After years of teaching, it feels selfish to refuse. It feels selfish to allow myself time to learn for the sake of learning, greedy even. Learn because I want to know the answer, not because I want to teach the answer to someone else. But I can’t face a life being so distracted by teaching that I forget that I still have to learn. To make the mistake of thinking that I know “enough.” I don’t really think I am at risk for such a problem. Not everyone is as lucky as me; I am aware of what a bumbling dope I am. But, still. I was trying to teach when I knew that I didn’t know anything. I was teaching more than I was learning and it made me unhappy. So, now I can be selfish and take the time to learn.
So how do you go about deciding that the best thing you can do is be selfish? Isn’t the whole basis for happiness selflessness? But even Swami Satchidananda concedes that in order to help others, you first have to help yourself. So go right on ahead, my friend. Help yourself to a slice of my life.
I suppose I was not particularly fond of the flavor of my life. Do you know that problem? When you have something in front of you that you want to eat, it looks sooo appealing; the whole idea of eating it draws you in. But you take a bite and you realize that as much as you want to like it, you just don’t. There is something about the flavor or the texture that just doesn’t work. So you put it down and move on to something else (if you are smart, if you are not then you just going on eating it). But then, even if you are smart, chances are you will look back over at it and think, “it couldn’t be that bad; it looks like it should be delicious!” So you try again, thinking maybe something funny happened last time. But you still don’t like it. Hopefully you have learned your lesson. Well, I am not smart. I took a bite, knew it wasn’t what I was craving, but I went on eating it anyway. Day in and day out, mildly disliking something unnameable about the flavor and texture of my life.
The best way to ensure that you will like something, that it will be up to your expectations, is to produce it yourself, yes? Should it have come as a surprise that a life created by someone else, for someone else, was not satisfying? Probably not, but as we have already seen, sometimes a thing can be very, very attractive (and I am not smart). Even when we know that it is probably not going to give us what we need, we still want t o try. We are driven to try to enjoy the experience that seems like it should be so rewarding. And in that respect, I have found that it is possible to succeed. You can enjoy an experience that is only moderately rewarding. Or you can enjoy an experience that is very rewarding, but only moderately satisfying. But only for so long. Eventually you learn your lesson, and realize that if you want to enjoy every slice of your life, you have to make it in a flavor that you love.
So what is the flavor of your life? Mine was a confused attempt at service. Take what I know and see if it can help other people. But wait! I don’t know anything. Blast. Well, that plan should have been out the window. Teaching was not what it seemed like it should be. It was not always just sharing what I know and helping others find happiness in the things that have brought me happiness. It overwhelmed my potential to recognize that which made me happy. Trying too hard to show others their own potential, when you haven’t fully recognized your own, does more harm than good. Too much time spent on students’ development can cause a couple of crummy outcomes. The worst being a) you plain don’t have time to spend on your own growth and development as a student or b) you think that your personal growth and development has come far enough that you don’t really need to focus on it. Eek! The first is sad and the second is scary.
In order to help others, first you have to help yourself. For me, there wasn’t room to help myself in a life designed around teaching others. If the Bhagavad Gita says only to teach those who ask to be taught, then maybe we are meant to try to learn and the teaching will happen as a necessary part of the balance. I cannot live a life built around teaching first and striving to learn as a secondary pursuit. I don’t really think I am capable of it. So I have to change the recipe a bit, a little more learning, and a lot less teaching. A lot more learning, and a little less teaching? Either way, maybe then life will become something I can sink my teeth into.