By inequality, I am not just referring to the widening gap between rich and poor, which is the most evident planetary symptom of this imbalance. I am referring to the fundamental energetic flaw in how we as human beings treat our selves, our bodies, our fellow human beings, and our planet. And the fundamental unit at the heart of this inequality is not money, or food, or oil, or power — it is love.
The results of this energetic imbalance, this basic inequality in how we treat ourselves and others, can be seen in all aspects of our modern world — in the diseases that claim our lives, in our splintered families and high divorce rates, in the opposing epidemics of obesity and starvation that grip much of the human population, in the environmental crisis we are now facing. It is clear that we have forgotten — or never learned in the first place — how to receive and share evenly. We hoard, even as we spend beyond our limit. Some dote on others, even as they neglect themselves. Others act in selfishness, at the expense of other people. Too often, the stories of the waters of our lives are stories of stagnant swamps of excess, or of dry riverbeds of lack.
Solutions to the various symptoms of this planetary and individual imbalance have been proposed by scientists who work for environmental change and by spiritual teachers who work for individual transformation, and the nature of this imbalance has been the spark that fuels social movements and drives political change. Yet the simplest, most profound equation that addresses this crisis of human existence, perhaps the greatest expression of spiritual alchemy ever revealed through a human being, was put forth as law and as solution over 2,000 years ago.
Love the other as you love yourself.
On the page, it is almost absurdly simple. So simple, that its profound and wondrous mysteries are easily — and chronically — missed. At the root of it is the reality that contained within the receiving and sharing of love between human beings lies the direct healing of fundamental inequality on all levels.
I have little background in Christianity or Christian thought, so it may be presumptuous of me to write an article based on a teaching of one whose teachings and mysteries I’m just beginning to study, but part of the profound beauty of Jesus is the simplicity and directness with which He spoke of love, and in that simplicity there is great depth. And there are many parallels between his teaching and the bhakti traditions of India with which I am more familiar. So I will do my best to share for others what I have just begun to explore in this simple phrase.
“Love the other…” or “neighbor” (which was then clarified to mean all others) is the second part of what is referred to in Christian scripture as the highest command, or the highest law. When we take it simply as an instruction, it is very easy to over-reduce it to a basic reminder to be nice to other people. Yet when we start to examine “love the other…” not in the sense of being an instruction, but as a law in the same way gravity is a law, a whole different depth reveals itself, which all starts with the word “as.” In most romance language translations, it is not “as” you love yourself – as in, “love the other as much as you love yourself” but love the other how you love yourself. Comme, in French, como in Spanish and Portuguese.
The law of human existence that this puts forth – which is as much a reality as the law of gravity — is that the way you love the other is exactly the way you love yourself. The way you love yourself is exactly the way you love others. As we live in an interconnected field and are ourselves an inextricable part of the whole of creation, how we treat ourselves is how we treat others is how we treat the whole. “Whatever he does to the web [of life], he does to himself,” in the oft-quoted words of Chief Seattle.
As this immutable law turns to practice, it becomes far deeper than just remembering to be nice to other people. It becomes a deep and thorough examination of the most beautiful force in all creation — love — what love is, how we begin to build a foundation of love in our lives, and how we can use that foundation to practice the equal exchange of love between ourselves and others. Having studied a good amount of spiritual practices over the course of my lifetime, I have come to feel that this is the deepest practice there is. It is a lifelong practice — one that we can do every day, in every interaction we have, in every word we speak, in every breath we take.
The alchemical truth recognized by Paracelcus — as above, so below— is that spiritual reality is reflected across all levels of the universe — macrocosm to microcosm. So we start the practice of loving the other how we love ourselves in seemingly small and simple ways.
In Yoga, the spiritual tradition in which I have the most experience, we start with the fundamental building block of our lives, the breath. Just as we want an even exchange of love between ourselves and others, we want an even exchange of breath. We want balance between the inhale and the exhale. We see through the example of the breath that the natural state of the human being is in fact, even exchange. We do not keep too much breath, we do not let too much breath go. We take, and we release. Every living cell in this universe that we know of follows this exact same pattern. The ones that don’t, the ones that have an imbalance in this basic law of exchange, become sick. So the first practice of developing an even and equal exchange in our lives can be found in the practice of breathing more evenly and more consciously, and setting a physical and spiritual rhythm along which we can begin the practice of love. All the qualities we seek for ourselves in our lives — depth, equality, serenity, peace, love — we foster first through the breath.
