It is sometimes helpful to notice that whatever I am doing, I am doing it for myself. It brings me back into my own business, as Byron Katie would say.
A simple way of exploring this is to follow the chain of what do I hope to get out of it? For me, this usually leads back to something very simple such as happiness, and avoiding suffering.
(ii) When I look at it a little closer, I find that whatever I am doing, I do it because it makes me feel good, it is aligned with my beliefs, it benefits the larger social/ecological whole I am an intrinsic part of, or it is the right hand helping the left.
I may change how I do it in the future, but whatever I am doing now, I do for myself, no matter how altruistic it may seem.
These two seem universal…
I do it because it makes me feel better.
I do it to find happiness, or avoid suffering.
And the following happen sometimes…
I do it because it is aligned with my beliefs or shoulds, which makes me feel that I am doing the right or good thing.
I do it because I expect something in return, one way or another. (Feeling good, favors.)
I do it because I see myself in the other, which brings up a natural empathy.
I do it because I realize (see, feel, love) how interconnected all life is, and how my quality of life is embedded in the quality of life of the larger whole. The well being of myself and those close to me is intimately connected with the well being of the larger social/ecological whole.
(Toxins run through the rivers of the earth, and also my own veins. The quality of the soil is the quality of my food and body. I breathe the same air as all creatures on this earth. A good health care system benefits me directly, and also by helping those around me. A good educational system benefits me directly and through society. If someone suffers in my local or global society, I often know about it through friends or the media, and feel it myself.)
I do it because I, somewhere, know what I am, and that there is no separate I anywhere. When this becomes a more alive realization, acting from kindness is as effortless as the right hand helping the left.
(For those so inclined, it is pretty easy to map these motivations onto a developmental model, such as the value memes of Spiral Dynamics.)
Even if I do something that just looks self-destructive and not altruistic at all, I still do it for myself. I do it because it aligns with beliefs, most of which I am not even aware of. I do it to deal with my life, and whatever suffering may be there, as well as I can. (Maybe in a desperate attempt to escape suffering, for a while.)
(iii) Another way of exploring this is to write down a list of least favorite activities, then phrase it in “have to/because” language, and finally switch it to “want to/because” language. This helps me see that whatever I am doing, I do it because I want to.
It helps me be more wholehearted about what I am doing. It may help me change how I am doing it, so I find a way that is more comfortable for me. Or I may see that I don’t really want to do it, and there isn’t a very good reason for doing it, so I may choose to not do it anymore.
For instance, paying taxes could be on the list, which then is I have to pay taxes because it is the law/they make me do it. Switched to want to language it becomes I want to pay taxes because it contributes to the well being of all (in some countries at least)/because I don’t want to go to jail.
This helps align my conscious view more with my actions. I find myself more wholehearted about what I am doing. Some may decide they want to find another way to do it, maybe by moving to a country where the tax money is spent in a different way, or by being a tax resister. Others may decide to just not pay taxes, and be willing to take the consequences.