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Love Your Neighbor, Love Yourself

The Ancients… on Being Happy and Loving Oneself

Happiness is the highest form of satisfaction… the key to fulfillment… and your most important responsibility to yourself and the rest of the universe. [1] Your well-being contributes to the planet’s health in ways that are now being measured by scientists who study coherence, or “global order.”

This is not to say you shouldn’t be emotionally honest. Sadness, anger, unpleasant feelings will arise. Robert Holden, one of the leading experts on happiness, suggests that “emotions want to be felt”; giving them due respect will allow them to fade away, whereas denying them is the surest way to make them stick. But Holden, success coach Michael Neill, and many other authorities agree that happiness is our natural, “unconditioned” state of being.

Contented sleeping baby and puppy

Happy by Default

Seeking happiness is instinctive

I can’t choose to pursue happiness any more than I can choose to grow toenails. All my cells, every body process leans into the equilibrium that is happiness.

If I am drowning in misery I reach for happiness automatically – or at least for relief from suffering, which might look like happiness from the vortex of the black lagoon. I can’t help striving to find safety. The instinct is the same as if I were in a smoke-filled room gasping for oxygen.

Happiness comes more easily if we love ourselves. This too is instinctive, but many of us were taught that loving ourselves is selfish, wrong, immoral, un-Christian, sinful… and sometimes, as a result, the natural impulse toward healthy love, compassion, and respect for the self was scrubbed away.

Freedom Riders (1961) courageously manifested white support for civil rights (photo: Florida State Archives)

Freedom Riders (1961) courageously manifested white support for civil rights (photo: Florida State Archives)

I struggled for years, in my late teens and twenties, with guilt brought on by merely wanting something – anything, from a boyfriend to a frivolous pair of socks. My parents — paragons of healthy balance and sensible self-care — were mystified by my chronic, debilitating guilt, which reached crisis proportions in the late 1960s, spurred by a pathological extremism that afflicted many white middle-class college students in that era.

In 1966 I attended a lecture at Stanford University given by the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., who was – and here I’m quoting a Yale undergraduate who was well acquainted with Coffin –

the type of Christian minister who saw a higher calling in “afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.”  The “comfortable” were, of course, Yale students.  By and large, they came from prosperous middle- class families.  Their youth had been spent in well-furnished classrooms rather than [streets and alleys. Coffin robed them metaphorically in hair shirts] … because of how they were raised. —www.identityindependence.com/coffin.html

Toxic guilt

In 1969 and 1970 I served on a racial-justice speakers’ panel sponsored by the Presbytery of Missouri River Valley of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Our mission, truth be told, was to dispense guilt with a heavy hand among white congregations in the Omaha area… converting wealthy Presbyterians steeped in shame into philanthropic progressive Presbyterians working out their salvation by promoting fair and affordable housing,  job and education opportunities, public-policy initiatives, and other measures serving the needs of poor African Americans and other minorities in the vicinity.

The objectives were laudable, but guilt proved not to be a reliable incentive… and by this time I was so deeply immersed in my own guilt; so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the threats to our country both domestic and international; and so thoroughly distanced from my own wants, needs, interests, and abilities, that I fell headlong into severe clinical depression and spent two weeks in a psychiatric hospital.

talk therapy

Talk therapy (photo: anxiety.org)

Back then, the few antidepressant drugs on the market were rarely used and psychiatrists relied principally on talk therapy. My doctor, Bob Young, was one of the nation’s foremost psychiatrists and, under his care, I quickly unlearned the ethics of self-abnegation and began to practice greater kindness toward myself and, spontaneously, toward others as well.

Dr. Young’s teaching shared much with the view expressed almost twenty years later by Marianne Williamson when she wrote, in her 1992 book, A Return to Love,

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Health and healing through meditation

I was still in my early twenties when I came to understand the wisdom of loving myself, which invariably leads to spontaneous generosity in the matter of love. Ultimately, however, it wasn’t until I began a daily meditation practice decades later that I realized how brutally I sometimes treated myself – scolding and berating myself for failing to meet my own standards, not quite understanding that I could love myself even when I behaved unwisely, and expending a lot of energy on worry and procrastination. From time to time I fell back into the habit of indiscriminate people-pleasing… valuing myself according to the pats and strokes and other gestures of appreciation I got from my “admirers,” as I naively thought of them. 

You are a gift to the universe

A ‘mirror affirmation’

When I began meditating in 1995, I wasn’t really aware of the ways in which I had been cheating myself of love, life, and abundance. Events and circumstances since then, however, have shown me how much I’ve grown thanks to meditation. Difficulties that would have crippled me twenty years ago have been manageable and I’ve been able to see the lessons in them.

To be continued…


[1]      “Ten Life-Enriching Affirmations and How They Can Transform Your Life,” by Athena Staik, PsychCentral.com.

        When happy, your brain functions in ways that optimally support your mental and physical health….

        See also “Nourishing the Collective Heart,” by Deborah Rozeman, HeartMath, Care2.com. Rozeman introduces the Global Coherence Initiative, which is investigating potential beneficial effects of positive coherent emotional states on, e.g., the earth’s energetic fields.