Then we move to the Center Line, our place of True Alignment. There is one point where the physical organism of the human being is in a state of absolute equality, erect, free standing, where there is no extraneous weight on our frame. For every inch we are forward or back of that point of absolute equality, we add another ten pounds of weight to the burden of our lives. When we begin, through awareness and practice, through treating our bodies with a little more love, to develop our alignment to center, we realize that the natural state of the human being according to the great design is one of absolute equality — equal balance of weight on our frame, equal exchange of energy between self and other, equal giving and receiving of love.
We do not lean too far forward of our center or withdraw too far back, physically or energetically. We do not emotionally over-attend to others at the expense of ourselves, and we do not energetically shrink back and become a drain on those around us. We do not hurl ourselves forward “in love” at the expense of our own hearts, nor do we close ourselves off from receiving love from other people. The place where we are doing none of these things, where we stand tall and open, where the waters of our heart are still and clear, this place is love.
In the West, we have a long tradition of equating love with turbulent waters, with being blown wildly off center. We glamorize “falling” in love. And while there is great beauty in the initial feeling of being “swept away” by someone or some thing, the love that sustains a relationship, that sustains a friendship, that sustains a community and a nation and a world, must come from a place of peace, and center, and alignment.
In yogic physical cosmology, the pranic center of the heart, the place that receives and stores and gives and exchanges love, is called anahata, the unstruck, the undisturbed, the place of where the waters of our being are as still and clear and reflective and free of turbulence as a mountain lake at dawn. If we are going to have healthy relationships with ourselves, with our loved ones, with our world, we have to approach love from a place of center. It is here that we find the delicate balance of equal giving and receiving.
As we examine this equal exchange of energy from a place of true center, we quickly encounter the nature of the great imbalance we are facing on this planet today.
In the West, we generally live our lives as though the purpose of existence is to get as much as we can. Disregarding the fact that in nature the healthy, full existence of each living unit is based upon an equal balance of giving and receiving, we tip our intent, our thirst, our hunger, our obsession drastically towards the receiving end of the equation. And when the foundation of the global society in which we live centers around accumulation, this fundamental balance becomes — to put it mildly — off.
Among the top causes of death on this planet are illnesses related to the poor health of the heart and illnesses related to lack of clean water. In the “developed” world, the state of our physical hearts is a direct reflection of a culture of individual indulgence at the expense of the even exchange that our organisms truly want; the waterborne disease in the third world is a symptom of the lack of access to the fundamental building block of life that is meant to be available absolutely freely to everyone, everywhere. One side of the world suffers from receiving too much of the wrong things, the other side suffers from not receiving the very fundamentals of existence.
Central to the understanding of what is wrong with our physical and spiritual hearts is the understanding of what it truly means to love ourselves as human beings. The assumption we generally make on reading Christ’s equation is that, of course, we love ourselves a lot. So we just have to love other people a lot too, just like we love ourselves. Nothing could be further from the truth. The disease that afflicts humanity is at its root a complete misunderstanding of what it means to love ourselves. And the heart of this great misunderstanding is the idea that to love ourselves we need to receive more of everything, and that the things which we need to receive are other than the things that we have right in front of our eyes.
So we rush around in our lives, fervently seeking to capture the shiny objects that this world has to offer. Yet when we rush, we are energetically leaning forward, off of center, in a way that focuses us too far outward and therefore adds to our energetic burden and depletes us physically, mentally, and spiritually. When we fail to capture enough gold to satiate the great misunderstanding within us, we feel cheated, exhausted, and burnt out. We are tired because we feel like we give so much. We work, we support our families, we raise our children, and we constantly participate in what we call “thankless tasks.”
It is easy to look at these situations and feel like we are giving too much, or not receiving enough. But we are natural conduits that need only to be properly aligned. The reality is not that we’re giving too much or not receiving enough, but rather that we haven’t structured our lives from a place of foundation so that we can properly give and receive love in balance. We have built the wrong framework in our lives, and from that place the equal exchange of love is not possible.
This condition is summarized in the Old Testament, in one of countless hidden teachings on how human beings exchange spiritual energy, which come generally – and not coincidentally — in the form of parables about water.
They have forsaken the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
The spring of living water that is right before us is the fountain of gifts that this provident universe has to offer us every day. The community we live in, the friends with whom we spend our time, the fulfillment we get from good, honest work, the time we spend in gardens or parks or in nature or in wilderness, the time we spend cooking and sharing meals, the time we spend with the elderly and with children, the time we spend participating in what – for 99.999% of our history on this planet – it actually means to be a human being.
