I was on a plane on my way to Pasadena to speak at the Hay House I Can Do It conference, where I'd be surrounded by well-intentioned spiritual self-help authors who are committed to helping people live their best lives. At these events, which I’ve spoken at many times now, I'd hear people come up to these celebrity Hay House authors and gush about how their lives were saved because of the books they wrote. I have no doubt these gushers genuinely mean it. It’s an honor to share the stage with these life saving pioneers.
But (I hate to put a “but” here because I’m so grateful to Hay House and so in awe of some of these wonderful authors) something about all this keeps troubling me.
When I got back from World Domination Summit this summer, I wrote this post about what motivates visionaries to try to change the world. The conference was full of well-intentioned do-gooders trying to make the world a better place. Amazing things were being birthed as a result of this impulse to do good. But I couldn’t help wondering whether this impulse to be of service came from a pure, noble intention or whether it came from some sort of underlying sense of unworthiness or ego-driven motivation. In other words, why do we do what we do?
In the comments on that post about World Domination Summit, a few people argued, “Who cares why? As long as the world is benefiting from these impulses, why question them?” Yet as one of those self-help author do-gooder types who is committed to getting my own ego out of the driver’s seat and letting the Divine take the wheel, it matters to me.
I have a theory about all of this. I think those of us who commit to acts of altruism on behalf of making the world a better place do so because it makes us feel better about ourselves. Something within us doesn’t feel good enough/ valuable enough/ worthy enough unless we’ re devoted to helping others. We don’t believe that we’re good and valuable and worthy not because of any external action but because we all have within us a spark of the Divine which makes us inherently worthy. So we go out and help people, and people tell us how we’ve saved their lives, and then we feel more worthy. We matter because we matter to someone else. Then our worried, scared, “never good enough” egos feel better.
So what would happen if someone waved a magic wand and all the do-gooders suddenly woke up and knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that we were worthy - without all the accolades and applause and love letters from those we’ve helped. Would we lose all ambition to help others? Would we just sit on a park bench and bask in our awakened worthiness?
I don’t think so.
I think it’s part of human nature to feel the impulse to ease the suffering of other living beings. When Eckhart Tolle woke up and realized that everything he had ever desired existed right here in the present moment, he spent months sitting on a park bench, basking in the bliss of his awakened state. He suddenly knew he was a valuable, worthy child of God who didn’t have to do anything to earn that grace. But Eckhart didn’t stay on that park bench forever. At some point, a pure impulse to share with others the bliss of what he was experiencing in the present moment motivated him to write The Power of Now and A New Earth. I don’t think the sharing of this message was motivated by ego. I think it was motivated by this pure impulse to ease the suffering of others who were missing the bliss of the present moment by living in the past or the future.
This is all just my theory, but I now think we’re often motivated to do good things because we’re trying to feel more worthy. But it’s possible to know we are worthy and still serve others from a pure, clean impulse to ease the suffering of others. (Martha Beck helped me learn to tell the difference here.)
So as I got ready to speak to an audience of people I hoped to help with my words, I was doing a worthiness meditation so I could get my ego in the backseat and let the Divine use me in service to those who might be suffering. I remind my ego (I call her Victoria Rochester) that she is already good enough/ valuable enough/ worthy enough without gushing fans or long lines at my book signing or getting to sit next to Louise Hay at dinner. I am asking for Divine guidance. I am realizing, ironically, that I am speaking at an I Can Do It conference, and yet, perhaps, as Tosha Silver suggested, “I Can’t Do It.” Or rather, I Choose Not To Do It- because I want to let the Universe do it instead.
That’s what I hoped to relay to those I served at this conference. I didn't want to just feed their scared, worried, “not good enough” egos. I wanted to help them remember that they don’t have to do it - that if they get their egos out of the way and let the Divine take the lead, all will be well and they will finally find the peace they’re seeking.
Generosity, altruism, charitable acts, and self-help teaching are all great. Don’t get me wrong. But if you find yourself compelled to be of service, I invite you to examine your motivations. Are you trying to feed the hungry ghost of the ego, which never gets filled no matter how many people you help? Or are you motivated by that clean impulse to ease the suffering of others? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Knowing I can’t do it alone,
Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. She is on a grass roots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself. Lissa blogs at LissaRankin.com and also created two online communities - HealHealthCareNow.com and OwningPink.com. She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.
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