Monday, 25 August 2014

How Selfish Can You Be!

Taking off from my embroidered work on the word ‘Liar’ – the mental stain that emerges on being called a Liar, or is left in the mind when judging someone a Liar - 
Liar,Liar,Liar.....  I have moved onto working with ‘SELFISH’.

I first wrote the letters on paper in a cursive hand, going over and over them, creating a kind of stain. I then drew this mark on a piece of cross-stitch matte.  For some reason, this time I have worked only with cross-stitch.  And, so far, without the muslin which I had earlier torn, burned or shred to express the way I felt.

The writing and over-writing on the word, created a kind of blob.
This then led me to draw the letters which extend above the base line - as loops – such as  the loop of the ‘S’, the ‘l’ and the ‘h’,  in a cursive hand. While outlining this, I started seeing, in my mind’s eye, capital letters rising from behind the cursive hand.  I found that I could only fit in S E L F. Now this gave me food for thought – and I started thinking on the lines of ‘SELF’ as emerging from being selfish.

Cross stitch is a laborious process and very meditative in itself. But, at this point I was rather restive and didn’t quite relish the intense routine of the stitch, which created more contemplation on the inner being than expression of the fraught mind. But, gradually as I worked, I calmed down. Naturally ha! 

Many years ago an astrologer advised me that I learn to be more selfish. I found it totally weird but over the years, have often pondered on the idea of being selfish. Conventionally, selfish is not considered a desirable trait, so why was this guy telling me to learn how to be more selfish and basically what did it entail?

I found it very curious the way ‘SELFISH’ was evolving through my embroidery and the meaning that was emerging from this creative representation of the word. It lent an entirely different perspective to:  How selfish can you be!!  - A term, mostly used with derision.
 I recollect one of my boarding school reports, where the nuns had noted that I was self-centred and how my mother had chided me for this. Possibly, in her scheme of things, being self-centred meant that I did what I felt in my heart. And this I know, didn’t always meet with her approval.

I was not an overtly rebellious child but driven by ‘feeling’ more than thinking things through, until such a point I felt this had alienated my mother’s love.  She couldn’t understand or discipline me in the way she did my other siblings. Later, ‘doing’ things in a way that catered to a perceived need, to gain her approval, met with disastrous consequences - alienating me from myself.

In this condition, to consider being selfish and doing things that suited me, without caring for the approval of others, perplexed me no end. But through a great deal of self-examining which started about two decades ago, I began to see that there were two kinds of selfishness.

One was being self-centred - rooted in one’s being, listening to the inner guidance. Doing what was needed to do to fulfil one’s life’s purpose – identify it and live. Not through someone else’s dictates or what was perceived as their need - often manipulated by guilt, but through that inner vision that comes forth when one is silent enough to look within and feel. This doesn’t mean a disregard for others in your life and insensitivity towards their feelings or disrespect for them. It just means a healthy respect for you. This state of being will always accommodate those who matter. It means finding that ideal balance between their needs and your own- straddling the most complex of all the paradoxes of life.

The other kind of selfish, is where we are driven by the ego, that i-ness where indignation of the mind comes into play and everything is driven by the way we think that things must be. This other kind of selfishness is what we are usually derisive of. Here people become self-absorbed in a dense and secretive way. They can be insensitive and act almost unconscious of their heart-speak. By extension, they have little respect for others, often without even realising it.

In this state of being, one is running away from that mirror of self, chasing things or ideas regardless of whom or what comes under the callous wheels of this carriage – just to get as far away as possible from that sense of wretchedness that comes from being unable to resolve the inner conflict of mind and spirit or subconscious mind and conscious mind or any other conflict that may be taking place within the human being.

So, when I started looking at the discomfort that I felt in being called selfish and then contrarily also being advised to be more selfish – learn to be so, I felt considerable conflict in my being. At one level it was about being rooted – silent and peaceful with one’s being, working from that heart centre that would guide in mysterious ways towards whatever was right for me. Or, there was the selfishness a lot of us have encountered - where people have no time to listen, focussing upon their own pain, recounting woes and living in a constant state of victimization. I thought I was participating in the former, but was accused of the latter and I couldn’t ever feel at peace because how did one really resolve this issue?         

Through my contemplation on the word, as I embroidered, I was beginning to see that being selfish – no matter which way you look at it, actually roots you in yourself. This, I realised couldn’t be presented through the shredded or pulled fabric – which evokes a fragmented state of being, so I decided to go with the intuitive nudge and work with just the cross-stitch.

I started realising that the word itself is not the problem, it is the association attached to it which creates one. When someone says you are selfish or self-centred, the connotation is a negative one. It deems that you are unwilling to help others when they need. But, truth is that giving to the extent that others often seem to need, especially when they are not rooted in themselves, and therefore in their actual need, can be tough, because it will never be enough.

 Continuing my work on the blob or stain –I outlined the cursive-hand marks in a neutral colour, but, one that had tinges of the colour of a ‘tea stain’ - reflective of a mark or stain in the mind. Then I outlined S E L F [there was no space to include ISH] with a soft pink – the colour of rose quartz, also in some schools of thought, representative of the colour of the heart chakra.  This I suppose could indicate love - in embracing the self. All of this was emerging through that intuitive feeling. I was after all in unchartered territory so that was the only direction I could rely upon.

And then I thought I would have the rising letters of S E L F embroidered in this soft pink hue, but as it rose higher, it would merge with the colour of the fabric.  It would go from soft pink into a kind of off-white – suggesting the emotional and spiritual process of how we rise into the higher self, through selfish beings rooted in the ego self and all that came with it – the stains, the shame, the pain et al.

