“If you say that this is absurd, and that we cannot be in love with everyone at once, I merely point out to you that, as a matter of fact, certain persons do exist with an enormous capacity for friendship and for taking delight in other persons’ lives, and that such persons know more of truth than if their hearts were not so big.”
I thought I’d pick out another one of the quotes I’ve gathered, one that particularly speaks to me today. I thought it was going to be one by Johnny Depp, who has said some very pithy things about individual uniqueness and being true to yourself. But what jumped out at me today was this quote by my ex-boyfriend Brian:
“You can do whatever you want.”
He was saying this to me at a time in my life when I felt trapped on all sides, especially regarding my job. I was seriously ill and needed to take a leave of absence, but I kept thinking that I instead needed to meet my responsibilities to others—to my colleagues, to my employer—rather than my responsibilities to myself. Brian said, “You can do whatever you want,” not as encouragement to dream big or anything like that, but as a very concrete recognition of the moment-by-moment reality: in that moment, I could, in fact, do what I wanted to do rather than what I was expected to do or what I thought I had to do or what I believed would satisfy others. I could take the day off. I could take a leave of absence. I could not answer that e-mail message if I wasn’t up to it. I really could do whatever I wanted.
And then the message expanded: in every moment, I could, in fact, choose to do whatever I wanted. I could take that art class. I could move to another city. I could leave my career. I could sit and stare at the grass for hours. I could decide for myself, in each moment, out of the reality of my own heart and soul or even just my own random preferences.
It was a huge turnaround for me, part of a larger recognition that “responsibility” doesn’t just mean responsibility to others, but also responsibility to oneself, to one’s real truth. It was part of a larger commitment to a deeper truthfulness in all areas of my life, to radical honesty.
I’m still living that way.
I remember, while I was working these ideas out those years ago, sharing them with someone I didn’t know very well. She was horrified and saw me as at risk of becoming hedonistic and careless and irresponsible and a burden to others. It turned out that she had grown up in a family where she was the only “responsible” one. She was forever rescuing others in her family from the choices they had made without consulting their own real needs and without considering how their choices would affect others. She couldn’t imagine where I was coming from.
To me, this is one of many examples of how people need to hear and learn different things because we’re all coming from different places. Some people do need to hear “Consider others.” Some people need to hear “Be kind to others” and “Be selfless rather than selfish.” That’s the message we hear most often from religious leaders, and it’s one we as a society need to keep hearing. But for some people, those messages fall flat—they just reinforce lifelong training in not honoring one’s own truth or attending to one’s own wants and needs. To be “self-centered” in the sense of being centered in the higher self—I remember Joseph Campbell quoting someone, a German philosopher I think, about being “a wheel spinning out of its own center.” It doesn’t make one egotistical and callous and insensitive to the needs of others—it just honors the deeper truth within all of us, including the self.
The Dalai Lama once had to have the concept of self-loathing explained to him. He was mystified. He said, “But all beings have Buddha nature!” You, too.