Recently, I've been seeing a deluge of quotes on Instagram promoting self-love. At first, this might seem to be a healthy trend. After all, Jesus recommended that we love our "neighbor" as we love our own self. If we are not good to ourselves, how can we possibly be good to another? We will have nothing to give them if we do not possess some kind of sacred reservoir to draw from. However, self-love is meant to be only one facet of a larger love of the world. After all, we ourselves are part of a multi-faceted sacred Web of Life, and we - as one node in that web - deserve love just as much as any other node on the web. But we are not meant to stop there. For ultimately, we are called to love ALL of the web-nodes and not just our own.
What I am seeing is a "spiritual" narcissism that corresponds to our culture's increasingly overly-individualistic stance. Currently, we see this narcissism manifesting itself BIGTIME in American politics. The fact that a candidate like Donald Trump (leaving open, of course, the possibility that he is simply putting on a momentary "entertainer act") could become so popular speaks to this kind of cultural narcissism. In the arena of pop spirituality, what used to be called retreat time - whereby we renew our relationship with the Divine - is now referred to merely as "me" time. Here, the people in one's life are viewed as mere manifestations of one's OWN desires and intentions - a sort of New Age solipsism.
I am committed to a relational view of mysticism. Here there is a sacred masculine ("God"), and a sacred feminine ("Goddess"), and these two are so in love with each other that they are forever emptied into one another and into the space in between, which is where WE dwell. In this view, everything in the cosmos is a sacred "Thou" echoing and ricocheting back and forth between God and Goddess, and between all people, species and landscapes. Even what we call "I" is in reality a Thou that temporarily masquerades as a First-Person reality - an "I" - in order to facilitate the surprise that occurs when it suddenly realizes it is actually a silent "Thou" - spoken by no One - yet ricocheting back and forth between God and Goddess and between all things dwelling in between. Even God and Goddess, it turns out, are self-emptied into one another and into the "Thou" of every being. As Ramon Panikkar says, "God has no First-Person 'I'. God is only known in the Second-Person - through us - as "Thou." The same could be said of the Goddess. Here, it is as though we have two mirrors facing each other, with images of Goddess and God appearing in the mirrors, yet with no originals ever present! For they - and all things - are forever emptied into one other in ecstatic bliss.
Thus, unity or non-duality - from the perspective of a Wilderness Mysticism - is innately relational. That is, each of us only knows our true identity in the mirror of the Other. One of my own major life-lessons has been the realization that other people cannot become this mirror. At their best, they are simply windows through to a larger Other, a vaster Mirror. As everyone knows, "I" find this Other primarily in the beauty of Nature. "I" discover my own inner loveliness within this mirror, and my photographs are, I believe, ample evidence of this fact. If the injunction to "love oneself" has any meaning, it is simply in withdrawing ourselves from being too embedded in the project of trying to make other people mirror us, and instead seeking this Larger mirror. When we do discover it, we are then able to love other people as windows through to this Larger mirror, and to love ourselves as windows through which THEY can find their own Larger identity. I pray in the coming year that all of us may become increasingly-clearer windows through to this Larger mirror :)
Photo: Hewlett Burn, Poudre Canyon, CO, December 29, 2015
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.