A Gathering on the Shore
Can't we each relate to the following observation - if not presently, at some time past?
Our eagerness to receive approval from others, and the cartwheels we turn to obtain it, can be frustrating and exhausting.
*Imam Jamal Rahman. Sacred Laughter of the Sufis.
* * *
The crazy-wise sage, Mulla Nasruddin, was walking through the marketplace with his grandson. Nasruddin's donkey was with them. "Hey! What's the matter with you?!" came a yell. The man continued, "Two journeyers and a healthy beast of burden, but you insist on tiring yourselves out walking?" Upon hearing this, Nasruddin got on the donkey.
Down the road, Nasruddin heard some people saying, "It's no wonder our younger generation is disgruntled and disrespectful. The man on the donkey is old enough to be wise in years, but he lets the boy, tender in years, suffer under the searing sun." Nasruddin quickly got off the donkey and put his grandson on it.
Farther along the path, more talk arose, "Just imagine! A perfectly robust boy enthroned on the donkey. And the grandfather trudges under the scorching heat!" How we spoil our young ones and wonder why they grow up so brash and demanding." Hearing this, Nasruddin got back on the donkey. Now, he and the grandson were both riding the donkey.
Later, while the two traveled on, another conversation reached their ears. "How merciless! Silently, the poor donkey suffers under the burden of the young and old. Surely, the Heavens will punish us all for the ways we abuse God's creatures, who cannot speak up for themselves."
Both the grandfather and grandson disembarked, lifted up the donkey, balanced him on their shoulders, and started walking. What did they get for this? More scorn, more advice.
* * *
We can show love by doing what we anticipate might or will please others. We can, likewise, receive the satisfaction of knowing they are pleased with us or by what we have done.
We need to please others. We need to want to please them. Do we want to be a person who only wishes to please herself? Does not incline to please at all? Can we honestly say we have no wish to be approved of by anyone? That we never act to receive approval? In some contexts, being approved of is necessary and wise. Is it not wise to be approved of so to be hired for a job? In other contests, your trust in someone relies on them gaining your approval. Would you want an intimate relationship with someone who has not demonstrated trustworthiness - I hope you do not?
The problem arises when we try to please everyone or base our well-being on how others esteem us; this creates an emotional attachment forfeiting the action of our true being. Not everyone is equally close to us, and, logically, not everyone will be equal in our choice to bring pleasure to or be appreciated by. Would it be logical if a man wished to please his employer as much as his wife and children? While love is universal, it manifests in degrees in our everyday relationships. While we seek for some persons to approve of us, which is healthy, to so act indiscriminately is neurotic.
Religions teach us we need a Greater in whom or what we find our center of fulfillment. A Christian might, thereby, find in Jesus that center. More than anything, she wishes to please him, to be approved by him. However we focus our intent for approval, it needs to be something more than our own sense of self. Then, we are less likely to compromise ourselves in our relationships with others. And we can more likely avoid the fix Nasruddin found himself in - jumping from one attempt to another to please, to discover the futility and irrationality of such.
Hence, the contemplative mode is to act from love to bring pleasure to another. This good action means it is not arising from your need to feel better about yourself by pleasing. Generally, one has no idea of getting approval - only in practical contexts where approval is necessary, yet knowing the approval is about the function to be performed. There is a huge difference between your action being approved and needing someone to approve of you. You already find your meaning in your center. You are already fulfilled; hence, from your being filled, you act toward others.
* * *
After I had a profoundly moving religious experience at age nine, I went to school the following day. It was a Monday, and the Jesus experience happened in a small, rural church the night before. I had experienced the most profound love and peace I could have imagined possible. On that Monday, I was still in the afterglow of the night before - in some sense, I have never gotten out of the afterglow. I recall saying something I thought Jesus would not be happy with. I was upset, sitting at my desk. I did not want to do anything to displease my best friend. I wanted him to be pleased with me and everything I would say and do. I knew my life had a new direction, a Center of love.
* * *
We need to please. We want to please. We can welcome others appreciating us or our work without basing our innate self-worth out there. We need That within us that lifts us beyond merely pleasing as a means of pleasing ourselves. And, as we grow spiritually, pleasing others becomes less and less self-conscious. As well, our need for others to approve of us lessens. We can step off the tiresome, spinning wheel of striving for self-worth outside ourselves - our worth is already with us, it is us. Our worthiness is inestimable. In this freedom, we are more able to be authentic and caring, for we are not separating from ourselves among others but remaining with ourselves among them. Remaining in intimacy with yourself, fulfilled with yourself, you can be more available to others, for your presence is being an expression of total presence.
* * *
*©Brian K. Wilcox, 2021.
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse.