Many of us have been taught from a very young age to follow the adage “love thy neighbor as you love thyself.” We must stop this practice now if we are to save humanity, and this planet, from utter destruction.
Allow me to explain.
How many of us have hugged our spouses, our significant others, our children, our families and our neighbors without ever truly embracing ourselves? How many of us have extended the hand of acceptance to those around us without ever really accepting ourselves? How many of us have run to the assistance of others while never truly helping the child within us?
I’d suggest a great many of us. That is why I also suggest that we stop the practice of loving others as we love ourselves. Why? Because most of us don’t love ourselves. In fact, most of us don’t even know ourselves. We know our reactions. We think we know our pain and our pleasure. We think we know our “likes and dislikes”. We know what we think we want from life and those involved in our lives. We don’t, however, truly know ourselves. If we did, we’d realize that all of those things we think we want from life we really don’t want at all.
I speak, of course, in a broad generality meant to address not only the overall human condition as I have seen it, but also my own very unique condition as I have experienced it. I can look at my own life experience and see that I have never truly known or loved myself. I can look at all of my reactions and behaviors as contrary to who I now know myself to be. In essence, I have spent nearly all of my 44 years being someone I am not which, of course, means that I could not possibly love others as I love myself because I never really loved (or knew) myself. There were some few exceptions to that statement, but overall it is as honest a description as I can see.
Make any sense to you? Believe me, it was a bright “ah ha” moment for me. Since having it, I have embraced meditation completely and found love in it. I have had such joyous experiences that the world couldn’t help but change. Once you plant the seed of love and the tree takes root, the world itself is forever changed. Fruit that once never existed now blossoms. Shade that once never existed now offers comfort to those who need it. Nature flocks to gain respite where once none was offered. Yes, the world changes from but a simple seed even if it is up to us to plant it.
If humanity is to survive the cancer we ourselves have created, we need to be willing to change ages-old axioms to better fit our understanding. Instead of “love thy neighbor as thyself” we need to “love ourselves as we would our neighbor.” I need to find joy in me if I am to offer joy to anyone else. I need to embrace the total experience that I am if I am to embrace who others are. I cannot be tolerant of others while being intolerant of me. I cannot love you without loving me. I cannot forgive you until I have forgiven myself.
I used to believe that I loved my neighbor, my family and my friends. Now I know better. I wanted to love them, but because I had no love of myself I couldn’t do anything but pretend. Now the intensity of my love for all around me has grown. My acceptance has grown. The way I see my relationships is different and the way I want to live has changed. All from the simple (ok, perhaps not-so-simple) act of loving ME.
Note: Please tell your ego to calm down. I am not speaking of egoic, narcissistic love here. Hopefully, I am writing to an audience who gets that with little need of discussion.
I could not go to war with my neighbor if I loved me. I could not hurt those I love if I love me. I could not lie, cheat, steal or covet if I love me. Frankly, I could not damage anything if I had a pure and unselfish love of me. Perhaps when I have achieved such a high level of love, as Jesus had when he uttered that statement, I can then begin loving my neighbor as I love myself. Until then, I must stop that practice lest I create great harm in the world around me.
This does not mean I can’t express love to others, it simply means I have to find love within me to do it honestly. I can’t say “I love you” and then act out in fear because than I am loving my neighbor as I love me…in fear. I must know what I mean when I say “I love you” and, more importantly, act in accordance with the truth of that statement.
Well, that’s how I see it on this dreary and cold February afternoon in New Jersey. This path for me has been a relatively short one, but the work it took to get here only seems to have made it clearer. I look forward to continued planting, and continued progress toward that higher vision I see.