This is the hardest of the love teachings. In western culture it’s wrong to think of yourself first, these are the narcissist right?
At the same time, how can one even survive in a modern capitalistic system without ever considering themselves first? In fact, our international economic system is based on the idea of scarcity, a zero-sum game.
Talking about this, Susan Wolfe coined what many in western culture consider “Common Sense Morality,” as she puts it. This is anything or anyone who is selfless–who considers themselves last if at all.
What she is trying to get at it, is that to be moral in a western setting, one must be selfless. These two concepts are inherently linked (based upon her own research and findings).
Ironically, this is overplayed against a backdrop of an economic reality in which selfless entities cannot survive.
This paradox has left a lot of room for guilt, confusion, and self-denial especially in religious communities. There are more unhealthy expressions of this paradox and confusion that I have room to explore here.
But at its root is a truth to the universe that we all seem to deny: we are all connected. We are already one, we are not separate.
So much of our modern life expresses back to us our own false projection of separation. But it’s just that, a projection from our psyche.
Instead of looking at our own delusions and theories, let’s consider nature.
Nature exists in ecosystems. Ecosytems are inherently interdependent. It’s utter foolishness to think about the world in any other way than interdependent.
Without really knowing why, many of us simply perpetuate the belief that we were created by a discrete super-being in the sky to be independent identities, inherently flawed and separated from one another and the divine.
These ideas are rooted in Greek philosophy, specifically Plato and his musings about a perfect world of forms as he callas it, of which we are all mere shadows, he postulates. This was accompanied by the original Greek idea of individualism, that we are discrete and separated from each other and our environments on our own journey back to perfection, a perfection we have lost.
These ideas, once absent from judeo-christian thinking found their way into christian theology during an era in which greek philosophy was fashionable in the church, and become intertwined with the theological narrative.
But what if we allow the parables and powerful poems of the Bible to speak to us in the way they are meant to–our psyches and subconscious, our spirit and soul–and let nature explain to us clearly what is.
And what is, is an uncomfortably dependent universe that has co-evolved to give, receive, and need all else that is. I remember learning in elementary school science that when one species of an ecosystem is damaged or lost, the whole environment suffers. This should be basic knowledge of our reality.
We are not separate. We need each other, and what’s more we belong to each other.
Cynthia Bourgeault captures this reality from the wisdom teachings of Jesus in her reflections on the parables Jesus tells about grapes and vines. She notes,
No separation between human and human is an equally powerful notion—and equally challenging. One of the most familiar of Jesus’ teachings is “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39). But we almost always hear that wrong: “Love your neighbor as much as yourself.” (And of course, the next logical question then becomes, “But I have to love me first, don’t I, before I can love my neighbor?”) If you listen closely to Jesus however, there is no “as much as” in his admonition. It’s just “Love your neighbor as yourself”—as a continuation of your very own being. It’s a complete seeing that your neighbor is you. There are not two individuals out there, one seeking to better herself at the price of the other, or to extend charity to the other; there are simply two cells of the one great Life. Each of them is equally precious and necessary.
When we are able to shed the lie that we are separate, and we see ourselves as flowing in and out of god, and in and out of each other, we are able to live in the mutually beneficial and abundant reality that the universe we inhabit has to offer. The only true scarce resource in our reality is money, and funny enough anything that money touches seems to somehow become scarce as well (even water which we now have to purchase in polluting plastic bottles).
The modern economy is the culmination of this projection of scarcity onto our abundant reality (to paraphrase Charles Eisenstein.) But, when we instead see ourselves for how we really are, extensions of the divine and of one another, not in competition with but in extension of each other, we are able to see another reality, a truer somehow more spiritually attuned reality.
In fact, when we turn into one another, and into god in us (Emmanuel) we instead find exactly what we’v always been looking for.