Tag Archives: claudia welch

Pathological Altruism

You know that thing we do, where we overextend ourselves unnecessarily when we don’t have sufficient physical, financial, emotional or spiritual resources? Scientists have now coined a name for this: “Pathological Altruism.”

In today’s New York Times article about this, the incomparable Natalie Angier gives revealing examples: a doctor who pushes for more invasive, aggressive techniques because “there is always hope,” “animal hoarders” (a real term) who amass so many animals that they can’t care for them all and they begin to die, patients of bulimia who are so tuned into others feelings that they sacrifice their own well being.

I grant there are times when over-extension is necessary. I often give this example: I arrive home tired at the end of a long day. I know that what I need is a home-cooked meal, a bath and a soothing evening. But as I am leaving my car, I see my elderly neighbor has fallen, injured himself and can’t get up off the sidewalk. Nobody else is there to bring him to the hospital. What do I do? Take my bath and leave him there? It is not even a question. Of course I bring him to the hospital.

Or maybe I have a chronically sick child, parent, spouse, pet. Or an infant. There are stretches in life that demand a lot.

These situations are the exceptions to the put-on-your-own oxygen-mask-before-helping-your-neighbor-on-a-plane rule. When we make it a habit to prioritize our own well being, we are not sacrificing the well being of others. On the contrary, we are likely to be healthier, kinder, more solid human beings and, fundamentally, isn’t that who we would like to see populate our world? Isn't that what we thrill at seening in our children and admire in our heros?

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / rishibando

Intent, Sin, Discipline & Independence

Dear Friends,

Wait, wait. Don’t panic because the words “sin” and “discipline” are in this title. I’ll explain….

But first, it is such a pleasure to be joining this intent-connected and oriented community. Its support, love and connection feel palpable to me, and to be essential in these times that seem to strain the earth and us, Her inhabitants in one way or another. 

Inspired by Intent.com, I’ve been considering the phenomenon of Intent. From middle English, its meaning is "aim" or "purpose." (gosh, I feel like a high school student beginning my paper with "Webster defines ‘x’ as, ‘….’"). And this reminds me of another definition. That of "sin." 

While modern connotations with the word "sin" may have a fire and brimstone flavor that inspires a shoulder-heaving suspicion of culpability, such was not always the case. In the English version of the New Testament I understand the word “sin” is the translation of the Greek word “hamartia.” Hamartia simply means “to fall short” or “miss the mark” and was used in—among other contexts—in the context of archery. When we miss our aim—our intent—we miss our mark, as an archer misses her target, even with good intentions.

It requires great focus to hit the bull’s eye with an arrow. And significant discipline of attention to achieve that focus. There is a famous story in India, about Arjuna, the beloved disciple of Lord Krishna. When he was competing for the hand of Draupadi, he was engaged in a competition with brilliant archers of his time.

The goal was to hit the eye of a fish that had been hung high in the air. To make matters worse, the fish was rotating and the competitors were not allowed to look directly at the fish. While they, of course, could aim their arrows at the fish, they were only allowed to focus their eyes on its reflection in the oily pool beneath it. While his competitors, it is said, focused so closely that they saw a little sky around the fish or the body of the fish, Arjuna’s focus was so one-pointed that he saw only the eye of the fish. Of all those accomplished archers, only Arjuna’s focus was sufficient to hit the target. Hit it he did, and of all those brilliant archers, only he won the hand of the beautiful Draupadi. It ain’t easy to have perfect concentration, it seems.

In Ayurveda, we understand that prana—our life force or energy—follows focus. Our energy feeds what we focus on. It is said that many of us allow our prana to scatter and dissipate, as our focus itself is scattered, being dragged away by one or another thought, desire, taste, sound, sight, feeling or smell. When our intents or aims are as changeable as the wind, our focus and life force scatter to it.

The Ayurvedic sage Charaka says that the greatest route to happiness is through pruning desire for sensory gratification (pleasing visions, sounds, tastes, etc). My teacher used to say that, when the soul becomes independent of the dictates of the mind, she is freed to be able to achieve her birthright: to realize her True Self.

My personal intent at any given time could be summed up tidily with the “To Thine Own Self Be True” maxim. I’m no Arjuna. I miss a lot. But that’s the aim. While I may change the words to my intentions from time to time here on Intent.com, my intention is that any words used shall line up behind and support, “To Thine Own Self Be True.”

Happy Independence Day.



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