I had a realization yesterday that was extremely important for me. I was working with the original teachings of Jesus, for a class I teach here in Sedona. Specifically, I was working with three sayings:
The last will be first and the first last.
Everyone exalting oneself will be humbled, and the one humbling oneself will be exalted.
The one who finds one’s life will lose it, and the one who‚ loses one’s life for my sake‚ will find it.
The way I interpreted these, based on other key gospel teachings, was that when we pour our energy into serving our own interests (as we see them)-exalting ourselves, making sure we are first, scratching and clawing to survive, to be at the top of the heap-then it actually backfires. Ironically, rather than gaining more life, we drain ourselves of life.
In contrast, when we forget our own interests and pour our energies outward, toward serving our brothers and trusting in God, we fill up with life. We gain true life.
I boiled it down in this way:
By focusing on our needs, our survival, our promotion, our being on top, we actually drain ourselves of life.
But by forgetting ourselves and instead serving our brothers and trusting in God, we are given everything. We are lifted into God’s kingdom and filled with true life.
This opened up for me something that is truly central in the Course. It fed right into the idea I’ve been trying to learn lately that lifting up others is the way to feel uplifted about myself (see my earlier post “As you see him you will see yourself”). In fact, it looked like an encapsulation of the prayer I had been practicing the previous day. That prayer (from Lesson 344) first talked about how my hoarding for myself has drained me:
I have not understood what giving means, and sought to save what I desired for myself alone.
And as I looked upon the treasure that I thought I had, I found an empty place where nothing ever was or is or will be.
Here was a poignant version of my first line above: “By focusing on our needs…we actually drain ourselves of life.” After a couple more sentences, the prayer continued:
Yet he whom I forgive will give me gifts beyond the worth of anything on earth.
Let my forgiven brothers fill my store with Heaven’s treasures, which alone are real.
These sentences sound just like my second line: “But by forgetting ourselves and instead serving our brothers…we are given everything.”
I couldn’t get this idea out of my head yesterday. I boiled it down to this short version:
Going away from myself (serving my brothers and trusting God)
is going toward myself (finding my own happiness).
Right now, this is feeling like one of those great undiscovered secrets. It seems to explain everything. In my busy life, it feels like if I can just save a few precious nuggets for me, I will have my little crumbs of happiness. Yet those nuggets never do the trick. The focus on me, my separate self, never does it. It always has a hollow, unsatisfying feeling.
Maybe the reason is that I will only be fulfilled by focusing away from me, on others, on God. That “focusing away” normally has a mental tag on it that says, “Beware: this will drain you,” as if it means opening some spigot on my side and letting all my lifeblood run out. The warning claims that too much of this focusing away can actually be suicidal. But maybe the focusing away is actually the answer. Maybe it can be what fills me, what truly fills me, in a way that focusing on me never will.
Of course, this idea has been discovered, again and again. It has been discovered by those individuals who left behind all the anxious striving after their security and their place, who totally forgot themselves, and yet paradoxically found themselves filled with unlimited life. They realized that this is the only really practical way to live. They understood that pouring themselves out is the only way to be filled up. Why aren’t we rushing to become one of them?