Why is it so much more interesting to look at pictures of ourselves than others? Come on, you know it’s true: how many times have you browsed rather apathetically through Facebook posts and then suddenly sat up and paid attention because that photo has meeeee in it? ‘Oh look, there I am: the most important person in the universe!’
This culture of placing the self first, while deeply instinctive, is also deeply damaging. Our greatest happiness is to be found through our love and compassion for others; Geshe Kelsang calls our love for others ‘an inexhaustible fountain of happiness within our own hearts.’ So our self-concern is actively preventing our happiness by diverting all our attention away from others.
We need to check the truth of this within our own experience: it isn’t hard to do. Say if you have some minor pain, observe how you feel if you focus all your attention on yourself. In all likelihood, that minor suffering will become exaggerated and take up all your awareness. Then observe how you feel if you have that same pain but turn your attention to others; just something as simple as making someone else a cup of tea takes your mind off your pain and therefore lessens it. Taking our focus away from self and onto other always makes us feel better; our problems take up less space in our mind, so of course they feel smaller.
I think this is the single most practical truth we can ever learn. I’m feeling inspired about this at the moment because it is working pretty well to distract me from my pain! I had a tooth extracted this morning, which I was rather nervous about, so I made a big effort to transform it through the practice of taking, whereby I imagined that my pain was actually functioning to relieve the suffering of others. I visualized everyone else’s suffering dissolving into me, and believed that it was all being purified by my present experience of pain; it really worked to keep my mind peaceful.
So far at least… now I just have to keep it up for the next few days until the swelling goes down… and then for the rest of my life, of course. Wish me luck!