Think of all the roles you play in your life, from mother or father, provider, democrat or republican, atheist or christian. May be you are a student, doctor, lawyer, policeman, drug dealer, psychiatrist, software engineer, accountant, salesperson, American, Indian, Chinese, South African, Brazilian, Canadian, or Italian. Whatever you think you are you have over the years created this way of identifying who you are by one of these roles or associations. Our sense of self is often all wrapped up in what we do, the roles we play, and who we associate with. This sense of self is of course impermanent as life changes and results in changes in your roles.
Clinging to a sense of self and then creating an ego based on your roles makes for a very limiting existence. Are you really one of the roles you play everyday? I know people who have been crushed by the loss of a job or a spouse because their whole identity was wrapped up in that job or person. There sense of self was all about some external factor and their life seemed over when this association was broken. Carrying around some false sense of ego and self only limits your happiness and separates us as human beings. You are not what you do for a living, you are not a political party affiliation, you are not where your ancestors came from, and you are not a culmination of all the roles you play each day.
I was reading the Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield this morning and there was a quote by Dipama Barua “In my mind there are only three things: loving kindness, concentration, and peace”. These are the fruits of selflessness, not of someone burdened by the self. As you approach each day think about the times your behavior and thoughts are tied to this sense of self. Does this false sense of self result in happiness?
As someone who has lived too many years thinking that my sense of self is what I did for a living; I’ve begun to realize I was terribly wrong. The more you can separate the roles you must play from who you really are, the more joy and openness will permeate your life. Being selfless doesn’t mean you don’t have a sense of your own value as a human being, but it does mean you can now focus on thinking for yourself and you can be more open to valuing others.