Gradually as the stains of experience are cleansed through knowing and understanding, the pure self - that spirit of divinity within, emerges and merges with the ether or nothingness - as it is also called. Therefore the colour surrounding the ‘word-stain’ is off-white, reflective of this nothingness.

I don’t know what this piece will end up looking like, and how I will bring in the muslin that I have used with the others, which I probably will because it looks kind of naked without it and very stark too.  But, in this language of fabric, thread, colour and stitch, I was able to find an objective distance.

 I realised that the path of self realisation is through the darkness – the ignorance, the emotion and judgements of the world. And gradually, as one does deal with these experiences and our emotions and attachments thereof, going deeper into the stains, some kind of neutrality emerges – without that harsh, critical and defensive judgement of self and others.

Examining the ‘blob’ or ‘word-stain’ through the embroidery process, has enabled me to redefine the meaning of the word, where being selfish - either with or without the ego is really all about a process, and that it cannot be forced upon one. We all begin our journey without knowing much and it is experience and sometimes our own hostile survival instincts that eventually teach us different ways of living.

As the capital S E L F stands erect, high above the muddy, stain-coloured letters below, they stand straight, as if exuding dignity, holding their heads high almost as though the issue is resolved. They seem to say that there is now, no need for shame. It is all part of life, where being selfish will eventually lead you to being self-centred – tuned into your inner being where only SELF matters......or nothing does.


  1. Om PurnaAdah Purnamidam Purnat Purnamudachate Purnasya Purnamadaya Purnamevavashishyate!

    1. What does this mean Vinita? And which text or person are you quoting?

    2. Self is Poorn. Selfish is poorn. From Self selfish arose (like a dream). As when you awaken and the dream disappears, if you take away the self 'ish', then Self alone remains. Both co-exist like the dream and the dreamer.

    3. So Vinita what you are saying is that according to this thought which you have quoted [and you still haven't shared the source of this quote - pls do] that self is complete and selfish too is complete. And that is so because selfish arose from self?

      And you are equating the 'ish' part to the dream or this illusion - such that as long as we live we are deemed selfish, but it is just a part of the complete self, which is beyond the dream - it is linked with the identity of the dreamer?

      And what of the reverse process which I chanced upon as I conceived this embroidery? It would be great if you share some thought on this too. Many thanks for reading and writing.

    4. beautiful prayer, have heard it being recited at the Chinmayananda Centre

    5. Gopikaji - this is a Shanti Mantra from the [Shukla] Yajur Veda, chanted either before or after or both, when learning or reciting, or just for Shantih.
      Everything in creation (This) is complete and perfect in itself, Poorn. This is the absolute Truth - not the relative truth. What that means is that in relative truth vices are not good, they limit and harm us and have to be purified. However; in the absolute sense they were created by consciousness (God) and are not external to cosmic consciousness. We need to have clear understanding. And also to know that everything created - Everything! - is like a hologram, a dream, when there is no mind (no thought) there is no creation. This dream example is very useful in understanding my things.

    6. Dear Vinita, I think that we do all know this at some level, but the issue that comes up, is that we do judge each other and therefore this sense of everything being complete and perfect in itself isn't exactly practiced - therefore the judgements and therefore the stains - what do the Vedas or other spiritual texts tell us about living in the illusion - as real as it is?

      As an aside, I often have dreams that come true. So whether I wake up and they seemingly disappear then, the actual events have also taken place in the 'dream state' that you speak of as the lives we live. I also have dreams that give guidance - tell me things that need to be done and stuff like that.

      But, going back to what the Vedas and other scriptures outline, which may well be the reality they perceived, knew and understood, as many perhaps do today too. But even as we learn from these scriptures about such ideas and concepts, pretty much in the same way that Arjun was educated by Krishna in the Gita and Rama by Valmiki - in the Ramayan - using ignorance or lack of knowing or dilemmas and depression as the starting point of infusing wisdom, fact is that Arjun went on to fight a battle and all that it entailed and therefore living with these precepts doesn't really change what needs to be done. The reality of that dream state of the battle he and his army fought, was one that had all the blood and gore and whatever else, so what benefit was there to his knowing, or to ours that everything is perfect in the pristine state of non-existence, when life is about being, and all that it entails in terms of emotions and more?

      Does it really matter what we classify things as? Surely what matters is how you live through this 'dream state', if you want to call life that?

  2. Interesting.....
    Do read Ayn Rand. She re defines it.

    1. Thanks Amit, but which book by Ayn Rand are you referring to? Why don't you share here, what or how she redefines it - I'm sure it would useful for others too.:-)

  3. What a brilliant piece Gopika! I was hunting for thoughts around what kind of story I could write for children and reading yours inspires me to say, that it would be such a brilliant idea to build a story around negative feeling that children may come by and draw around them. I have attended your classes and know, how wonderfully you are helping children, build around these themes, at their Art Stitch Class with you. More power to your thoughts, Gopika.

    1. Thank you Julia. I would love to read the story to the kids in my class so do share, as it has grown from just an art class into one that now also encompasses creative writing too.

      I feel privileged to be able to work with children and give them the freedom to be - beyond the constraints that schools and society place upon them and its good to know that you are writing for children too.

      I am so glad you liked the piece - it was a revelation as I wrote and was reassuring to see how the concept emerged so intuitively as I worked upon the 'word-stain to realise that nothing ever is......

      Many thanks for reading and writing too.

  4. SELF...,SELFISH.... A thought within the thought ...keep writing .... Keep probing... Keep doing .... Keep on inspiring to think....

    1. Thank you for reading Aiana. Good to know that I am inspiring some thought.... :-)

  5. Ayn Rand: Atlas Shrugged. The Virtue of Selfishness......