The Sacred Dance of Self and Other

The Sacred Dance of Self and Other

Stephen Dinan
Stephen Dinan:
CEO of The Shift Network

Recently, a number of situations have been forcing me into a deeper shift — a more equal honoring of the sacredness of myself and others. This rebalancing is essential if a true dance between Self and Other is to blossom.

Based on both family and spiritual conditioning, I’ve tended to overidentify with the more ostensibly noble, generous, other-focused side of the equation, and then deplete myself. I've recently begun to understand that instead of that being a somewhat misguided virtue, it's actually a fear pattern that comes from a desire for approval. It takes me out of right relationship with my body-mind and the Divine in subtle but important ways.

As I've begun unwinding this pattern in myself, I’ve started to see how common it is in our spiritual ecosystem — and it's become clear to me that it actually undermines our highest service. Too many people adopt a self-sacrificing ideal and then feel they shouldn’t charge much for their time or services (which leads to burnout). Their wellbeing is further compromised if they underinvest their time or energy in activities that replenish them, or simply have a hard time establishing appropriate boundaries and saying no.

This "other-first" conditioning may be reinforced by public disapproval of people who charge more for their time, work for corporations vs. nonprofits, or otherwise prioritize their personal needs before collective needs. It’s become ingrained in the culture that one is better than the other.

I've realized that while I've engaged in a lot of noble and philanthropic pursuits, I often don't share them for fear of "tooting my own horn." I also have felt somewhat embarrassed when I choose to put my needs first, set boundaries with a "no," or otherwise prioritize my own needs over the needs of the collective. Both of which point to my being overidentified with wanting to be seen in the eyes of others as an "other-first" person.

While some of this is about my own personal journey, it's also a collective ideal that many of us accept without question. If we're on a spiritual path, we’ve typically brought into conditioning and beliefs that privilege self-sacrifice over self-care, and self-denial over self-nourishment. We idealize people who are "selfless" and "100% in service," which then perpetuates a myth that putting the focus mainly or even purely on others is the higher spiritual ideal.

Ironically, I think that actually undermines our efficacy in fulfilling our sacred missions. Not spending enough time on the inner building of resources vs. the gifting to others leaves us less powerful. It also pushes many healthy and healing motives underground.

This bias towards other-as-sacred vs. self-as-sacred then translates into how we present ourselves and sculpt our identity as "spiritual" people. We tend to share the other-focused or philanthropic motives for what we do far more than the motives that benefit only ourselves, which consigns our self-care endeavors to the shadows.

When we perpetuate an ideology that leads to an undernourishing of ourselves, self-interest can often come out sideways at less appropriate times or in less appropriate ways, carrying the energy of shame or guilt.

This becomes most exaggerated in the people who are put on pedestals as enlightened teachers and who identify with those projections... and then play out more self-interested activities in secret, which are often eventually exposed.

And because these "sneaky" self-interested parts get exposed in often judgemental and condemning ways, we take in the message that those parts need to be in the shadows if we want to be “spiritual.”

This also can lead spiritual people to develop perspectives about success or visibility that are colored with envy. They tend to assume that financially successful people have baser instincts and motives. The dynamic of judgment, suspicion, and projection actually impedes them in building their own company, brand, or school of work because they believe that having a bigger team turns you into something they don't want to identify with. So they can become frustrated critics rather than successful builders.

When those projections are validated by glimpsing a self-interested “sideways” motive, people tend to overgeneralize and assume that this perceived misconduct can be applied to the whole. In effect, we’re looking for validation for our bias, which can then lead people in public spiritual roles to push self-interest more underground and build an identity around self-sacrifice. So it's not just a failure in our teachers, it's actually a breakdown in how we deal with the fullness of our humanity in ourselves and others.

Ultimately, a sacred relationship with self and others is at the heart of the larger shift in the world. Undervaluing one relative to the other takes us out of a unitive relationship with Source.

We are actually each the Creator in miniature, and the distinction between self and other is to some extent an artificial construct and legacy from how we incarnate. It's not the truth to value the needs of the other as somehow more sacred and important than the self. Or vice versa. Rather, it’s a distortion of the truth.

So what's the solution?

We can begin by standing firm in our commitment to self-care, valuing our time and energy, and not engaging in self-sacrifice to please others.

We also need to be clear that self-interest is not something to be embarrassed about but is a prerequisite for becoming our best self and fulfilling our mission in life.

It also means being transparent about our self-interest when publicly sharing the noble things we do so we don't create a lopsided image.

Our larger spiritual movement has been founded on long lineages of self-denial that may be undermining the success and impact of many of our members.

A sacred relationship with life, I believe, is founded on seeing both self and other as reflections and embodiments of the Divine.

When you think about it, most activities we engage in involve a blend of self-interest and collective interest; if we are simply transparent about that, we can pay greater attention to the higher message. No synergy is possible with either a competition for who can sacrifice more or who can gain more at the expense of another.

Both unbridled self-interest and "noble" self-sacrifice are fear patterns. Instead of championing one over the other, it’s really about unveiling the deeper layers and trusting that if we simply show up in the ways we are guided to show up, it will result in benefit to ourselves and to others. Doing so will amplify our power to make a difference for both ourselves and the world.