Dear Ones — I wanted to repost this essay I wrote from last year, because the question came up again (as it always will) just the other day…hope it's helpful!
QUESTION OF THE DAY: IS IT SELFISH TO GO ON A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY?
Somebody asked me this the other day and it made me smile, because it reminded me of the years between 2006 and 2010 (what I call "The Eat Pray Love Years") when somebody (often a reporter or interviewer) would ask me this question EVERY SINGLE DAY.
It's been a while since I've had to answer it, so I will take a trip down memory lane here, and answer it once more.
The answer is: No.
No, it is not selfish to go on a spiritual journey. For that matter, it is not selfish to go a vision quest, or to embark on therapeutic/psychological self-examination, or to go on a pilgrimage, or to devote yourself to prayer and meditation, or to take any sort of creative or healing or investigative voyage into the self whatsoever.
1) It is your divine and intrinsic right as a human being to discover who you are, and who God is, and what your purpose is, and what your talents are, and where your joy is to be found, and how to ease your own suffering and the suffering of others. (In fact, seriously: What else are you going to spend your life doing, if not, at some point, taking a bit of time to try answering even one of those questions?)
2) Going on a true journey of self-exploration should not be confused with going to a spa for a weekend. It is not a way of spoiling yourself. It is not a luxury. It is not a mani-pedi for the soul. Nor is it a relaxing endeavor — as anyone who has gone deep into meditation or self-examination can attest. We don't necessarily take on the central questions of self and divinity (Who am I? Who is God?) because it's FUN. Often we are driven toward those questions by great suffering, and can only work our way through those hard questions with tremendous courage. Sometimes we don't even want to ask those questions, but simply must. What's more, these questions can be asked at any moment, from any place in the world, in the midst of any situation. These are not questions for the rich or the privileged only. You don't need a plane ticket anywhere to explore this stuff. I have a friend who is investigating these questions from within a prison cell right now — and trust me, even from within his seven-by-ten-foot cage, he is ON A JOURNEY.
3) Going on a journey toward the self is actually a public service. You know why? Because until you get to the bottom of yourself — until you humbly investigate the roots of your own suffering and nonsense and misery and destructive patterns — you will just keep causing mayhem, misery and trouble…not only for yourself, but for others. A friend of mine who has been savagely unhappy for years finally started therapy a few months ago, and he said to me, "It's super helpful, but I just feel so selfish, spending this much time and money on myself…" To which I replied, "Trust me, dude. It is benefiting ALL OF US." (His wife and children most of all. But seriously — all of us win whenever a loved one gets helped or healed.)
4) I was once told that in Mandarin there are two words that both translate into "SELFISH" in English. One means "Doing something that benefits you." The other means, "Doing something that benefits you at the expense of others." In English, we don't have this distinction. But there is a recognition in Chinese that these are two different notions — that it is not necessarily true that anything you do for yourself harms others. Sometimes you can do wonderful and important things for yourself without taking a thing away from another human being. This is the difference between self-care and greed. Self-care = GOOD. Greed = BAD. They are critically different. Never forget it.
5) THE END.
Have a nice day/quest,