Hi, thanks for your beautiful website, I find it so helpful, it’s a real treasure…. I always go to the questions and answers first …. I'd like to ask you a question myself if you don't mind. I always try to help my friends and my family as much as I can by being there for them and by helping them…. But sometimes I wonder am I only doing it for myself? I mean am I only doing it to be liked by everyone? It worries me because I must be a very superficial person if it’s true. Can you say something that would help me? Thanks for everything. Love, Deirdre
Dear Deirdre, I notice that you used the word ‘help’ six times in your letter! – four times in the parts I used here. Everyone loves a helpful person. But I understand your question: there’s always the question of motives. Are you superficial, you ask. The fact that you ask the question is a sign that you are not. A superficial person has no question about superficiality.
But let’s go digging! May I quote what some of the ‘heavies’ have said about this? Dogen Zenji (13th century) wrote: “One who does good for others, or for the future, without being noticed and without considering for whom his actions are good, is truly a good person.” Strong medicine! In the ‘Gospel commentary’ section this month I quoted a rabbi (can't remember his name) who said that perfect generosity was when the giver didn’t know who was receiving and the receiver didn’t know who was giving. It’s always interesting when people who are centuries and worlds apart say the same thing. Meister Eckhart said, “When a virtuous deed seems to happen by itself, simply because one loves goodness and for no other reason, then one is perfectly virtuous and not before.” There! – three heavies.
Other creatures in this world don't have the difficulties that we have. They just balance their needs with their fears, and that's usually a simple equation. Then they go ahead and do what they do, without wondering how it looks or what other animals will think of them. The other animals couldn’t care tuppence, so long as it doesn’t interfere with their interests. But we are more complicated! We have the “wound of knowledge” – we are able to think and imagine beyond the facts that face us. Ordinary human consciousness is like a mirror palace: everything in us is reflected again and again, often grossly distorted. It’s very hard not to look in a mirror when it’s right in front of you. So we get used to checking. Soon, we can find ourselves looking for mirrors, and even feeling that nothing has reality unless it is mirrored. If we were to take it to the end we would be like film stars: all image, little or no reality. It says something interesting about our age that most of our heroes are film stars and other figures from the entertainment world.
Those people I quoted seem to say we should ignore the mirrors. That means an effort in concentration. It means giving our full attention to what we are doing at each moment. When I walk, let me be where my feet are at each moment, not a hundred metres ahead. When I eat, let me taste my food. When I rest, let me really rest – no TV, nothing, just rest. Then when I do something for someone, I just do it. I won't be bothered much by images and reflections. I won't even have to worry if such things are there: they will be just like insects flying around, or like sounds that don't bother me. It’s easy. As Dogen Zenji said, “It is not that it is difficult to do, but to do it completely is difficult.”
There, Deirdre, you get advice from two 14th-century characters, and from another of uncertain age. And you thought you were just writing to me!
I hope this helps. Take care.