Selfish Selflessness

The Art of Self-Healing

I recently read about a 36-year-old Swedish woman who gave birth to a baby boy. That might seem rather ordinary unless you consider the fact that the woman was born without a uterus. When she was just 15 years old, she was told she would never be able to have children. Just two years ago, she received one of the world’s first womb transplants with the help of a team of surgeons and scientists from Gothenburg and Stockholm Universities. As if that weren’t remarkable enough, the donor uterus came from her 61-year-old family friend: The fact that a womb that’s well past menopause can support a pregnancy isn’t just a testament to scientific advancement, but to the innate power of the body to create an ideal environment for healing, nourishment, and growth.


The article got me thinking about many things, including the peaceful and solitary environment within the womb. Long after we’re born, we continue to need a place where we can go to relax, recharge, nourish the soul, and heal from the emotional pollution of our lives. Even so, most of us do little or nothing to recreate a womb-like environment for ourselves: When we neglect ourselves in this primal way, the soul is starved, and when we are malnourished spiritually, we become ill physically.

I’m certain that every chronic or serious physical illness has a psycho-spiritual element supporting it.

After seeing thousands of patients over my career, and going through cancer myself, I can tell you that UNRESOLVED EMOTIONAL PAIN and UNEXPRESSED DESIRES are at the core of what I call “DIS-EASE”
or a body-mind that’s not at ease.

I’m not alone on this: Physicians from around the world have gathered anecdotal evidence that suggests that patients with similar past traumas or present life situations tend to develop the same illnesses. While formal research has yet to be conducted into this phenomenon, one of the most prevalent examples is breast cancer and “selfless” women. When I say selfless, I mean women who are constantly putting themselves last on the To Do list, or worse, not putting themselves on the list at all. They’ll cancel their own plans to help a friend move, work an extra shift so someone else can take the day off, organize the church bake sale, run the PTA fundraiser, chauffeur the kids to basketball and ballet practice, and do about ten other things simply because no one else will. Individual acts of kindness are always appreciated, but obsessively helping to the point where you’re neglecting your own needs is a prescription for illness. The theory holds that women who live only to serve and nourish the lives of others develop subconscious resentment because no nourishment is coming back to them—without replenishment they become emotionally depleted. Is it just a coincidence that these women often develop cancer in the most nourishing organ of the female body, the breast? I don’t think so.


Creating womb-a time, place or environment-that’s just for you is an essential way to nourish your soul, process emotions, and experience spiritual growth. How and where you do it isn’t nearly as important as that you do it once or twice a week.

It could be as simple as finding a chair you love in your home and making it the place you go to read a book, listen to music, meditate, or anything else that fills you back up. You could pick a spot under your favorite tree in the backyard or a room in the house that you love but rarely have time to enjoy. It doesn’t matter where you go or what you do as long as it has emotional resonance for you, and you won’t be disturbed for 10 to 20 minutes.

Many women know it well. Perhaps your boyfriend or husband has one in your home: It’s the place in the house where a man sets up his territory. It’s only for him and he goes there to spend time by himself doing things he loves that are nurturing for him—the practice putting green, the video game console, the basement with a big screen TV and NFL posters all over the walls, the woodshed in the backyard full of parts and mechanical gadgets he loves to tinker with. Because men are much better at being single-minded—I mean this as a compliment—it’s easier for them to focus on one thing at a time and give it their full attention, especially when that object of attention is themselves.

On the other hand, women are much better at multi-tasking than men. Spend just a few minutes with a mother of young children on a Monday morning and you’ll be astonished how many tasks she can perform and complete at the same time so quickly. While this gift makes women incredibly efficient, it creates a challenge when the time comes to drop everything and focus on themselves. Of course, adding to the problem is the misconception that their primary purpose is to serve others. It’s not.

It’s time women take a page from the guys’ playbook and learn that the right kind of selfishness is never a bad thing.


The primary purpose of women, and the rest of us, is to serve ourselves first. We’ve all heard the flight attendant explain that in the event of an emergency, you must secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. During a real emergency, you’d be able to help a lot more people while still breathing rather than having passed out from smoke inhalation first. The same could be said for daily life. When you spend time filling yourself up with the joy of things that matter to you, then you have more than enough love and joy to give to everyone else. Spending time doing things just for yourself will make you a better mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, committee member, community organizer, and whatever other role you play in your life. Feeding the soul in this way is so important that I call it “spiritual nutrition” and actually prescribe it for my patients. I also refer to it as “selfless selfishness” because giving to yourself first is one of the greatest gifts you could ever give to those you love.

Remember to pick a time and place that is significant to you and that you can regularly commit to at least once a week. I’ve chosen Tuesday mornings at 9:00am. It was 17 years ago that I was wheeled into an operating room for cancer surgery on a Tuesday and just as the doors closed behind me, I noticed a wall clock showing it was 9:00am. Long ago, I chose to dissolve the connotation of fear from that experience by scheduling my healing womb at exactly the same time. My place is a special area of my backyard where I meditate. A lot of the time, I’ll envision myself as a child looking up towards the sky and offer comfort to that little boy regarding any fears he might still be carrying today.

It’s my time to do special things that nourish the child inside of me that unfortunately saw his needs neglected so long ago.

Taking care of ourselves, especially in such an intimate way, isn’t always easy. Do your best to resist false feelings of guilt and create an environment with activities that are especially pleasurable to you, things that put you back in touch with the parts of you that aren’t mom, wife, etc. When we learn the art of self-love—even in the smallest, briefest moments—we incubate our souls in preparation for the birth of a greater, truer version of ourselves that we always knew we could be.

Habib Sadeghi

For more inspirational insights from Dr. Sadeghi, please visit Behive of Healing to sign up for his monthly newsletter, or to purchase his annual health and wellbeing journal, MegaZEN.