Selfishness Revisited: Sometimes All You Need Is A Day Off

Three and a half years ago, I wrote an article titled Go Ahead, Be Selfish.

The feedback I received from some people led  me to conclude that they couldn’t get past the title long enough to read the 494 words that followed.

Selfishness, those non-readers reminded me, is not politically correct.

But had they gotten past their selfishness bias, they would have realized I was giving them a free pass to exhale and do something for themselves to recharge their selflessness gene.

“The Bible tells us ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself,'” I wrote in that article. “If you’re going to love your neighbor, you better love yourself first.  The more you love yourself, the more you’ll love others. The more time you take for yourself, the more time you’re going to have for others.

In time, you’ll realize that this selfish act is the most selfless thing you can do.”

Great advice.   But life happened.   And in the three and a half years since I wrote that article, I forgot to follow my own advice.

A few weeks ago, I began to feel restless, overwhelmed and just plain pissed off.

The life, people and job I loved began to annoy me.

I was rushing too much, worrying too much, drinking too much and feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

Time was moving too quickly.  It felt as if one day I was taking down the Christmas decorations and the next I was getting ready for a Fourth of July barbecue.

But the clock was moving at the same pace it always had.   Perhaps I was the one who needed to slow down.

I missed the peaceful person I used to be.

I tried everything to get her back, but the more I tried, the more I did, the deeper that still, small voice inside retreated into its cocoon.

I fantasized about grabbing a post-it note, scribbling a see-ya-later sentence, leaving it on my desk at work before jumping in my car and taking off to destinations unknown.

“Dear Everyone and Everything:  Peace out.  I’m outta here.”

In the meantime, a scene from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar kept playing itself in my mind.

In that scene, a crowd surrounds Jesus and starts acting very needy indeed.  Jesus cries out ‘Heal yourselves!’ and goes off to pray and be alone.

In an article titled “Heal Yourselves,”  Gary Hardwick, a pastoral pyschotherapist inWaco, Texas, writes:

“While the scene may not be historically or biblically accurate, it captures a dynamic that Jesus must have known throughout his ministry.  There are times when it seems we have nothing else to give, and we want to cry out, ‘Heal yourselves’ and withdraw to take care of our own needs.”

I figured if it was good enough for Jesus, then who was I to argue.

I decided it was time to do what Elizabeth Gilbert — author of Eat, Pray, Love —  did, but on a much smaller scale.

Gilbert took a year off.  I, however, needed only one day.  I didn’t want to abandon my life.  I just wanted a day with myself.

A day without an agenda, a day just for me, a day to be selfish, a day to let itself play out.

Surely my life and everyone in it could wait for just one day.

But could I?

Immediately after deciding to take a day off, my mind went into “to-do list” mode.

I was overcome by guilt.  How can I possibly take the day off to do nothing when there’s so much to do?  I couldn’t pass the laundry room without being overcome by an irrational desire to wash something.  It took all the energy I could muster to let my phone go into voicemail when it rang.  And don’t even get me started on the techno-temptations known as Facebook and e-mail.

But it wasn’t just about the laundry,  the cooking, the cleaning and the external distractions.

There were so many relaxing things I wanted to do, I didn’t know where to begin.  I was exhausted deciding whether I should read a good book by the pool or ride my bike around the block.

So I started at nothing.  And that nothing told me to write.   My dream is to be a full time writer.

“Well,” my Higher Power seemed to saying … “write.”

How did my day end?  Well, I’m not going to tell you.  Because, quite frankly, I have a tendency to wrap things up into perfect little packages and proclaim …

“That’s done.  Lesson learned.  Next.”

But this is a lesson I’d like to keep learning.  I don’t want what I learned on my day of selfishness to end.  And I don’t want whatever conclusions I did or didn’t reach to influence you.

You need to take your own day off and learn your own lessons, not live it vicariously through mine.

You don’t need a year to eat, pray, love.  You don’t even need a whole day.

You just need to do it.

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