Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 20, Issue No. 9b
February 15, 2022
By Dan Coughlin
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Before we jump into the enormously important topic of seeing and surrendering our selfishness, I want to lay a bit of a foundation for all of the ensuing articles.
Tools for the Inner Journey
- In order to climb a mountain, you need mountain-climbing tools.
- In order to go to the moon, you need tools for traveling in space.
- In order to go on the inner journey, you need tools to reach inward effectively.
The main tools I am recommending for you on your inner journey are reflection, discussion, prayer, discernment, and decision. These tools are not necessary for every decision you make, but for the really big decisions they can be extremely helpful.
As I write these articles, I will use my current definition of the terms I’m explaining. Of course, they may be different than the definitions you came up with in Step #2 on this inner journey, and that’s okay. These articles are simply here to stimulate thoughts.
To reflect is to think about a topic. At first you might just skim the topic, but each time you come back to reflect on it and read more about it, you deepen your understanding of the topic.
When you begin to discuss the topic with other people, you start to hear and understand other perspectives on the topic, which enrich your understanding of the topic. As you consider those perspectives, share your ideas on what you’ve heard, and then hear more perspectives from other people, you keep digging deeper and deeper into your understanding of the topic.
Prayer is a conversation between you and Greater Wisdom. To me, Greater Wisdom is an entity that exists outside of you and other people. Greater Wisdom goes by many different names for the wide range of people who believe that a Greater Wisdom exists beyond humans. So rather than making this series of articles about one particular set of believers, I am using the term “Greater Wisdom” to represent whatever term you use for this wise external spiritual energy.
I’ve found that prayer can be enhanced by slowing down and getting very quiet in order to really listen to the perspective that can come to us from Greater Wisdom. This can help us further deepen our understanding of the topic we are considering.
Of course, there are many, many people who do not believe that there is a Greater Wisdom in the universe beyond humans. In those cases, prayer seems likes a crazy concept. Therefore their tools for the inner journey will be reflection, discussion, discernment, and decision. These folks will have as great an opportunity to successfully go on their inner journey as will those people who pray.
I’ve included this section on prayer because in my lifetime I have found prayer to be enormously helpful in deepening my perspective on a variety of situations. I don’t believe that prayer will automatically bring me what I want like some cosmic intervening problem-solver. I do believe that prayer helps me to expand my perspective and helps me to make better decisions. However, I also know that prayer is not something for everyone.
In Latin, the word “cernere” means to sift, to see, to distinguish, to resolve, to determine, and to decide. Therefore, discernment means to sift through a variety of options until you determine which is the best one for you to go with. Sometimes it requires that you continue to look for more options and continue to sift until you find a resolution that you really believe in. Discernment means to gain clarity and courage on doing what you believe is the right thing to do. You can discern whether you decide to pray or not. I’ve found that prayer enhances my discernment, but it is certainly not a prerequisite for anyone.
In order to make meaningful progress on your inner journey, you need to make decisions and move them into action. A journey means taking steps. You can’t take a step if you don’t make a decision. Take the time to reflect, discuss, pray if you believe that Greater Wisdom exists, and discern. But don’t stop there. Make a decision based on what you have sifted through and landed on, and then take action.
These five tools can be used in every aspect of your inner journey.
To me, selfishness means our thoughts, words, and actions that focus on immediate self-gratification, consistently damage our relationships with other people, and lower our self-esteem.
While we all have different degrees of selfishness within us, we can all benefit from working to remove these aspects of ourselves that hurt us and our relationships over the long term. This work may seem mundane and pointless. We’re not achieving anything while we are looking for the ways in which we are selfish. However, over the long term the impact of seeing and removing the selfish aspects of ourselves can help us enormously.
No one can tell you if you’re being selfish. Only through reflection, discussion, prayer, and discernment can you decide if something you are thinking, saying, or doing is selfish.
The great value in seeing our selfishness is we become aware of what is getting in our way. Once we see it, then we can begin to make decisions in terms of what we want to do with our selfishness. If we never take the time to see our own selfishness, then those thoughts, words, and actions can continue within us for our entire lifetimes without us realizing the damage they are doing to us.
For example, here are three ways in which I have been selfish on a consistent basis over the past 35 years or so:
- Hanging on to thoughts that upset me and keep me in a bad mood.
- Judging people negatively and criticizing them.
- Reacting instantly to situations with anger, foul language, sarcasm, arrogance, and stupidity.
When I realized that these are long-term patterns of behavior within me that have hurt my relationships and self-esteem, I realized that I very much needed to let go of them.
I really, really encourage you to think about yourself. Use your tools of reflection, discussion, prayer, and discernment to consider the ways in which you are selfish on a regular basis. I’m 59 and I’ve never met a perfect person yet so don’t feel bad if you identify a few ways in which you are selfish. Seeing your selfishness is actually a remarkably healthy thing to do. It gives you an opportunity to give up that part of yourself.
Several months ago I realized that my selfish ways were kind of like weapons that I use in my subconscious fight to hold on to self-gratification. Self-gratification feels good for a very short period of time. I was holding on to my bad moods, negative judgments of other people, and intense anger because subconsciously it felt good for about 15 minutes.
When I became very aware of how these behaviors were creating long-term damage to my relationships and lowering my self-esteem, I realized that surrendering them was like turning my weapons in. I no longer needed them because I no longer wanted to fight for my own self-gratification. I wanted that fight to come to an end, and the key was to surrender the very acts of selfishness that were keeping me in the fight.
This is sooooo much easier said than done.
It takes reminders several times a day that tell me to surrender the specific ways that I am selfish. I have to say to myself:
- Surrender thoughts that make me upset.
- Surrender judging people negatively and criticizing them.
- Surrender reacting with anger, foul language, sarcasm, arrogance, and stupidity.
Over time these selfish thoughts, words, and actions began to dissipate. They became less habitual. And slowly I was able to turn in these weapons of selfishness. I began to see that my subconscious craving to fight for my self-gratification was waning.
However, I realize that these selfish ways can rear their ugly head at any time and so I continue to remind myself several times a day to surrender them.
I encourage you to do the same thing. I encourage you to say several times a day, “I surrender ___ ,” for each of your selfish behaviors.
Little by little, your selfish thoughts, words, and actions will begin to dissipate and weaken.
This is a VERY personal exercise. No one can tell you what to surrender. No can force you to surrender anything about yourself. Only you can decide what to surrender, and only you can sustain your focus long enough to actually give up parts of your current self.
Republishing ArticlesMy newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.