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Posts Tagged ‘selfishness’

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Have you noticed that some seasons of life are filled with action, adventure, parties and people? Others are not. Over the past month I’ve been living the life of a hermit.  Winter has felt cold and grey, and I’ve caught the never-ending flu virus, which has led to quiet weekends and plenty of solitude.

Over this time my main companion has been Bobbie, my son’s blue budgie. Even when my voice is only a croak and my hair is beyond a mess, he is always delighted to see me, chirping along merrily with his ‘Hello Bobbie’, ‘Who’s a Pretty Boy?’ and ‘I Love You’s.  He’s always ready with his surprisingly gentle peck on the nose when I lean in for a kiss.

Bobbie’s companionship has sustained me through many lonely and bleak days, but despite his reliable nature, now and again he does disappoint me. Just as we are conversing happily, he catches a glimpse of his little blue face in his hanging mirror, and becomes transfixed by his reflection.   He is mesmerised by the gorgeous bird before him, and instead of offering his enthusiastic words and loving pecks to me, they are suddenly all directed at the bird in the mirror.  On it goes – ‘Pretty Boy’ and ‘I Love You’ along with his selfie-kisses, beak tapping madly on the mirror. Our conversation is suddenly over and I’m left talking to myself too.

Bobbie amuses me because his mirror-gazing fixation isn’t a trait limited only to budgies. People do it too.  Have you noticed?  Humans have their our own form of ‘mirror-gazing’.  It may range from a Facebook page populated heavily with selfie-shots, to an obsession with special projects and personal agendas, where little interest is shown in anything other than these particular projects and agendas.  A tell-tale sign I’ve noticed is a particular “glazed-eye look” which comes over a person which seems to prevent them from any shift in their focus. I’m sure most of us can relate to the Non Stop Talker in meetings, who ploughs on and on relentlessly, talking right over anyone brave enough to try to interrupt them. They are so focused on the reflection in the mirror that they can’t see or hear the people sitting right in front of them. Social media promotes this mindset, with all the: ‘Look at ME and all the fun I had today!’ mentality. There’s a temptation to turn away from the people right in front of us and gaze into our own little mirrors.   I fear that one day the human race may become so stuck in selfie-mode that we have with no connection at all to one another and the world around us.

Recently I met with two friends for morning tea. We had cups of tea in elegant yellow and black cups and saucers, rice paper rolls and delicious cake cut into little pieces.  Months had passed since the three of us sat together, and there was so much to discuss.  Each of us spoke in turn, sharing deeply about our struggles – laughing, crying and nodding in agreement.  The only thing that exceeded all of the talking was the quiet listening.  I felt listened to and heard each time I spoke, and spent a long time intently listening.  We each had our turn.  After three solid hours of free-flowing, authentic communication we held hands and prayed for each other.  Nothing banishes a mirror of self-interest like praying for someone else. It’s like emotional health food – building up our spiritual core strength and restoring the inner balance of joy and peace better than any Pilates class or detox shake.

Now I’m not too sure how Bobbie feels after a long session of mirror-gazing, but I know it leaves me feeling anxious and heavy-hearted.  The reflection in the mirror looks okay to begin with. Let’s face it, we’re all fascinated with ourselves to a degree.  At the start I’m like Harry the Mosquito in ‘A Bugs Life’, flying toward the bug zapper:  “I-can’t-help-it. It’s-so-beautiful”.  But once I spend some time gazing at myself all I can see are my failures, imperfections, problems and frustrations. Sometimes a coffee with a friend, listening, laughing and lightening up, or reading a chapter of a good book is enough to lift the heaviness. Other times I walk outside to look up at the wide expanse of sky and breathe in the cool fresh air.

Reflected in the mirror is a distorted egocentric world, but just outside our door are the wide open spaces, the big picture that exists beyond our selves –  painted by our Creator with humble love – a masterpiece of beauty, authenticity and promise.

 

 

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On the weekend I decided to tackle my messy wardrobe.  As I sorted through the dust and assorted treasures, I stumbled upon some vaguely familiar notebooks covered with pink and yellow flowers.  At first glance they looked innocent enough, pages of swirly adolescent writing, dog-eared corners and doodles, but on closer inspection I discovered their true nature.  Here stashed away under my old jumpers were my teenage diaries, with long-forgotten intimate secrets scrawled across the pages and tortured thoughts locked forever in faded blue ink.  

My blushing began after the first page. Thankfully I grew up in the 1970s and not in the current age of Facebook when my adolescent anguish would have been splashed across social media for all to see.   One page was agonising, the next excruciating and then another was laugh out loud funny.  How could this have been me? Apparently at age 15 the whole world revolved around me, who liked me, what everybody could do for me, and what I looked like.   Nothing else mattered.  Most of the time everybody hated me and I was so misunderstood.  The language in places would see my sons banned from Playstation for a week.   I shed a few tears when I read my 16-year-old self’s account of her breakup with her first ‘proper’ boyfriend.  I was so ill-prepared and naive.  I was Bambi running into the headlights.

A common thread running through the ranting and raving was a ‘poor me’ attitude.  I made passing references to giggly movie nights with my girlfriends, about doing well at school, about weekly gallops through the bushland on my favourite horse, and even of  coffee dates with boys who sounded very nice to my adult self. Yet I was so obsessed with  ‘him who had broken my heart’ and the people who didn’t like me, that the other seemingly pleasant and emotionally healthy people and pasttimes in my life didn’t even get a look in.

I guess there is  a tendency in puberty to thrive on the drama, to hold cut glass to your heart and wallow in the bleeding.  Sadly, it is a tendency that can form a habit and  follow us through life.  I know it took me a long time to shake the habit.

Sitting in a cafe today I read an intriguing passage from ‘The Great Divorce’ by CS Lewis.   Lewis, with all his Narnian adventure and wisdom, takes us on a bus trip from Hell into Heaven and we are able to observe the behaviour of the ghosts taking the trip.   Lewis describes a ghost with a thin and whiny voice.  She whinged on and on: “Oh, my dear, I’ve had such a dreadful time. I don’t know how I got here at all…”    Most of us will  know somebody like this with their nasally voice and negative undertones.  When the grumbling ghost finishes her rant, the Narrator is troubled and asks his Guide why this unhappy creature is in Hell at all.   She is annoying and pathetic, but surely not evil…  The Guide responds: 

The question is whether she is a grumbler or only a grumble. If there is a real woman – even the least trace of one – still there inside the grumbling it can be brought to life again.  If there’s one wee spark under all those ashes, we’ll blow it till the whole pile is red and clear.  But if there’s nothing but ashes we’ll not go on blowing them in our own eyes forever.  They must be swept up.

It seems at some point when we allow our selfish natures, our pride and our ‘grumbling’ to get out of control, like a run-away freight train gaining momentum and force, we are at risk of losing our true selves somewhere in the chaos.

What a scary thought! Could the Guide be right?   Is there the risk that each of us may in a spiritual sense become mere ashes that blow away?  Could it be that there is a possibility of losing our souls as we grow more and more self absorbed?

Carefully packing away my diaries  in the secret place once again, I wonder  if one day my sons will find them and have a good laugh about their mad mother.  But despite their embarrassing content,  I can’t throw them away. They remind me of the painful lessons learnt  and the arduous journey of discovering that life really isn’t all about me.   Somewhere in the years that followed I realised that letting go of that distorted sense of entitlement and self obsession is like opening a rusty old gate and stepping out into a world of wide open spaces, fresh air and endless possibilities.

When a man is wrapped up in himself, he makes a pretty small package.
– John Ruskin, English critic, essayist, & reformer (1819 – 1900)

 

 

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