“Do at least one thing everyday that you don’t want to do.”
This was one of the most profound pieces of advice I’ve ever received from my teacher, Ven. Thubten Chodron.
So yesterday when I spoke with her and she told me to do something that I REALLY didn’t want to do, amidst the turmoil of disappointment was a little sparkle of enthusiastic joy.
Why does her instruction carry such power? Because the things that “I” don’t want to do are really things that my selfish attitude doesn’t want to do.
Beneficial actions are implied here – obviously, if we don’t want to steal something but someone tells us to, the advice isn’t to go ahead and do it.
But when there are a few dishes that the roommates left in the sink and I don’t feel like washing them when I wash my own bowl? Yes – definitely, that is something to do!
When I don’t want to let the person who’s trying to sneak out of a parking lot pull in front of me when I’m coming upon a light? That is one to do!
When out of laziness I want to put off folding the laundry? I better do that one – it’s actually a job duty!
This is a mere sprinkling of scenarios. At the moment, I’m more concerned with my own well-being than with others’. Truly, until that mindset is entirely eradicated, there will be infinite opportunities of this sort.
This is an effective method to overcome self-centeredness because, first of all, it’s simple. I don’t need to spend years studying the nature of mind and how perception works; I don’t need to live in solitary meditation retreat; and I don’t need any special materials.
I just need to recognize that moment when I close inwards and resist doing something that will be worthwhile and helpful to others. I need to be aware of that feeling of drudgery that thinks, “This is too much for me! Whaaa!”
Secondly, this works so well because it’s a direct antidote to self-centeredness. It’s like hitting my selfish “I” square in the nose, stopping it in place. If I continue to let it have it’s way, then genuine altruism and compassion will not grace my mind. If, on the other hand, I stand up to it and do precisely the opposite of what it wants, then those attitudes will spring forth naturally.
While under the sway of selfish wishes, it seems like fulfilling them will bring me happiness. In reality, acquiescing to my own self-interest necessarily brings harm – it leads me to act dishonestly, to shun responsibilities, to make poor decisions in every facet of life.
What actually fulfills my need for happiness is the abandonment of the self-centered attitude itself. Today, I will strive to notice unwise self-preservation as it arises and swiftly redirect my course of action to accomplish compassionate acts and increase my altruistic motivation. Knowing that benefit will come, I’ll do so joyfully!