Join me in an experiment for a moment.
Inhale. Deeply. Let your lungs fill completely with air, and then hold it. Feel the pressure start to build, and notice how it increases steadily. No matter how much air you took in, eventually you have to let it out again.
Go ahead…let it out. Doesn’t that feel wonderful? The pressure releases and your whole body relaxes.
Before you inhale again…pause. Exhale completely, and force all the stale air out of your body. Exhale until it isn’t possible to blow out any more air. Now, hold that for a moment. Again, feel the pressure increase until you simply cannot stand it anymore.
Now, breathe in again. Feels good, doesn’t it?
OK, start breathing normally again…
As with breathing, so it is with life. All areas of life benefit from this exchange of energy: breathe in, breathe out. If you’ve ever studied The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron, you know that this is how she teaches you to unblock your creative flow. You take yourself out on artist dates, and expose yourself to (inhale) art in all its varied forms. This exposure “fills your cup” so that when it comes time for you to create…to exhale your art…you have plenty of material to work with.
One of my purposes in life is to teach people magic—the deliberate application of energy to transform reality. I teach people how to access the universal flow of energy, hold it internally, and then release it to transform their lives. The process is exactly like breathing. In fact, that’s how I describe it when I apply it to my own life: I inhale Divine Love, and I exhale Magic.
Love works in the same way. You must balance the love you give others with the love you receive, or else the pressure builds internally until it becomes intolerable. If you give too much without allowing yourself to receive, then you run the risk of pumping your internal well dry. Likewise, if you receive more than you give, you run the risk of drowning.
(Drowning…in the sea of love…where everyone would love to drown…” ~Fleetwood Mac)
Which brings me to my point in this post: altruism.
Eleven years ago, I was devastated by a painful divorce. In the aftermath of that divorce, I set out to make myself a better person. I believed that I was unlovable, and I thought that if I could just make myself into a good enough person, then someone would love me and I would never have to feel that pain again.
Now, this thinking is faulty on many different levels…too many to go into here…and it has taken me all this time (and therapy) to see that. Perhaps the worst thing about it is that it led me to another faulty conclusion: Giving is good, taking is bad.
Somewhere along the way, I bought into this false notion that good people give, and bad people take; that giving is good and taking is bad. I believed that the way to become the best person I could be was to become the most giving person I could be. The more I gave away, the better I would be. “Giver” became like a computer virus. It became an over-riding subroutine running throughout every area of my life.
Honestly, I think that I wanted to be seen as a giver more than I actually wanted to give. I wanted the reputation of being a giver. I wanted to be the guy that everyone saw and said “That’s Jay…he’ll give you the shirt off his back.” I wanted to be seen as this amazingly altruistic spirit; a paragon of philanthropy.
And so, eventually, I did just that. I became the man I wanted to be. I became the most giving person you could imagine.
In my career, I dived into charity work. I worked as an Americorps VISTA volunteer for three years, living on a pittance while giving my best ideas to some worthy non-profit organizations. Then, I helped build two non-profits from the ground up. Then, I figured I could REALLY start to give if I had a nice paying job, and so I got one…just so I could give more money to charity and to my friends and family. The only (and I do mean only) reason I wanted more money was so that I could give away more money.
In my personal life, I started giving way more than I was willing to receive. I gave freely of my time, my talents, and my money to anyone who needed them, even if they didn’t ask. I looked for ways to help, even if my help wasn’t always needed or appreciated. Not surprisingly, I attracted many people in my life who were only too happy to take advantage of my generosity. But even when I knew I was being used, I brushed it aside by rationalizing it: If they are so willing to take it, they must need it more than I do, so I will be a good person by fulfilling their needs.
Up until about a month ago, if you had asked me the question “If you had a million dollars, what would you do with it?“, my answer would have been automatic: I’d give most of it to charity, and then I’d pay off debts for my friends and family. If there was anything left over, I’d set up a trust fund for myself so that I never had to worry about money again.
The various events and circumstances that conspired to break me from this way of thinking aren’t important. There’s no one to blame (except myself), and no fingers to point. All that matters is that I finally figured out that I was “giving” from a place of low self esteem and insecurity, and now that I have healed those wounds which caused my low self esteem and insecurity, I no longer feel the need to sacrifice myself on the altar of other people’s happiness. I am worthy of love and respect, even if I won’t give you the shirt off my back anymore.
I have exhaled my altruism to the point of pain. It is now time for me to inhale; to receive. I am walking away from the martyr archetype, and stepping into a life of comfort and pleasure. This is my life, and I am shifting my focus to myself.
Be Good to Yourself,