I’m obsessed with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. A photo of him laughing is the wallpaper on my phone. He was revealed to me, during a shamanic journey once, to be my healing guide. My bucket list starts with “Hug the Dalai Lama”. I consider his message of peace, love, compassion and non-violence a beacon on how to live my life. When he was in Louisville a few years ago, I could see the twinkle in his eyes as he shared his heartfelt words. I couldn’t stop the tears of joy that day.
You could say I’m a big fan.
Being such a fangirl, you can imagine my perplexity when I was recently reading his words and (GASP), I disagreed with him. Over Christmas I was reading The Book of Joy, by Douglas Abrams, which is a wonderful book that covers a 5-day meeting between His Holiness, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The intention of the meeting was for the two spiritual leaders to discuss how to cultivate joy or ‘lasting happiness in a changing world.’ It’s a delightful book full of beauty, wisdom, laughter, heartbreak and love.
What I disagreed with was the blanket statement made by both men that suffering is caused by self-centeredness, and that the way to joy is through helping others. I don’t disagree with this statement for some people at some times, however I don’t think it applies to everyone all the time. The path to true joy for most adults requires some healing to occur, and healing is a personal journey, never a one-size-fits-all kind of deal.
Maybe I’m not the ideal audience for this book, nor are the women I work with, but I don’t think that’s true. Because one of the biggest barriers I have found to true joy isn’t being tooself-centered.
For some, it’s not being self-centered enough.
I’m not suggesting that turning into greedy bastards, never looking out for anyone but ourselves forever and ever will bring everyone great joy. But what I know from the bottom of my heart is that the women I work with have been giving and helping others all of their lives, sometimes with very little care for or acknowledgement of themselves, and it hasn’t led to joy.
I say this because I have been there, and I work with women every day who are there right now. There being the place that we are stripped, depleted, worn down and resentful from all the years of helping others and ignoring our own needs. The place where we don’t even know who we are because we’ve spent most of our lives trying to be what we think we are supposed to be. We are exhausted and sad from not being seen, heard or believed. Where we won’t take time for ourselves and begin to bravely look inward because it’s all considered too selfish.
Most women in the West were not raised to look inside themselves for their worth, their value or their own joy. They are taught to look everywhere but to themselves. They are praised very early on for how they look, how pleasing they are, sometimes how smart, but always how much they give or take care of others. This leads to a whole army of women becoming adults who give out of habit, give to find their worth or give out of fear of not be accepted. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to be giving to their loved ones or helping in the community. However, so many give from an empty cup, completely depleted, having no idea who they are outside of the people to whom they give; having no foundation or inner compass on which to rely.
I believe in the book they are making an assumption that people are giving and helping others from a centered place; a solid foundation, with a cup that’s full. I think there’s an assumption that people know how to take care of themselves in this way. I don’t think they assume everyone is perfectly peaceful and healed as they are discussing suffering and a lack of joy.
My concern is that they are missing a crucial step, especially for women. If we are ever going to truly help others and benefit from it ourselves, we must go within and start meeting our own needs, building our own foundation and truly finding our center. Maybe what some might call becoming a little self-centered?
How self-centered are you?
Many women I work with have reached an existential tipping point where they instinctively know if they don’t find themselves soon, they may lose themselves forever. One of the first brave steps of the journey we go on is learning how to become more self-centered. We start looking at what they need to build their foundation; fill their cup, find their center. Because for so many, self-centeredness is not only a prerequisite for joy, it may be the only way there.
In her newest book, Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown talks about how true belonging means belonging to yourself first, knowing who you are and having the courage to stand alone when you must. And from that place, you can heal, help, love others and build true community where everyone is respected and valued.
What could be more joyful than that?
Jacque Saltsman is a Life Coach who helps women on their journey to inner peace and freedom. She helps women move away from fear, anxiety and expectations so they can re-discover themselves and become more present in their lives, living more grounded, calm and free. Jacque completed her Woman Within Weekend in 2014 and is active in an Empowerment Circle in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. She can be found at jacquesaltsman.com.