“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?
And if I am only for myself, then what am I?
And if not now, when?”
born 110 BC
Rabbi Hillel imparted these words two thousand years ago. They speak archetypal and universal self-inquiry. Part of being human and becoming I, of imagining self, is about asking these questions over and over again and living your answers in the moment.
Since Autumn is the time for seeking out and slaying our moral dragons (September 29 is Michaelmas, the day of Archangel Michael) I thought I might share with you my thoughts on Rabbi Hillel’s three questions and the dragons I meet when I ask them.
If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?
Today, this is a big challenge for me as I am confronting the dragon in my sense of self that breathes a fire of self-hatred. I have moments of deep difficulty feeling my own value and worthiness. Yes, there is the part of me that knows, celebrates and develops my worth. But another part of me lives in anxious judgment that I am an imagination that is not worth manifesting. That is the part of me that let’s the the dragon flames singe, blister, even burn up my sense of myself.
Who will be for me? The primal “who” for each of us is mommy and daddy. Well, my mommy and daddy loved me but abused me, neglected me, and abandonned me. I have a core feeling that if I had any true value, they wouldn’t have left me. They loved “their child” but didn’t see me and my needs. I hated them and hated myself. Hate is a acrid word. Who will love me, see me through the dark, dense smoke of the dragon’s presence?
I must love me, teaches Rabbi Hillel. Do you love yourself in these moments of the the dragon? That love is the sword of Michael that slays the dragon of self-hatred.
And if I am only for myself, than what am I?
There is a paradox in self-love. Just a hair too much and a more powerful dragon is called forth. The smoke and flames are frozen like ice at the center and chill the heart so no unselfish connection can form with another. Three definitions of “for” give us some questions to reflect on…reflection on questions is another way the sword of Michael slays dragons:
for |fôr, fər|
1 in support of or in favor of a person
2 affecting, with regard to, or in respect of someone.
3 on behalf of or to the benefit of someone.
This dragon only comes around me when I am out of balance and lose my heart-centeredness. Strangely, these are my lonely times when I cannot sense the other. All I feel is my own pain.
Rabbi Hillel ask “what am I?” If I am not in relationship, I am not even a what. To be an I, I must be aware of you, I must seek and revere what is not myself, so a “we” can form.
What dragons must be slain to form a meaningful we? The dragons that bind us to our cold loneliness.
So often when I do couples support, I confront this dragon. It is the dragon of defenses, identities and expectations. This dragon will not allow us to discern separation and welcome differentiation.
Michael’s sword separates, so love can come between.
If not now, when?
Rabbi Hillel asks us to move, evolve, change, surprise, become NOW.
Michael’s sword of courage slays the whimpering dragon that puts us to sleep or entertains us with distractions, and swallows our thoughts before they can manifest in actions.
Now is the time of the sword. We cannot sleep over the right time. When is never now.
To feel this sword of action living in your will is so very different from the feel of the dragon of doubt, of seeking a better moment then now.
Now! vs. Now? What a difference.
Yet, I often use the question mark. Then up comes the dragon of self-hatred and self-sabotage.
We find the sword of Michael in our thinking of self, feeling for and with the other, and acting now through building pictures of our dragons and giving them names. In writing this post, I found strength in naming self-hatred, imbalance, doubt. And the images of singeing, blistering, freezing, whimpering, entertaining, distracting dragons brought a little freedom to my soul.
Spend sometime with Rabbi Hillel and imagine naming and slaying your dragons.
Thanks Lynn for your honesty and vulnerability… no matter how much work I do, I also have dragons of not deserving and living in fear. I am about to enter my second bout of cancer so I will wrestle the dragons today… thanks marcia
As you go through your cancer challenges, keep naming the dragons. When you can recognize and call by name, you are in a more conscious and evolving relationship. I’ll be thinking of you with love. Lynn
I love how Rabbi Hillel’s questions, asked so long ago, are still so relevant today. We do struggle so much to have a healthy sense of self – but what is that, really? And why does it always seems to change? Some days you’re fine, have a strong sense of self worth, feel confident and “good”. Other days you wonder why you’re even here and what it is you really should be doing and nothing seems “good” enough. I imagine, as you say, it is because of those dragons. Some days they must be asleep and on other days they wage war on our souls. I will try and name them, as you suggest, and see if that gives me the strength to continue the ongoing battle with these troublesome dragons.
Naming is so essential. So much wiser than shaming or blaming. And, yes, the days vary and swing, dragons sleep and strike. Be strong.
Thank you. Thank you.
I have been Being with my own version of what Lynn described in the “dragons” message, and with increasing intensity over recent months. Intuition and conversation with others help me recognize that the forces boiling such invalidating thoughts out into my field are bigger than any one of us, and are acting on every one of us. Some of us are just wired to feel it much more keenly, and I’m near the point of buckling, more and more often.
I was grateful for Lynn’s message and for the words of Rabbi Hillel she quoted. They yielded a clarity that I’ve been harboring a supposition that I have to know who I am to Be for me, and also to Be for anyone else. And my mind cannot at present grasp who I am or am becoming, just as a caterpillar cannot conceive of that which will emerge from his Chrysalis.
These are just words, yet, though. As consolation go, they are a threadbare blanket. I need to tap, to re-harness, a deeper river of warriorship –my inner shaman– to get through this. I find help in Nature and in fellowship and have been having trouble contacting enough of either lately.
I speak this aloud as a prayer, for myself and any others reading this who are in a similar narrows.
You are so much more than the “attacks” to your sense of self. Be confident. If You need support, contact me for a conversation.
Yes, you are right. There are those who are more sensitive to these modern challenges. Find your center and your periphery and talk to your friends and your mentors.
With warm embrace,
This was such an incredibly powerful message for me to receive at this time. I too have been struggling with the challenge of “who will be for me?” and have come to a place of acceptance that even abuse ended and talked about in therapy never goes away but blends into one’s biography in ever new and interesting and challenging ways. The questions is always what we are going to do with it all. Thanks for taking the time to think and write and share!
Kirsten, I have been working with forgiveness as the integration of biographical meaning of something that is difficult to hold or place. It is letting go of the dream of how things should have been and seeing the truth of what is.
Much work to do on this for all of us. More to come. Thank you for commenting.