I'm currently meditating on this passage of Scripture from John's Gospel (chapter 12) in the New Testament, which was brought to my attention by a visit to Sacred Space (amazing online prayer and meditation):
Jesus said "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour."
The editors of Sacred Space make this profound and difficult insight into the passage:
"The grass sheds its seeds on the soil before it withers. The salmon swims up the stream to die. It is harder for us humans to accept the law of nature, that we too must fade away and find happiness in passing on our riches to others."
I have to admit, that's a tough invitation. But Jesus seems to be saying, hey, this is a fundamental reality of life: deal with it. Want a productive life? Die. Want to increase the happiness of the world around you? Die. Want to get at what life is actually about (as opposed to what I think it's about)? Die.
Now, "dying to self" is a concept firmly rooted in the tradition that nurtured me in my youth. And the concept goes something like this: Give God the "unknown bundle," that is, all the things you don't know you don't know before you know. But the reality is difficult. What does it mean to die to myself?
Jesus isn't talking literal death here, he's talking volitional death. Death of my will asserting itself in every one of my interactions in favor of my way over against some other way. So this is forcing me to wrestle with a whole set of questions.
How should I die? How does that work out with maintaining healthy boundaries? What does that mean for my marriage? My work? My hobbies? My interests? The way I spend my money? The things I allow to rattle around in my head? The emotions I indulge? The emotions I neglect? The thoughts I shove aside? My relationships with my superiors? My relationship to the marginalized and disenfrachised? My relationship to other religions?
This is, as Jesus understood, a core issue of life (as opposed to some minor, comparmentalized religious issue) that most people (including me) are generally never willing to confront.