If we are feeling isolated, or alone, or depleted, or broken, or like we need something to fill us, or if we find ourselves turning to harmful substances — it is often because one or more of the stones in our cistern is loose, or missing, or was never there at all. And it is our life work, if we want to build a strong foundation, to repair it. Sometimes we know all this mentally. We skim over it all and think: “Yes, yes, right. Gotta have more friend time.” It’s more than that. It is our responsibility to our selves and our children to create a healthy foundation for our lives. Many of us speak often about change on this planet. And the fountain of goodness that all of us want for this world will not come from a nation, or a city, or a house, or a family, or a heart… of broken cisterns. To establish this foundation, this house for light, this well for love, can, and should, be our life work. And it is very, very good work. It is the greatest work of all.
So we start with the breath. We work to become physically centered. We use our bodies like they want to be used. We drink clean, pure water. We eat healthy food. We surround ourselves with others who are working towards some degree of health themselves. We align ourselves to a regular practice. The very basic things we receive in this life are actually what fill us and sustain us, and the first part of loving ourselves means to build a foundation in the fundamentals of life that are available to us.
It does not hold water to build a foundation of relentless accumulation. Neither does it hold water to expect one person in this world to be the source of all our happiness and fulfill all of our emotional needs. It doesn’t hold water to give and give and give with no foundation until we deplete ourselves. It certainly does not hold water to seek happiness at the expense of others – wielding some type of fleeting power over other people, or pursuing a constant parade of new sex partners, or benefiting from the subjugation of the poor.
What in reality gives us far more peace, far more foundation, and far more joy than any of this is… giving.
In giving love is the healing of all of our hurts. Contained deep in the act of freely giving is the medicine that becomes the salve that soothes our hearts – and the understanding of this spiritual reality is why many of the early Christian saints were physicians and healers who treated people freely, for no money. In our journey to be made whole, there is no greater remedy than giving freely to others.
The alchemy of how this works is simple – it is the alchemy of the free movement of water, the reality that when we are holding on to trauma, when we are holding on to hurt, when we are stressed – the waters of our being are choked and stagnant from so much holding. The cure that is most commonly prescribed – by us or by others — is to add something more to an already drowning cup — a pill, or a drink, or some form of “blowing off steam” or passive consumption of media, or some new regimen or cure that involves a lot of time alone with ourselves and our problems. In reality, what the cup of our hearts wants is to be cleared, to give love so that it can receive love so that it can give more love so that it can receive more love. We are water – literally — and that water wants to flow freely, and that water wants to give.
I know personally, at a time when I was in a very dark place in my life and time alone with myself meant stirring up a whirlpool of countless thoughts of despair and doubt, what helped me most was the sharing of time, and play, and love with my friends’ beautiful children. In the simple act of turning my attention to others – to those who were open to receive love from me — was the healing I sought.
In the western model, it’s generally all on us to heal ourselves, and rarely is it recognized that much of the intensity of our own process and pain can be dissolved by taking the focus off of our own minds, our own problems, our own burdens and focusing instead on other people. The simple truth is that when we have a burden that is too much to carry, and we distribute it among a community, it is no longer a burden. It is not our sole responsibility to carry these burdens. It is our responsibility to set up our lives so we don’t have to do it alone.
Many spiritual traditions emphasize long hours alone, clearing one’s own mind through one’s own concentration and one’s own letting go. And while there is great value and importance in meditative practice and I certainly spend a good amount of solitary time meditating and trail running, there also needs to be an equal amount of time in which we give to others. We need to structure our lives to facilitate giving. The beauty of service – so present in the bhakti tradition in India and the true Christian tradition – is that it heals everyone. Its puts us in the appropriate relationship with the other, and allows us an opportunity to do something that we innately need to do in order to be whole – give.
Giving – in one way or another — is something that most of us value and that people of conscience do with regularity and in many ways. Sometimes we recognize that giving is more than charitable altruism and that it actually makes us feel good inside to give. However, rarely is it recognized that giving is more than this — giving is an absolutely essential ingredient to our happiness as full human beings, and the ratio of the balance we need to strike in giving and receiving love is the most basic mathematical ratio there is.
1 – 1
Love the other as you love yourself.
The giving love side of the equation is a very tricky one for us. It is easy for us in the West to understand that there are a lot of people in this world who want and need more, and we can easily justify giving to them. What is extremely difficult for us to understand is that deep down inside we actually want less.
