Tag Archives: selfish

Druidry and Desire

Back in my twenties I was, for a little while, a member of The Druid Order of the Yew, which was held within The Druid Network. A big part of what it offered at the time was space and witnessing for dedications. I was really focused on service at the time and framing my Druidry in terms of what I could give. Alongside this I had a problematic home life. The idea of giving more and asking for less became heavily ingrained.

Of course there are always people who want what you can do for them and offer little in return. There are always people who will become unpleasant if you try to show up as a person and not as a service provider. I’ve never been good at handling this and have tended to think that I should offer service and expect nothing in return from anyone. It’s taken a while to challenge that thinking.

What happens if I ask for more? There will be people who don’t like that, and who will either be clear about having a problem with me, or who will gently reverse out of my life and make good their escape. But not everyone. There are also the people whose eyes light up at the thought, and who feel cheered and validated by my wanting more from them and with them. People who aren’t afraid of being needed and who do not experience being valued as some kind of imposition.

I’ve spent a long time treating Druidry as a form of pouring endlessly from myself into the world. Give more, ask for less. Give until it hurts, and then keep giving. I look back and see how convenient that’s been for other people in my history. I also think with hindsight that the person who most encouraged me to shape my service this way was not living on those terms. They are painfully hard terms to live on. 

Child-me had a better handle on this. I remember sitting in an assembly being told about how we are all supposed to help those who are worse off than us and wondering how that even made sense and how on earth you get to be the person who needs helping, on those terms. That a doctrine of giving selflessly to others actually relies on there being people worse off, more vulnerable. You can’t forgive trespasses unless someone undertakes to trespass, either.

What happens if there is more room for desire? What happens if I ask for more, and not less? I start to see how this could enrich not only my experience, but the experiences of people dealing with me. If I allow myself to want, there is a different kind of energy available to me. I cannot pour out from myself endlessly with nothing to replenish me. I can do a lot more if I invite more richness in, and have room for what I need.

Service cannot be a person pouring endlessly from a bucket they do not get to refill. The more I look at it, the more important it seems to me that we all have space for things that are personal, enriching, nurturing, life enhancing and I dare to say it – selfish! I know that the dismantling of selfishness is often seen as a spiritual goal, but increasingly I think what helps most is to change the terms on which we think about our own needs. A person can seek what they want without that inevitably hurting someone else. It is not always the case that for one person to have more, someone else has to go without.

No one is poorer if I have enriching conversations, time in the sun, cat snuggles, affection, time off… no one is reduced by me having things I need for myself. I expect I will come back to this as I reframe what service might mean for me, and rethink how I want to be in the world.


Seeking redemption

I’ve struggled with self hatred my whole life. There is a lot not to like about me. It’s meant that when I’m public facing I try as hard as I can, as much as I can, to be a good person. To be kind, and helpful and patient, to give more than I ask for. I’ve never yet managed to get this to a level where I feel like I’m good enough. On the inside I’m quite a mean person, judgemental, selfish, attention hungry, envious, resentful and hard to please. I fight it as best I can, but my fundamental nature has nothing much to recommend it. And it is hard, trying to be good. It is so hard when you aren’t those things and they take attention and effort all the time. I have the desire to be a better sort of person, but not the capacity.  Spirituality has given me some tools for presenting more usefully, but not for dealing with the inner issues.

When I’ve touched on this before, there have been kind and generous people who have tried to tell me otherwise. It’s well meant, but it takes me no further forward in dealing with how I feel about myself, how unbearable I find my own shortcomings and uselessness. I have done a lot of work on me, over a lot of years, trying to be a better person, but there are things inherent in my nature that I can’t hack out, and I am exhausted from fighting myself all the time, and I don’t honestly know what to do with this.

The real me, the me who is not a carefully constructed and well written persona, is shit. Attention hungry, fragile, demanding, wanting too much, giving too little. I’m not a good person to get too close to. And so every now and then there are little blow ups, and people I have claimed to love do the sensible things to protect themselves  and move away from me, and I feel sorry for myself and round we go again.

The me I present online is so fraudulent.  It works so long as no one gets too close.  And even writing this I am too aware that it sounds like a bid for sympathy and consolation, and that some people reading it might try to tell me that I am ok. Because some of you are lovely, and kind and willing to see the best in me and not to look through that to the ugliness underneath.

Today I am starting to properly ask what it would take to justify my existence. I will have to do far more than I have done. I would need to do something genuinely heroic, genuinely life changing for others, properly good.  It might be possible to redeem myself in my own eyes, but going after that would also have a price tag and I’m trying to work out whether I can have that, or whether it is too selfish, too self indulgent to make sense. To try something heroic because I want to redeem myself is deeply selfish, and if I do that at someone else’s expense, it’s still not good enough. Even the self-loathing feels self indulgent, something to wallow in, some basis for seeking attention and making excuses. I have no idea how to become a better person.

There is a lot to figure out.


Spirituality and Selfishness

The general wisdom is that selfishness is the enemy of spirituality. This goes very effectively with transcendent spirituality that aims to overcome this life. However, if you are doing embodied spirituality, you aren’t mortifying your flesh. A little selfish thinking in the form of self care becomes a very different proposition.

There are many different forms selfishness can take, and much of it is good. We should be able to devote time, care and resources to dealing with our needs. It should be perfectly ok to want things, to act on personal desire and to pursue your own goals. Without a degree of selfishness, how are you to follow your calling, or your awen?

I’d go further and say there should be times when we get to put ourselves first. I think this is especially important for anyone who was raised female in a context that reinforced gender stereotypes. Girls are often taught to put other people first. What is read as go-getting, ambitious and desirable in a boy, or for that matter a man, is often treated as mean, selfish and unreasonable when girls and women do it.

How much scope you have to be selfish will also likely depend on your race and class, how much money you have, how much power. Who gets to put their own needs first and who is expected to serve others first is a question we should ask routinely. It’s all too easy for the person who has a lot of scope to be selfish to ignore what that costs everyone around them.

As is so often the way of it, selfishness is a question of balance and fairness. It’s not an easy thing to explore, either. For people who feel obliged to martyr themselves, looking at alternatives can be scary. For people who have never questioned their own entitled attitudes, this can be uncomfortable territory. However, if you’re serious about a spiritual path, then challenging yourself is going to be part of that.

Most mammals manage to live more selfish lives than we do without bringing each other down. Most mammals do what they have to, and then sleep, play, sunbathe, and socialise. It’s more sustainable to be selfish when you don’t need a lot of resources to do that, and often the most satisfying things we can do to answer our own needs don’t call for a lot of resources anyway.

In seeking simple bodily comfort, we work with nature as it manifests within us. Enjoying this as selfishness can help us resist the things we are sold as ‘luxuries’ to compensate for the simple animal needs we aren’t meeting. Slowing down is selfish – you aren’t powering the economy. Working less, owning less, buying less – these things often make life easier, and take us away from consumerism.