Loving Neighbor as Self
“We are not just a skin-encapsulated ego, a soul encased in flesh. We are each other and we are the world.”
– Charles Eisenstein
Interbeing is the understanding that nothing exists separately from anything else. We are all interconnected. By taking care of another person, you take care of yourself. By taking care of yourself, you take care of the other person. Happiness and safety are not individual matters. If you suffer, I suffer. If you are not safe, I am not safe. There is no way for me to be truly happy if you are suffering. If you can smile, I can smile too. The understanding of interbeing is very important. It helps us to remove the illusion of loneliness and transform the anger that comes from the feeling of separation.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’
– Mark 12: 30-31
The cherries on the coffee tree have grown big and plump and are slowly turning red. Soon it will be time to pick, process, and roast them. My heart feels happy when I see a tree branch loaded down with ripening cherries. When the coffee tree is thriving, I feel buoyed up and strong. It affects me. It brightens my day. To use Thich Nhat Hahn’s language of interbeing: me and the coffee tree, we interare.
If this is true with me and plants, and it is, it is my reality to a much greater degree with the people in my life. When they are flourishing, I feel the positive vibes pouring off them. I rejoice with them in their successes and personal breakthroughs. And when they are struggling with challenges, I feel that too. I allow myself to feel their pain and difficulty. I let it affect me. Me and my intimate friends and family, we interare too.
At a more subtle level I sense my interbeing with everyone and with news from across the world. This week, there’s been a lot of it to be with: new fires blazing across California, the tragedy of Afghanistan, continuing flare-ups of COVID across the Bible Belt of the US. I cannot but be affected by the day’s news though sometimes, truth be told, I feel that I’ve felt enough and must refocus on the here and now.
One of my early teachers, the late Fr Thomas Hand, was a Jesuit priest and teacher of Christian Zen. He described spiritual life as a process of awakening to a transpersonal sense of self, which he called the Christ self or true self. This awakening could be sudden or gradual. It might come in fits and starts but the purpose of spiritual life was to lay the groundwork for this transformation of consciousness. Fr Hand liked to say that the golden rule, “love your neighbor as yourself,” was Jesus’ way of telling us that we should love our neighbor as part of our true self (as nothing less than part of our true self).
It seems to me that our current crises have made our interrelatedness so very clear. And I’m sure that some might say, “well, these people are my neighbors, but I’m not so sure about those other people over there.” Our world is deeply fractured along cultural lines. That may make it more difficult to love our neighbor part of our self, but also even more important that we do so. I am convinced that it is love and love alone that can heal the rifts of our society.
Here’s to our ongoing awakening.