological aspects of ourselves (our inner critic, child, rebel or anything that represents a state of mind). People who can’t find ways to express themselves and resolve their issues become paralyzed and neurotic.

Through all this inner work, a person often reaches a point where he is able to accept and love himself. When dialoguing, it is important that the process be written. There is no need to question whether the answers we come up with are made up or not, because if they present themselves, then obviously they were in our awareness. The important thing with dialoguing is what we’re doing in the dialogues and what we’ll do as a result of them.

One aspect of the personality with which it might be beneficial to dialogue is anger. As children, most of us have been taught that anger isn’t nice and should be repressed. In truth, anger is our friend because it lets us know when we’ve been betrayed, when we’ve betrayed ourselves and when we need to act in our own best interest.

Another productive dialogue can be with our inner critic. The inner critic causes us to fear mistakes and over-emphasize our faults. No matter how well we do at something, our inner critic always finds us lacking. To the inner critic, enough is never enough. Dialoguing with it can take it from its negative role and turn it into an inner companion that wants to guide us.

Dialoguing with our inner artist, confronting our fear of failure or success, can unblock our creativity and let us see how vital we feel while we are creating. Creating involves active imagination and active imagination puts us in touch with the parts of our personalities that usually aren’t visible. Some ways it can be tapped into are through drawing, painting, writing, sculpting, dancing and making music. Active imagination involves expressing ourselves in some way and then listening to ourselves. In other words, dialoguing. The more we dialogue with a part of ourselves, the more we bring that part out of our unconscious and into our awareness.

Yet another tool for cultivating inner substance is dreams. Dreams come when our awareness of everyday reality is at rest. Dreams are like a series of lessons coming through our unconscious. Befriending our dreams is a gentle process involving reflection. We can assist in this process by trying to get a good night’s sleep and by writing dreams down as soon as we awaken, putting in all the details we can remember, including whether in the dream we’re observers or participants.

We can also get to know the shadow parts of ourselves. The idea of the shadow was introduced by Jung. Our shadow is usually the opposite of how we want other people to see us. The first aspect of the shadow is comprised of the possibilities in our potential personalities that we have rejected, people with characteristics we have denied. The second aspect is the potential for evil and destructiveness, the part of us that is still unconscious.

"The process of becoming our own person begins with finding out" about our shadows. We normally think of the shadow as our dark side, something bad and dangerous, but actually it is the other side of the same coin. Our shadows are parts of ourselves that as of yet are strangers to us. If they are too much repressed, eventually they become more powerful than we are and can make themselves known as illnesses or addictions.

Giving our shadow the respect it deserves empowers us and makes life more complete and satisfying, even though in recovering it we may lose some of our innocence.

Not only do we need to become aware of our shadows – we must try to understand them, refine them, and incorporate them into our personalities.

One method for exploring our shadows is studying our projections. This means we tend to find in other people the parts of us we reject. We ascribe the characteristics we repress upon others. Doing this is a kind of defense mechanism, yet if we would face these projections we would learn much about ourselves.

Often we fall in love with people who seem to possess the qualities lacking in us, people who are our opposites, who possess the qualities we need to develop in ourselves. Our lives are empty and we think another person can fill the void.

However, the needier we are when a relationship begins, the more distress it will cause us when it ends or when it ceases to complement us. Our partners merely mirror the potentials within us. We should cultivate these qualities within ourselves. This is also a way for us to create safer places for true intimacy.

The journey to true self-awareness usually begins with discovery of a need and usually entails some type of suffering. It is important that we learn to identify what we are feeling at any given moment, and the intensity to which we are feeling it. Not paying attention to our emotions makes us detached, alone, and feeling out of control of our lives. To be healthy, we must treat our selves, not our symptoms.

We are often, however, afraid of inner life growth. Growth implies change and our relationships with others will change also. As we change, some people will applaud us; others will become uncomfortable. We must keep in mind that our growth is dependent on increasing self-knowledge and that clarity about our lives is gradual and comes as a result of enduring turmoil. All these methods of personal exploration and interrelating with ourselves make the unconscious better known to us and bring new awareness into our lives.

Self-growth requires paying attention, listening, questioning and reflecting.

Self-love is necessary if our structures of relationship are not going to come undone in the slightest storm.

Self-love is not selfish. Self-love is not narcissistic. Self-love can be as simple as a change of attitude.

Self-love means self-forgiveness. We did the best we knew how at the time.

Self-love requires respect and courtesy towards ourselves the same as it would for other people. It means understanding that you’re not perfect, accepting the parts of yourself you don’t like and realizing that you don’t have to always be "nice" or "normal" in order to love yourself.

The Self includes both our conscious and unconscious minds and our potentials. The more we become aware of Self, the more conscious we become. The better we know ourselves, the more authentic we are.

Love is not a natural act. It requires patience and practice. Love is commitment rather than obligation.

We must learn to know and love ourselves before we are capable of loving others.

In today’s society, our outer knowledge is more advanced than our inner knowledge.

Some people live years of unhappy martyrdom – staying in jobs or relationships that are depressing, that wear away their self-esteem and cause them to dislike themselves.

It is important to bear in mind that we have choices and we have responsibility for those choices. Individuation is always a personal journey which most of us don’t’ take until we are forced to.

Living wholeheartedly is the only way to live fully and seeking to fulfill our potentials leads us toward spiritual and psychological development and to people who are creative and loving.

When a person reaches illuminated consciousness he honors his psychological and spiritual needs. He realizes that feelings, problems, losses, pain are teachers, not things to be overcome and avoided. He allows his emotions to come forward, knowing they are the means by which he experiences being alive.

In order to become people of substance, it is first necessary to break the mold and seek the path, keeping in mind that every time you reach a new level of consciousness, you have to let go of something you learned in the past.

In offering suggestions on how to live a life of substance, Bud Harris clearly has given us a book of substance. His message is profound:

"Step out of fear into love."

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