The fifth and last part of love brings us full circle to what we read in the beginning of this book. That is all this work of love is at the same time for both others and ourselves. By loving others we are loving ourselves and by loving ourselves we are loving others. These two actions are not mutually exclusive. They depend upon each other for healthy loving relationships to exist. Whether or not humans will remain humane depends upon keeping self-love and other-love balanced.
It has been said that we are only as strong as our weakest link. In this day and age of competition the weakest link is usually done away with. The only people that we give worth to are the strongest, the richest, the trickiest, and/or the most rugged individual. We seem to be fixated with the individual achievements of individuals. We often glorify those who can say look what I did by or for myself. Those that do not need the help of others are usually the last ones to give help. However, if all we do is alienate the weak, eventually we will alienate everyone in our lives. As Roger Waters put it when he sang about a backstabbing business man, we will become, “…just another sad old man, all alone and dying of cancer.”
We seem to have become a society full of self serving apathetic people. We are apathetic to everything, be it people, ideas, or anything in nature that does not serve us. The alternative to this problem is a revolution. However the kind of revolution I speak of is not violent. Violence only begets violence, or in other words those who live by the sword will die by the sword. It can not be a revolution with beliefs based on fear. We must do away with the extremes of conspiracy theories, end of the world religions, and the anti-Christ. The anti-Christ, if anything, is not a person or a group that conspiracy theories talk about. In contrast, the anti-Christ is this collective spirit of self-serving apathy we find in society today. On the flip side, the revolution also doesn’t come by people excluding themselves from society through new age transcendent escapism or prosperity spirituality. Transcendence is helpful if it enlightens us to engage the world with love. However, viewing this world as stepping stone to something better beyond this world or to viewing this world as our own personal genie violates the teachings I am trying to present here.
The revolution and solution to apathy that I would like to see is us loving one another. Like I said earlier, love is a gift with no strings attached and it is best enjoyed by sharing it freely and wastefully. We are all different and we are all not going to see eye to eye on everything. Whether large or small we still can live together with our differences. All we have to do is do the work of love. But just remember that we ourselves are a part of this equation as well. If we see life as a gift, then that means we ourselves are gifts as well. The self also is worth loving.
It cannot be self-love alone, but it also cannot be other-love alone. They need to be done with balance at the same time. I do not advocate concentrating on self-love first and other-love second. They can both be nurtured at the same time. Nurturing others nurtures your true self and nurturing your true self nurtures others. As long as one does not overtake the other then there are ways to nurture both at the same time.
Here are some examples of how to nurture ourselves, and therefore others.
1. Be the best possible version of you. Others will surely benefit from this.
2. Take care of your bodies and do it with those you love.
3. Have fun and laugh with others, especially over a meal.
4. Be passionate and creative.
5. Be cooperative and empathetic.
These things have all been explained earlier, but it is worth restating them to show that we can nurture ourselves while nurturing others. Most sacred texts mentions some command to love everyone and that command includes loving ourselves. Think of the universal Golden Rule, “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.” Karen Armstrong used the Golden Rule to devise a Charter for Compassion which states:
The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.
It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.
We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.
We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.
If we want to receive love we need to give love. At the same time we also need to be willing to accept love and not just give love. We need to be able to empathize with how wonderful it is to receive love, to have our fears turned into nurturing. We need to take to heart when Parker Palmer defines violence as, “…whenever you violate the integrity of the other.” We need to see how we are all interconnected in one way or another. To summarize what theoretical physicist, Fritjof Capra, says in his book, Web of Life, we are a living process, a cognitive, operating for from equilibrium, process of highly complex and chaotic systems of bacteria with constant flow of energy and we are conscience and/or self-aware. What we do does not just affect ourselves, but it also affects others. What others do affects us and if what they are doing does not meet our needs, then we need to have enough self-love to let them know in a compassionate way. This is the balance between others and us. How do we balance self-love and love for others? We make sure to never override the needs of others in order to meet our needs and vice versa. What we need to do is find a solution that meets everyone’s needs.
The best possible example I can give is that of migrating geese. Visualize the Autumn migration, the sights and sounds associated with this rite of passage. In Lessons From Geese it states:
Have you ever wondered why migrating geese fly in V formation? As with most animal behavior, it shows us a valuable principle of mutual aid.
As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird following. By flying in their V-group formation, the whole flock adds more flying range than if each bird flew alone.
When a goose falls out of foundation, it suddenly feels the resistance and quickly gets back in to take advantage of that lifting power of the bird immediately in front.
When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into formation and another goose flies at the point. The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
When a goose gets sick, wounded, or shot down, two others drop out of formation and follow to help and protect. They stay until the ailing member is either able to fly again or dies. Then they launch out, either on their own, with another group, or to catch up with the flock.
As far as we know geese do this instinctually, but we need to make a conscious choice to be like the geese. This life of ours is a group effort. We cannot do it on our own and we cannot do it only for others. We can however choose to humbly find ways to holistically nurture the true self of both others and ourselves. There will always be struggles on this journey of life, but with the work of love we can make life wonderful, fulfilling, and meaningful. We will not always see eye to eye, but we can use the language of compassion to keep our disagreements from getting violent. As we make our own migration to the end of our lives, let us choose to love others and ourselves.
This is the cycle of love. Self-love nurtures us by seeking out the help of others, nurturing on our own only when we have to, and other-love nurtures others by self-discovery and humility. It just keeps going round and round into each other, one nurturing the other.