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2 thoughts on “Love Your Neighbor, Love Yourself

  1. Mmm, I risk being misunderstood by hurting people (I am one too) but must address the self-orientation of modern Psychology…and the distinct harm that it inflicts upon all who are seeking relief from the pain that is always going to be a part of living in this world that has rejected eternal Truth in one way or another (we all do), bringing about certain consistent consequences that I have found are designed to simply tell us, “nope…now do what I told you to do and be blessed!”

    I was drawn to this post which popped up in a search because of the word “ancient” combined with “Sister” which shows some degree of Spiritual understanding. Having remarried a wonderfully devoted woman who was raised Catholic and being receptive to the thoughts of the ancient Hebrew sages who spent all their time studying TaNaKh at a time BEFORE the Masorites (Masons) twisted the Word of YHVH to suit their rejection of their own Messiah who arrived in Jerusalem riding the colt of a donkey to the minute of Daniel’s prophecy, and fulfilled Passover as the Lamb of God, ratifying the Abrahamic blood covenant at 3pm on 4/3/33 AD (according to Josephus, while some believe 4/6/30) …and fulfilling First Fruits (of the resurrection) on the third day after.

    The ancient Hebrew sages would answer this post thus: “It is our duty to YHVH to be happy.” (Pardon my obedience to YHVH rather than the Jer23:27 wicked shepherds if you have been taught by them to not speak “HaShem” in spite of all the commands to do so) “Our duty to be happy” conveys a sense of faith in God that all things pass through His sovereign hands, as they did in the case of faithful old Job, Joseph, Moses, etc! They do, beloved. Do you have a view of our Heavenly Father as your own personal Heavenly Servant who only gives you only what you want? Even the worst of fathers would not do such a thing…much less a perfect Spiritual Father! This immature habit that we are born with is on the verge of creating an idol of our own design and worshipping that false construct as god. It’s all about YHVH, not us…we conform to His purposes and plans, not the other way around. Otherwise, as our Creator, He warns us that all who reject His sovereignty, purposes and instructions will be destroyed at the final judgment like a master artist destroys any work that does not fulfill the beauty and representation that He intends! The “great falling away” is now under way. Do you realize this? Jesus tells those who are ministering healing and deliverance of demons to “depart from Me, you who PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS…” in Mt7:23 (!) because they are simply rejecting His instruction/Law/Torah. Have you been told that a pagan Roman Emperor false-convert who was killing Christians the day before suddenly “became a christian” and changed the exact things that YHVH said are a sign between Him and us? Google those last few words! Sabbath and Passover were made ILLEGAL and replaced by pagan worship practices: Sun-worship-day and Ishtar the fertility goddess represented by eggs and constantly copulating rabbits. If this were not bewildering enough, to make matters much worse, we STILL follow these Babylonian traditions in the western Church!

    Are you depressed? Does the guilt of the social-justice-oriented post above have a heavy place in your heart? I submit to you that our loving Creator is using these things just like He created any other kind of pain or discomfort: TO WARN YOU OF FURTHER HARM AND ERROR!

    The social issues focussed on above are significant to be sure, but not nearly as significant as the primary issue of our redemption from what separates us from our Creator, accepting His priceless sacrifice as the gift of our restoration and acting accordingly by simply loving YHVH, loving His Son Yeshua benYHVH HaMashiach, tsidkenu (the answer to the most important question in ancient Scripture: Proverbs30:4) and loving His perfect Instruction/Law/Torah and the only midrash of Torah that does not reject Torah in some way, given by Messiah (“New” Testament of the same TRUTH in the OT) for our salvation from ourselves and our sin.

    There is no coincidence that suicide is one result of deep depression as this article relates it. We indeed must “die to ourselves” in order to walk in the Light of Truth, albeit not physical death…rather, the death our our initial innate “way” which is not really much different from dying to our desire to poop our diapers and throw tantrums in an effort to do the most basic of things that we were made to do–eat and defecate! Yet, many don’t make the connection, and fight for the right to do childish things rather than THE WAY of Messiah which teaches that while we must die to our initial childish responses to the way we were created, there is a better WAY to do so that is actually far superior, efficacious and enjoyable even in THIS life…much less the eternal life that is also a free gift from God but requires terms: LOVE TRUTH in the 2Thes2:9-11 context…because we do what we love most.

    May we all graduate from this nursery to the Kingdom of our God without too much diaper rash, or disciplinary actions for following our innate self-oriented tantrums in order meet god-given needs. (!)

    Father, thank you for sending your Son to redeem us from ourselves and help us to slow down and seek your (Biblical) WAY long enough to be transformed from screaming infants to those who help bring other infants into maturity within the loving forever-family that you so graciously invite us to be a part of! HalleluYah.

    This is the happiness that our Creator intended when He created such a great need and desire for it within us! Try not to throw your sippy cups and poop your diapers too much (or the “pain seeks pleasure” mistake) when trying to meet god-given needs…and listen to your Father who is trying to lead you into what you are created for: perfect happiness that is only found in Him when we are doing what God created and instructed (Torah) us to do: share HIS love and happiness!

    …just like the ancient Hebrew sages told us–Shalom. † Isaiah7:14

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes. To walk with God is bliss—the only depthless joy. When I wander away, the pain of separation nudges (or catapults) me back into God’s presence. God never fails to provide what I need, which may or may not be what I want.

    Like

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