Do you feel the need to please? To care for other people before yourself? Ed and Deb Shapiro explain why putting yourself first isn't selfish—it's the best thing you can do to help others.
Some people (like Ed!) have a difficult time saying no to family and friends. For Ed, it is a genuine desire to help, just as it may be for others, but it can also be due to a need to be loved. Do you ever feel that if you aren't there for someone, she may reject you? Or, that you are somehow obliged to help, as it makes you a "good" person? Do you feel validated by being so needed?
The world is like a magnet, constantly pulling your energy outward with activities, concerns and caring for others, whether it's your children, family or work. In the midst of all this, what happens to you? "I have so much to do! The children are always too noisy, too demanding! I have too many meetings, letters to be answered, orders to be filled, classes to teach, deliveries to be made." The list is endless. As a result, it never seems possible to find time to just be with you.
It is also easy to feel that any time you take to relax or meditate is time that could be better used elsewhere. But taking time out does not mean it is selfish or even wasted time. Think about what happens when your day is spent constantly caring for others. Do you get burnt out, resentful, irritated or even angry? Do you find stress building up? Do you lose your temper or get ill easily? Does the quality of care that you offer become affected by that inner tension? Or are you so used to being this way that it seems impossible to imagine being any other way? You may even believe you're not the relaxing type or that if you do relax you will not be able to cope with all the things you have to do.
However, by taking time for yourself—by lowering your blood pressure and releasing stress—you are immediately creating a more harmonious environment with a greater ease and peace that can only benefit those around you. When you take time out to be quiet, it means you do not get so angry, resentful or frustrated. Instead, you have time to go within, to connect with who you really are. Then what you share with others is coming from that peaceful space. When you are energized and feeling good, you will be able to do far more than if you are dragging yourself through your day with little energy or in a bad mood. So, rather than being selfish, such activity is actually the least selfish thing you could do! This is when saying no to others means you are saying yes to yourself, which is ultimately of even greater benefit to the ones you were saying no to.
Our yoga teacher Swami Satchidananda, said, "Never compromise your peace, whether it be to your children, parents, husband, wife or friends." Unless you are at peace, what you give to others is your stress or anxiety. Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh has a telephone meditation he teaches: When the telephone rings, just wait, breathe in and out and slowly, walk to the phone and be at ease when you answer. Then the person at the other end will feel your peace.
No one can make time. No one can change your habits or routine. For relaxation and meditation to have an effect on your life, you need to make an agreement to honor yourself by doing it. This is actually a commitment to your own sanity and freedom. It is not to anyone else—not to a teacher or even to your family—but to living, for with this you will find a far deeper joy and happiness. That choice has to be made by you. You can change the way you look, where you live, even who you live with, but unless you connect with who you are inside, then none of those external changes will make much difference.
Entering into the Quiet
Taking time to relax or meditate is not the same as going for a walk or quietly listening to music. These are wonderfully relaxing activities, but they do not have the same effect as simply being still. Even 10 minutes a day can achieve enormous change, which will help all those around you as much as it does yourself. Others will find it easier to communicate with you, will enjoy being with you and will even be motivated to help themselves more. As peace is contagious, let's start an epidemic!
There is great beauty and joy that is your birthright, and you find this when you let go of resistance and stress and reconnect with that quiet space within; when you discover your essence rather than focusing on the content. A stressed mind sees life as a burden or constraint, while a relaxed mind meets life with dignity and fearlessness.
Sit comfortably with your back straight. Take a deep breath and let it go. Eyes are closed; breathe normally. Begin to silently count at the end of each out breath: Inhale...exhale...count one; inhale...exhale...two; inhale...exhale...three. Count to 10, then start at one again. Just 10 breaths and back to one. Simply following each breath in and silently counting. So simple.
Ed and Deb Shapiro are the authors ofBe The Change, How Meditation Can Transform You and the World. They are featured weekly contributors to Oprah.com, HuffingtonPost.com and Care2.com. Ed and Deb write Sprint's The Daily CHILLOUT inspirational text messages. They have three meditation CDs: Metta: Loving Kindness and Forgiveness, Samadhi: Breath Awareness and Insight and Yoga Nidra: Inner Conscious Relaxation. Deb is also the author of the best-selling book Your Body Speaks Your Mind, winner of the 2007 Visionary Book Award.