Q: As a Christian, I have been praying for the grace to be drawn out of self-centeredness. Perhaps inevitably, this movement has made me more aware than ever of my desire for praise and approval. Too often this results in a downward mental spiral in which self-centered desires erupt, are recognized, and then self-judgment arises, which results in even more focus on self (little self!) and so on and on. The only way that I see to escape this spiral lies in the good old practices I recall from my days as a Buddhist practitioner — namely quiet, spacious, non-judgmental awareness and acceptance. Like giving a wild horse a big pasture to run around in until he settles down. This seems to be the mental climate in which gratefulness and its associated self-forgetfulness can arise for me. — J.P., Michigan
A: +Your intuition, dear J.P., is correct: A “quiet, spacious, non-judgmental awareness” of your self-centeredness will help you a great deal more than self-conscious preoccupation with this problem. In Christian terms, you are accepting the truth that God accepts you unconditionally as you are. Your Buddhist training will be a great help in this respect.
I like the image of the wide pasture for the wild horse. Sooner or later, you might actually put that horse to work by harnessing its energy in the service of others. The opportunity to serve others is in itself cause for gratefulness. Above all, it takes your mind off yourself. Selfless service, in the spirit of Christ, is closely akin to the spirit of the Bodhisattva, the enlightened one who returns from the threshold of bliss to lead others to enlightenment.
You are praying for grace. Grace, rightly understood, is not something added but a letting go. You have all you need. What makes a dancer graceful is letting go of self-consciousness, self-centeredness, and the need for praise. All her disciplined training will then serve the moment’s freedom, and she will soar.
— Your Brother David
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