“Think of others as you would have them think of you.”
Self-centered like me? Love others. Got problems? Give it all you got.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but practicing “love and tolerance” (p. 84) for all brings enormous spiritual, mental, and even physical benefits. What I think about you inevitably colors the attitude I have toward myself, which in turn shapes my experience of life. We can know this based on anything from having lived it to abstract theories of quantum physics telling us the universe is made of energy. What you dish out is ultimately what you get.
Years ago I recognized myself in a share by my friend, Andrew K.. He told about a time near his bottom when some friends stopped by to see him. From the upper story of the split-level where he lived, he silently crept down the stairs as the friends went on ringing and knocking. Cautiously he peered out through the peep-hole to see them standing on the front slab exchanging conjectures about him. What did they want?! Whatever it was, he couldn’t handle it. He just didn’t have it in him. Pleased at his evasion, he retreated oh-so silently up the stairs.
Andrew contrasted the story with his experience around Step 7: “The more I judge you, the more I’m sure you’re judging me, so I actually experience that judging and judge myself. And on the flipside, I’ve found that the more I let you be you and maybe even love you for it, the more I assume you’re okay with me, and so I’m okay with me.”
Our culture of scarcity encourages us to hoard love, but spiritual axioms teach the opposite. The doors of the heart need to be oiled daily so that they’ll open even for strangers who “don’t deserve” our love and the very people who irritate us, as well as those in our inner circle.
We do pour out love toward a certain class of strangers all the time. Yesterday during my ballet class, for instance, we could hardly keep dancing for all the affection we were flooding through the studio’s big storefront windows. With Halloween a week away, neighborhood retailers were holding a “Safe Trick-or Treat,” so the sidewalk featured a constant stream of bumblebees, superheroes, and characters from all kinds of stories. Dressed as a dolphin, a woman handing out candy stood with her back to us, so the children would pause facing the glass, where we could see them perfectly.
Our teacher couldn’t help interrupting herself again and again. “Oh my god, it’s Princess Leah!” We all looked, and what I saw almost overwhelmed me. She stood about two and a half feet tall in a flowing tunic, the classic dark buns on either side of her head slightly askew. Tentatively, knowing what she was supposed to do, she approached the dolphin woman, her eyes staring up with a mix of trust and caution. People flipped her off. They called her a fucking bitch. They judged her as a slut or a failure or beneath their concern — not yet, not yet, mind you. But in her future.
Tiny Princess Leah was only doing her best, as she will throughout her life, and as will the Incredible Hulk who followed her with his impossibly muscled little green chest. Already, they’re being taught who to be and how to get stuff. We find it natural never to judge them (greedy little schmucks!) for what they “ought” to know or do. To love them freely is ingrained in our culture.
Just for today, what if you practiced seeing the toddler in every person you interact with? The spirit within that person is exactly the same. Or what if you tried calling up a “legitimate” feeling of love – a glimpse of your loved one’s inner beauty or a sleepy kitten snuggling against you – and purposefully grew that energy in your chest like an expanding sun until it shone on every sight, sound, and experience? Commit to loving. Keep it like an inner homefire that must never go out, not even when fear tries to snuff it or anger tries to blast it from you. Hold onto it as your homage to goodness, and practice radiating what it generates in all you think and do.
What you’ll get is a world transformed by love. Today I notice small gestures of love from others that I used to discount as empty manners. I joke with strangers about the dumbest shit, and to me our shared laughter rings out more beautifully than church bells. I’ll never be some spiritual giant. I wrestle daily with a shitload of fear. But love is god’s power, and I’ve found that channeling it actually lends me power over fear: I sense an active energy of goodness all around me. The world will feels safer. If you’re coming from a place of love and encounter darkness in others – cruelty or deceit – you feel it as the anti-matter of goodwill and respond with mourning more than angry contempt. The difference is huge.
Finally, when you least expect it, awareness will slip in that you, too, are loveable. It’s hard to grasp, but in this moment, you – despite everything you regret in your past – are as innocent as you were at Princess Leah’s age. Society sells you its weird customs and you suit up and give it a shot. You look up toward life’s unknown with the same mix of trust and caution. You, too, are vulnerable and unique. It’s okay to see that with love.
Loving the good in others and yourself will swing wide the doors of spirit so you can breathe, and play, and thrive in the freedom of generosity. It’s either that, or keep peering through the peep-hole. You can choose.