Chapter from Meditator’s Field Guide copyright 2017, Doug Kraft.
Self-love and self-care are the seeds of selflessness.
Henry, our grandson, was teething during one of our visits. So we weren’t surprised that he was fussier than usual. What continued to surprise me was how fluid his emotions were. One minute he was grinning ear to ear. The next minute his face crumbled into misery as he poked his sore gums. The next he both pouted and smiled as he looked at me over his wet hand. I was charmed.
I saw in him no sign of an ego or sense of self that is so ubiquitous in us adults. While he has memory, I saw no sign of reminiscing or anticipating. He lived utterly in the moment.
The ability to live in the present is a sign of spiritual freedom. But I saw no sign of freedom either. If anything, he was trapped by sensations: his well-being was bounced around by the feeling in his tummy, his gums, his state of rest, the state of his diaper, and the sights and sounds around him.
He is a relatively happy baby, thanks to his parents and his disposition. But inner freedom requires more than presence. As the Burmese meditation master Sayadaw U Tejaniya puts it, “Mindfulness alone is not enough.” Freedom requires wisdom. And wisdom requires understanding how the mind-heart works and how the mind itself is an ever-changing illusion.
Before he can develop wisdom and selflessness, Henry needs a few more building blocks – object constancy, cause and effect, empathy, objectivity, deductive reasoning, collectedness, and so forth.
It’s for emotionally mature adults to get over a sense of self. As Jack Engler wrote thirty years ago, “You have to be somebody before you can be nobody.”
He’s only four months old. And I’m delighted to watch him unfold at his own pace.
Along with wisdom, selflessness has a few other qualities. It is sweet, tender, friendly, joyful, clear, and spacious. He’s coming along just fine in those departments. I don’t know if selflessness requires an indulgent grandpa. But just in case, I’m there.
We have to have a healthy sense of self before we can get rid of it.