It’s possible to do things for ourselves without it being about ourselves.
Chris Solinsky was the American 10,000 meters record holder with a time of 26:59.60 as well as the first non-African to break the 27-minute barrier in the 10K. Here’s how he described the race: As the race started, I settled in mid-pack and tried to shut off mentally. I was able to just fall asleep, stay relaxed and cover the moves until about midway, when I picked up a side stitch. I dealt with the cramp for about four laps until it faded. Once it did I began to enter the state of flow. The pace picked up to splits that would normally intimidate me, but in that state, I did not even think about it. I was able to respond to every surge because I was focused on doing whatever it took to beat Rupp. With just more than a mile to go, I knew I was going to win; in fact, I was literally licking my chops. I decided I was going to make a move around 800 meters to go. I intended to not only make a move but to make a statement. As I closed in on the finish line, I had no clue how fast I was running or that I was even close to 27 minutes until about 150 meters to go.
As I took my spikes off, I discovered a blister on my foot the size of a softball. I did not even realize it was there until then.”
What Chris was sharing is what many people call being in Flow or being in the zone. It’s the same as when a musician enters into a zone where they are no longer consciously controlling their fingers which are playing but in some sense the music is flowing from their being through their fingers and their fingers are in perfect harmony with the music. When someone is speaking and they get deeply in touch with themselves, becoming less self-conscious, they can begin expressing themselves from their most authentic place. Entering into such a zone is very powerful and described by people who experience it as something extraordinary.
In the science of Jewish spirituality, we learn that our greatest power and abilities come out the more we get out of the way. The quote, “I am my own worst enemy” is what comes to mind. When we are too self-aware we actually become our own hindrance. Think about this. Imagine if you were consciously aware and focused every time you took a step. It would not only take you far longer to get from one side of the room to the other, your chances of falling would rise dramatically! There’s a cute story told about a Rabbi with a long beard. A child once met him and asked him, “Rabbi, can I ask you a question that I’m curious about?” The Rabbi said, “Sure.” The child said, “I was wondering, with that long beard that you’ve got, what you do with it when you go to sleep. Do you put your beard above your blanket or below your blanket when you go to sleep?” “Gosh,” the Rabbi said. “You just stumped me!” “I never thought about that. Well, you may guess what happened that night when the Rabbi went to bed. He didn’t sleep very much. The entire night he was tossing and turning, putting his beard above the blanket and below the blanket, and whatever he tried, it didn’t feel right. What happened? He suddenly became too conscious of the position of his beard and what never bothered him before wouldn’t give him any peace. The issue, he was getting in his own way.
This is all similar to the way people have described out-of-body experiences that they’ve had. It is an experience that typically involves a feeling of floating outside one’s body and, in some cases, the feeling of perceiving one’s physical body as if from a place outside one’s body. In this experience, the person is able to observe their body as if it is something separate from them. It’s the experience of being me while not being consumed by me. Meaning, that we don’t get lost in our own feelings and subjectivity but we can see ourselves much more objectively.
This entire idea of being in the flow or in the zone, getting out of the way and not being self-absorbed to the point of sabotaging our own selves is really the description of a selfless person. Please understand, a selfless person takes a very good care of themselves. They don’t neglect themselves at all. The difference between the selfless person and the selfish person is why they are taking care of themselves. The selfish person is consumed with themselves and therefore cannot help but think about themselves, their concerns, need and wants. The selfless person stands outside of themselves, like the out of body experience. When they observe that their self needs something in order to be able to fulfill their purpose then they take care of themselves. The point is that it’s possible to do things for ourselves without it being about ourselves.
This ability, to bring our full talent and power into something without it becoming about us is the most beautiful way for a person to live. This is really what true humility looks like. This is the healthy way to hear criticism. We don’t make it about us but rather hear it objectively without turning it into our identity. And what we must remember is that our lives are a continuum. No one is perfectly selfless. We only seek becoming more selfless. Our job is to ensure that as we progress, we are moving away from self-absorption and closer to the “out-of-body” or out-of-self” living.
So I leave you with this question, what are you doing to ensure that the parts of your life which are being lived for you, do not become about you?