The idea behind this famous biblical quote is that you and I will be much happier if we treat others in the same way we would treat ourselves, meaning that we value others just as much as we value ourselves. Alas; although most of us really like the principle, if we scan our thoughts of the previous day, it is hardly what we put into practice. If I’m truly honest with myself, I’ll admit that my own needs are of the utmost importance, and I’ll see to it that they are met, even at the expense of others. This doesn’t just apply to survival-based needs such as food, clothing and shelter. Even trying to get home through the traffic jam painstakingly exemplifies this reigning ego-principle.
So why do we tell ourselves that we do subscribe to Jesus’ point of view about loving my brother as myself, but fail to practice it? In A Course in Miracles, Jesus elaborates a lot on this topic, and provides us with some major eye-openers that seem shocking on the one hand, but which on the other hand provide the only way out of the ego hell that will really work. Let’s briefly review some major points that Jesus makes in this regard. While doing so, it’s helpful to read this from an observer point of view. Since A course in Miracles is all about the undoing of the ego, it helps to observe the ego’s reaction as you read it. Same here.
First of all, Jesus tells us that we have forgotten that we have a mind at all, and, more precisely, that our mind comes with a decision maker that can choose, at any instant in time, between non-loving thought (the ego) and loving thought (the Holy Spirit, also called the Voice for Love). All this constant, relentless verbal chatter that seems to flutter through the brain are not our real thoughts, so Jesus informs us (cf. W-pI.10; W-pI.45). In fact, the only true thoughts we have are those that we think with God — a term which in the Course symbolizes pure Oneness Love, outside time and space. In other words, only our loving thoughts are true, and everything else comes down to “image making” (W-pI.15) in order to keep up the illusion that we can be separate from God and that we actually did succeed in doing so. This is why this universe in time and space is called a dream world (cf. T-18.II).
So, the first shock is the realization that my verbal thoughts are not my real thoughts. Or, as one reader humorously commented: “I think, therefore I lie”. But that’s only the beginning. Next, Jesus explains to us that the reason we do not love our brother is because we do not love ourselves. However desperately we try to keep up the image of ourselves as a sympathetic, loving, innocent and well-meaning person, Jesus tells us that we actually despise ourselves: “You think you are the home of evil, darkness and sin. […] You think if what is true about you were revealed to you, you would be struck with horror so intense that you would rush to death by your own hand, living on after seeing this being impossible” (W-pI.93.1:1). While we would vehemently deny such a statement about ourselves, something inside cringes, because we realize that, at some level deep down in the iceberg of our minds, we do believe it.
So it’s no wonder I don’t love my brother as I love myself. Or actually I do: since deep down I despise myself, I hate my brother like I hate myself. In fact, the core strategy of the ego to keep this self-hatred from surfacing, is to keep pointing fingers at everyone and everything else outside me: “I’m not evil — this or that other person is the culprit! Look at me: I’m just an innocent victim trying to be loving!” This principle, as all students of A Course in Miracles know well, is called projection: what we refuse to acknowledge in ourselves, we project out onto the world so that we can now see evil everywhere but in ourselves.
Why do you and I think so lowly of ourselves? Once we’ve attended Jesus’ lesson on the metaphysical foundation of this dream world, the explanation becomes crystal clear: I hate myself because I believe that I am the one who rejected God and preferred separation, autonomy and individuality to my eternal place of peace in the Heart of God. As a result, there’s this gargantuan guilt about the savage sin of having separated from my Father. I can repress that guilt in a thousand ways by accusing others and constantly distracting my mind by focusing on idols (money, food, booze, special relationships, you name it), but… the guilt is still there, in the deepest recesses of the iceberg of my mind.
“To learn this course requires willingness to question every value that you hold. Not one can be kept hidden and obscure but it will jeopardize your learning”, so we read in (T-24.in.2:1-2). Literally everything that I believed to be true about my very self needs to be re-evaluated; looked at again; and then transformed to what the Voice for Love would tell me instead about what I am. It’s remarkable to notice in A Course in Miracles how Jesus uses the biblical story of the prodigal son, to illustrate how utterly mistaken we were about our own worth: “Listen to the story of the prodigal son, and learn what God’s treasure is and yours: This son of a loving father left his home and thought he squandered everything for nothing of any value, although he did not know its worthlessness at the time. He was ashamed to return to his father because he thought he had hurt him. Yet when he came home, the father welcomed him with joy because only the son himself was his father’s treasure. He wanted nothing else.” (T-8.VI.4).
So Jesus’ clarion call to “love my brother as I love myself” still stands, but I first need to change my mind about who and what I am; about the degree to which I am worthy of love; about how much my Creator loves me, and about what will really make me happy. That’s a big chunk. I can now see why Jesus tells me that “to learn his Course I need to question every value that I hold”. A Course in Miracles invites me to train my mind to lower my fear sufficiently to allow the Holy Spirit to guide my daily thoughts, instead of the fearful ego, always busy keeping the gargantuan guilt in my mind deeply buried.
The basic means, principle and exercise to this end is called, you guessed it, forgiveness. Although, bottom line, this is really about forgiveness of everything I despise about myself because I feel so guilty about rejecting God. The daily practice is forgiving everyone and everything around me that I previously condemned. So we read in chapter 9 of the text: “If you would know your prayers are answered, never doubt a Son of God. Do not question him and do not confound him, for your faith in him is your faith in yourself.” (T-9.II.4). That final part is the key. Whenever I dislike someone or something, that’s a sure sign I still project my self-hatred. This is not something to feel guilty about. On the contrary, I’ve just been offered another “lesson of love” in the classroom of the Holy Spirit. I am now learning to observe the dream world as a dream. I am the dreamer of the dream, and I can choose to be a happy learner, and realize I am still the one Son of God the Father would gladly welcome back.
Of course, it’s diligently doing the workbook lessons that transfers this happy principle into daily experience. Review, for example, lessons 228 and 227 in the workbook: “God has condemned me not. No more do I.” (W-pII.228); “This is my holy instant of release.” (W-pII.227). Let’s review this lovely prayer from the latter: “Father, it is today that I am free, because my will is Yours. I thought to make another will. Yet nothing that I thought apart from You exists. And I am free because I was mistaken, and did not affect my own reality at all by my illusions. Now I give them up, and lay them down before the feet of truth, to be removed forever from my mind. This is my holy instant of release. Father, I know my will is one with Yours.”
This way I am being shown I can love my brother like I love myself. All I need to do is allow the Holy Spirit to clean up (“undo”) the darkness in my own mind, by non-judgmentally looking at that darkness with Him beside me. This does not mean I should renounce the world and become a monk, by the way. On the contrary: the Holy Spirit may impel you and me to be very active in the dream world. The difference is that my thoughts and actions are not guided by the ever-condemning ego anymore; they will be guided by the Voice for Love, which is the royal road to the peace which is my inheritance. So instead of projecting hate, attack and separation, I now extend love, thereby inviting others to make the same choice. And whenever I give love, I will receive it. Happy practicing!
— Jan-Willem van Aalst