Our bodies do not want super-sized American portions of food for every meal. We do not want every single variety of cuisine from every country on earth available to us in 250 varieties 24 hours a day. We do not want more and more and more cable channels. We do not want to be continually pampered by aestheticians and manicurists and therapists and assistants. I can say with complete certainty that more is not the recipe for a whole and balanced human being. Having more options, more things, more accessibility to everything at our fingertips while at the same time having less time to focus on giving, on others, on sharing, on love, does not make our systems more relaxed, more whole, more peaceful, more loving or more happy. It makes us, literally, sick.
Just as our bodies are designed for an equal exchange of breath along that one true place we call center, so we are designed for an equal balance of abundance and lack. We are designed to have to exert ourselves to get food and to experience some times in life when there is little to no food at all — this is why many spiritual traditions practice fasting, including the Nazarene tradition that Christ himself was part of. We are designed to have to wait along a seasonal calendar for summer’s sweet fruits and we are designed to tighten our belts in the winter. Contrary to what we are deliberately conditioned to believe, we are designed to feel most whole when this balance of having and not having is in its natural state, not when the temperature control is set for exactly 72 degrees and there are no variables and life is on cruise control.
You often hear people say: “I never felt more alive than when…” and the remainder of the sentence that follows is almost always referencing a time when they were not in total control, when they were at the mercy of greater forces, and when they had to do without something. It is a fundamental truth that has been with us for thousands of years — we want less. And we want to give more. We want an equal exchange.
We want to love the other, as much as we want to love ourselves.
The basic problem when we have no shortages in life and no elements of our existence that are beyond our control and when we build a foundation that is entirely rooted in perceived material stability is that we can create a profoundly false alignment, in which instead of being part of the web, part of the intricate balance of self and other, we assume ourselves to be in a position of control. This assumption of control causes us to not behave with appropriate respect and honor towards things that are greater than us and towards others with whom we should have an equal relationship. It deeply effects our relationship with other people, causing even the most altruistic of us to view those with less material things as “less” than us.
Of all broken cisterns, perhaps the one that holds the least water is the one in which we believe ourselves to be in control. When we put ourselves in the place that should be occupied by something much higher, it makes it impossible for us to give and receive love the way we truly want to.
This brings us to the first part of the divine equation, the first part of the highest law, which I conveniently left for last in this article so that my atheist and agnostic friends would not stop reading too soon. 🙂
The first part of the divine equation, worthy of just as much examination and just as much practice as the second, is to love God above all things. To love God with all our hearts, and minds, and souls.
In this day and age of questioning, atheism, agnosticism, skepticism, and negative associations with the structures of organized religion there are many who will balk or flat out laugh at the idea of loving God above all things. Some people might not believe in God. Others might believe in God as some form of higher power but have no idea what it would look like to love it above all things and may not think that it sounds like a very positive thing to do in life. It is easy to read ‘above all things’ and associate it with religious extremism – as if our entire lives are expected to revolve around and be in submission to something abstract and not necessarily beneficent.
The fundamental truth of this law, regardless of whether you believe that the spring of living water is “just” water or if you believe that there is a conscious power in this universe, is that the first and foremost alignment for us to have in this life is towards that which is greater than us, greater than our bodies, greater than our individual will and our immediate wants, needs, and desires — that which was here long before we were here and that which will be here long after we are gone. We align ourselves to the ancestral forces that got us here, to the promise of our descendants, to the mysterious spark that permeates all creation, to death, and the unchanging fact that we will die, and to birth, and the amazing role we have to play in bringing forth life. We align to the sun that is responsible for all life on earth and the moon that rules our waters and the North Star which is our fixed guide through these waters. Our first and truest alignment is to everything – everything – that is larger, and older, and grander than us and without whom we would not be here at all. To creation itself, the vast ocean that the waters of our being are drawn from and will inevitably return to.
This positioning allows for us to open up to a true equality with each other, since when we align first and foremost to the greater we are under no illusion that we are in control. Recognizing and honoring the presence of the greater — or of God — takes the urgency out of our scramble for supremacy. It causes us to question what we can actually “get” in the short time we are here and to question how important it is to get “ahead” at all. And it puts our relationship with others in clear perspective, for all of us, every one, is bound to the same laws of existence, of life and death, of joy and pain, and in this sense there is absolutely no difference between us at all. There is no richer or poorer, there is no better or worse, we are one very small, very distinct family who have all been given the exact same gift — the great gift of this lifetime and the opportunity to share love with one another.
