How much is too much?

“Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.” ~Ayn Rand

My whole life, I believed it is better to give than to receive. I love the feeling when you go out of your way for someone to show them how much you care. The genuine gratitude they show is priceless, and it’s a feeling I’m addicted to. I love giving a gift when it is least expected. I love donating my time, my shoulder, my services, even my clothes. And it always comes back in some way, shape, or form, if not immediately, then gradually or when I least expect it. The universe is very intelligent that way. But, like any addiction, there comes a time when you have to examine whether or not it is healthy. And lately I’ve been feeling like my love of giving is perhaps taking a trip to the dark side.

I’ve noticed that I have patterns when it comes to giving my energy. It starts when I find a person, place, or thing that I am so in love with that I want to be 110% dedicated to it. In relationships, I see the person as absolutely perfect and I want to spend as much time with them as possible, delving into the deepest depths of their soul and shining light into their darkest heart of hearts. Career wise, I’ll find a job that makes me happy where I can connect with my co-workers and feel like I’m making a really positive contribution to things based on my individual strengths, and I’ll want to really excel at it and strive to become star employee of the day, week, month, year, infinity. Or there could be a hobby or activity (yoga, running, baking, painting, making feathered earrings, playing scrabble…) that I want to master and stay up all night trying to do so. I want to do it all, give it all, and be the most sparkling and energetic star in the sky of the person, place or thing that I feel passionate about. I sacrifice my needs to be there for others, do favors, and accomplish tasks with enthusiasm and flair, and to do so without any expectation of my efforts being reciprocated.

But then I start to burn out.

That kind of intensity is just not sustainable. It’s like throwing yourself into a marathon without training, and running as hard as you can off the start line. After about 5 kilometers (if you’re me), you’re gonna want to puke.

Then I become really sensitive to how others react to my efforts. People either get used to my performance and keep expecting me to give that 110% all the time and I end up letting them down (which I absolutely hate doing), or I start to expect more recognition because suddenly it seems that I’m working a lot harder than I was at the beginning before burn out began to rear its ugly, over-caffeinated head. I am constantly worried that I am not enough. So I overcompensate. And this never ends well. And when I don’t receive the “gold star” feedback I crave, the littlest things (wow, he didn’t say anything about the note I left in his lunchbox this morning…) set me into a tailspin of “I really must not be good enough. I should have given more. There must be something defective about me,” and I scurry away with my tail between my legs. Or, on the other side of the coin: “He must just really not appreciate me. I do way more and care way more than he could even fathom. He doesn’t deserve my concern anymore. I’m out of here,” and I leave in a dramatic cloud of dust with my hands up in the air. Suddenly I start to think of everything negatively. My world is falling apart. But like in yoga where the pose itself is innocent, any situation or moment is innately meaningless, but it is the drama that we attach to the pose/person/situation/thing that complicates things. So all those things I tell myself are lies created by my ego to justify or add drama to a situation. Suddenly giving my energy isn’t so selfless anymore, but rather fuel for my ego to feed off of.

It’s difficult to find where to draw a self-preserving line between giving of ourselves selflessly, but not so much that we drain our resources completely. I have struggled with this as a yoga instructor, as a girlfriend, as a friend, as a daughter, and as an employee. We reach a threshold when we are no longer acting from a selfless place, where it is safe to give, and we begin to expect something back. This is how negative attachments form, and where we start to lose our grip on aparigraha (non-covetousness). We want that person/thing/job/hobby to love us back as much as we love it. Then expectations arise, and we all know that expectations never turn out, well, as we expect them to. And when we don’t get that impossible satisfaction of our energy being returned in as large a quantity as we dished it out, we forget why we even gave it in the first place. Bitterness replaces passion, feelings of lack usurp generosity.

So. I’ve decided that I need to muzzle my benevolence somewhat. Not that I’m going to suddenly stop wanting to give freely of myself or give up on going above and beyond expectations, but rather just change my attitude about it. Realizing that my over-achieving nature stems from deep-rooted demons of not feeling good enough, I’m going to start there. My new mantra is: “I am good enough in this moment, giving 100% of myself, nothing more, nothing less. And when I can’t honestly promise myself to something, I will learn to say NO.” This does not make me a weaker person. By standing up for myself and setting boundaries, I am truly showing self love, and this gives me more integrity.

Society recognizes altruism as good, which it is. However, we must mediate the space between where we are feeling whole and happy in ourselves and where we begin to give more of ourselves than we are able to maintain, and inevitably start to depend on others to reciprocate our energy expenditures and sustain our happiness. Really the only person we can depend on to look out for us and maintain a homeostasis of happiness is ourselves. This is the meaning of santosha. I think I am finally starting to comprehend what it means to truly love myself. Loving oneself is recognizing that you are worth your own energy more than anyone or anything else is. Could you imagine what kind of world we would live in if everyone loved themselves enough to pour all that energy right back into their own soul!? There would be a lot of overflowing hearts, and a surplus of lovin’. This is the only place where true love can exist: not through giving our hearts away, but in filling up our beings with love, chasing our bliss, and sharing the swell with others.

Namaste. ❤

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