When Jesus said, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself," I must say that, through most of my life, I've heard much about the former -- you should love others; not much, however, about the latter -- you should love yourself.
To love yourself.
Just saying the words sounds a trifling selfish. Or, maybe that's just the conditioned baggage I still carry around within me. For example, I cannot think about loving myself without feeling and hearing the inner tapes judging, "How small of you, McSwain... proof still there's much self-centeredness in you that needs changing!"
In my better moments -- and I think I'm having one of those right now -- I know that I'm hardly free to love anyone else until I love me.
So what does it mean to love me?
Maybe to stop comparing myself to who I am not?
I don't know about you, but I seem to spend a lot of my time looking around at who others are, what they've done, who they know... who knows them...
I sat down on the plane the other day, for example, and the lady beside me, once she finally got settled (and that seemed to take fifteen minutes or longer) she pulled out about four or five different magazines to read on our short one-hour flight.
People magazine; InStyle, I think, Life & Style, too... a couple of Hollywood tabloids like Star and US Weekly. I don't know -- maybe some others. I could not help but observe how little text there was in the magazines. It was mostly just pictures and headlines and she just turned pages and looked and, yes, I looked out of the corner of my eye and hoped she couldn't tell I was curious... a little judgmental too.
I wanted to ask her, "What do you get out of those magazines?"
But then, it occurred to me, she probably gets the same thing I get out of reading about people I admire most -- people I secretly envy. No, I could care less to read about Brad Pitt or the latest Kardashian antics. I have a different crowd. And, I am no less interested than my seat mate on the plane in knowing what those I secretly admire are doing, what they're writing, what they're saying and, of course, wishing I were more like them, as widely known as they, or as admired by the world as they are.
I think I've decided that much of my preoccupation with others -- who they are, what they've accomplished, who knows them -- is really just a kind of self-judgment; the inner self reminding itself of who I'm not, what I haven't accomplished, who will not ever know me...
Isn't loving yourself simply the awareness you don't?
That's the place to start, at least.
It may seem odd to you but I'm 57 years old and just now learning how to love me...
But as I do, I love you.
You see, when I stop judging me, I no longer need to judge you;
When I can accept my achievements, or lack of them, I stop envying yours;
When I can forgive my screw ups, then I forgive you, yours;
So, if ever I criticize you... judge you... complain or call you names, or say things like, "You expect me to forgive you for..."
Just know that I have not quite figured out the mystery of life that Jesus was pointing toward -- a mystery so mysterious you could live 57 years and still not quite get it -- You and I only ever do to others what we're doing to ourselves. Right now.
When I'm afraid of me, I'm afraid of you -- so I stockpile guns in my home and call it my Second Amendment rights;
When I'm afraid of asking questions -- or, of living with doubts -- I create elaborate belief systems and insist that everyone else believe as I do... as we do...or, face eternal torment.
When I judge the world as filled with hate or as a hopeless place of war or...well...
Permit me to put it like this:
When there isn't much love in my world, I've learned to take a look within myself. For, when I love me, then you become my neighbor... and the world becomes a neighborhood.