When we start to open up to the greater, we see that there are vast currents at work. There is a sublime order to the movements of galaxies and the unfolding of nautilus shells and the hum of electrons. There are laws that govern creation and those laws permeate our lives — we are in no way, not for one second, removed from them. No matter how advanced our technology becomes, no matter how long we stretch our short lifespans — we are subject to the Divine Order, the architecture, the current of light, the infinite manifestation of Shiva/Shakti, the Great Mystery, the sublime love of Radha/Krishna, the Universe, whatever we name it. The most natural way we can align to the current that drives us, that surrounds us, that permeates us, that is us, is to give and receive love. This is the formula. This is the solution. This is it. This is what Christ spoke of, what the first bhaktins spoke of, what mystical physicists like Erwin Schroedinger spoke of — the current that drives this universe is, at its heart, love. Its our choice. We can spend our lives trying to swim against a current that carries the force of 100 billion galaxies, or we can surrender to the infinite and behave towards one another in the only possible way that makes sense — loving each other.
This universe will go on long after we are gone. Our historic “legacy” if we have one at all, will not last ten generations, an insignificant speck in the scope of time and space. The only true legacy is how much love we are able to give while we are here. That is a legacy that outlasts violence, that outlasts hate, that outlasts money, that outlasts works of genius, that outlasts borders and nations and that outlasts worlds. The only true measure of a human being is the measure of love.
So what we find at the heart of the divine equation, the great command, the eternal law… is a simple triangle — a triangle between self, other, and the Divine, in which self and other form the base of the triangle, existing in an exactly equal harmony and the infinite source, the spring of eternal water, the sublime, God, sits at the top. This is the great and beautifully simple reality of the divine equation in manifest form — a triangle.
As Christ the carpenter no doubt knew through his work building sound structures, the triangle is the strongest load-bearing shape in nature. The triangle distributes force, and stress, and pressure evenly so that no single one of its three points carries too much of a burden. The triangle is found all through creation — in the structural walls of eggs, which in their magnificent design are stronger end to end than steel yet fragile enough to welcome new life into this world. The triangle is also the exact structure of the water molecule, in which two smaller hydrogen atoms are bound to one larger atom of life giving oxygen, and, as we connect spiritually to our source, so we connect physically to our source every time we take a sip of water and the oxygen that is our very life nourishes and sustains us in the same relationship of love between self and the larger world.
Our practice, our lifelong practice, is to create this sound and fortified triangle in our lives, so that we have a free exchange of love between our selves and others and so that what really matters in this life is situated firmly at the top. And we can start the practice of the creation of this divine triangle of self, other, and source in very simple ways.
Very bluntly, we in the west, particularly in America, need to give more love. We are literally dying of over-consumption and isolation. The stress that we have from feeling alone and unsupported is gnawing at us. The culture that we have fostered, the culture of every man for himself, is not a culture remotely in line with Christ’s teachings on love. This relationship, where self and other are at odds, does not allow us to develop a healthy exchange of love in our lives, and it keeps us from being whole. Our disconnection from the heart of Christ’s equation is glaring. To heal this disconnection, we look for fulfillment in all the wrong places, but our key to the mansion of wholeness lies directly in giving.
It is not love to deny anyone on this planet, anywhere, care when they are sick. It is not love to withhold help for the poor. It is not love to fail to give support for the elderly. It is not love to execute another human being. It is not love to consume without limit. It is not love to harm nature. It is not love to put short-term profits before ethical considerations. It is not love to benefit from another’s suffering. It is not love to worship the immediate needs of the self above all other things.
I am new to the teachings of Christ, but from what little I know, it is my strong sense that it is not of Christ to do any of these things. The choice Christians in the western world face is whether to follow the political and nationalistic ideology of the individual at the expense of others, or to actually embrace the words of their spiritual master. It is their choice which flag to fly, but it is clear that the flag being flown by those individuals and churches that preach separation and distrust of the other is not the flag of the sublime love of Christ. Christ was a peasant, and he taught from a place of sublime clarity. His words were of love, plain and simple.
During this holiday season, this time of giving, a sacred time for Christians everywhere and a sacred time for all those who follow the cycles of sunlight and renewal — let us join together and practice love. Let’s give more. Let’s find the true wholeness that comes from giving love to those who need it most.
May we truly love each other. May we mend our broken cisterns and fill our cups on the spring of living water.
for more of josh’s writings and teaching schedule, please visit facebook.com/crucibleyoga