Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Evil of Selfing

I got to hear Jim's tale of how he was treated in the hospital. Hordes of eager residents hovering over him, while the doctor in charge discussed his case. His personal life uncovered in great details, without any regard for his privacy. Many voices heard, except his. "It was as if I did not exist as a person."

This could have taken place in any hospital, not just that particular one.

This is what happens when we forget to live in the present. Not seeing, not hearing the person in front of us, but instead operating out of ideas about the situation. I am a doctor, you are my students, this is the patient in Bed 3. The roles are set, and I, the doctor have unwittingly shrunk the reality to a pre-established script that boosts my sense of self.

I tell Jim I have to go meditate with the other volunteers before we officially start our shift. And I get a kick out of his response: "Sounds like a healthy version of rounds" . . .

I am not a doctor, but I too succumb often to the easy temptation of automatic 'selfing'. I do it when I bring the past into the present with a loved one and I do not give him a chance to start anew in this moment. I do it when I fail to listen to a stranger's story, because I am more interested in telling my own story. I do it when I play the same role over and over, even if it does not make sense. I do it when I obsess over 'me'.

Tonight, I thank Jim for being my teacher. 


  1. Thankyou to Jim and for passing on this precious lesson - this mindless automatic pilot is pervasive in care giving environments....a subtle distancing effect as we become over identified with our medicalised role. overnight a loving couple become a 'resident' and a 'relative' when one moves into a care home - the loss of self for all is profound. The embedded habit of a daily cultivation of mindfulness, self compassion and appreciation is the only way to dissolve these subtle separatist ways.

    lets continue to sit with this realm

    with heart


  2. your point is well-made and well-taken! i wonder though if you might consider using a slightly less drama-filled word in the title. it is very common these days to describe things and people (sometimes) as evil. i don't see "selfing" as evil. limiting and harmful - yes. unnecessary - yes. but when we apply the word evil willynilly, then it loses its real meaning and, in addition, brands things and people (sometimes - lol) as far more negative than they really are.
    please don't take my comments as a criticism. i very much appreciate your insightful writing and your interesting point of view. if you could perhaps do a piece on lowering the "drama-talk" that is so common these days, it might go a long way to opening the eyes of some well-meaning people and bringing a little peace into their lives.
    vicki :)

  3. Thank you Andy! I so much appreciate your point of view.

    And thanks for pointing out some more negative languaging nuances. Resident, relative . . . two more quick labels that reduce the person to a rigid, small role. The beginning in a process of distancing as you so justly point out.

  4. Vicki, thank you so much for advocating the middle way . . . And I also see this process of 'selfing' as the root cause of much of the evil that is being done in the world, and that also comes from each of us if we are not mindful enough.

    No irrelevant self-making, no heart closing separation, no wars . . .

    I also see what you call 'drama-talk' as just another skillful mean to get a point across.

  5. Marguerite
    Thankyou for your warm and encouraging reply to my previous comment.
    i am inspired by your intention here. Thankyou so much for holding this space for us. The concept of 'distancing' i refer to is illustrated beautifuly through this film:-

    Having become aware of the distancing in care environments i have been trying to figure out how to close the gap - i am developing a programme i am calling:-

    'Quiet mind, open heart' - a way of being with people with dementia in which the person living with dementia is seen as the 'stillness teacher'...if only the care giver can quieten her mind, becoming present with her heart open...then a shift can happen where two souls can be togehter. we are developing commentaries for care givers to tune into before they begin their caring 'shift'.

    The shift from 'separation' to 'togetherness'.

    Peaceful moments become possible.

    with heart and deep appreciation