We’ve all heard it, I’m sure: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Wise words, to be sure, we find them repeated in some variation in spiritual traditions worldwide.
However, I’d like to bring attention to two potential problems with this principle. The first is this: if our gauge for treating others just how we want to be treated, then doesn’t that keep us at the center of the equation still? The particulars of what we’d like and how we’d like to be treated may not be something universally shared.
Secondly—and this one to me is more important—this presupposes a kind of wholeness of being that would allow a person to give in such a way that isn’t just as a way to fill their own need-hole, which actually ends up feeling more like taking than giving.
Let me illustrate with my own story.
When I was 21, I came out of the closet. I had fallen in love with a sweet lady while I was studying abroad and when I returned home I decided I wasn’t going to close up that part of who I could see myself living into. I identified (and still do) as queer and told my friends and (slowly) my family.
This was the first what is becoming a lifelong practice of “coming out”—of discovering and being willing to live into deeper and truer aspects of my being.
About a year later I came out again—this time, I came out as someone who was living with severe depression. In some ways this one was at least as hard. I was one of those peppy thin white 20-somethings who “did it all”. I was a strong academic, I had a position in student government, I had co-founded the campus peace and justice group and a community garden project. I was acquainted with everyone (it used to annoy my dear friend that we couldn’t walk across the campus together without me stopping a dozen times to say hi to people I knew).
And on the inside I was completely empty.
When I finally admitted to this emptiness, it was both relieving and terrifying. One day, as I was standing in my apartment staring blankly out the window, I was struck with the realization that this whole outward show of do-gooding was in response to a deep and hidden insecurity that went something like this:
Everything I’ve done has been to earn the love I don’t deserve. They think I’m good because I do good things. It can’t ever be found out that actually I’m bad. I’m not good. I’m bad.
It would take years for me to identify these as the thoughts of a much younger version of myself, struggling to make sense of her own emotions, her body, and later, her sexuality. There are a lot of moments throughout a humans development where, in a moment of trauma or turmoil, we crystallize a belief about ourselves or the world deep in the unconscious psyche where it directs and motivates our thoughts and actions without our knowing.
Accepting the reality of my depression and becoming conscious of this deeply held belief got me going on a long road of healing (I’m still on it).
My depression was what I would call a functional disfunction. The way it manifested was in ways that were culturally acceptable and even earned me a lot of positive reinforcement.
I realized that, even though ostensibly I was “doing service”, my need-hole was loud and proud out front. The need-hole is what I’ve come to know as any way we feel incomplete or un-whole in ourselves. This is not to say that we don’t truly need each other—we do very much! But we need each other the way an ecosystem needs every species and element—as whole, individuated AND interdependent beings.
The need-hole is also addressed by most spiritual traditions. The tradition of yoga calls it anava mala, or the having forgotten our truest identity of oneness with the Goddess. Christian spirituality often alludes to the “god-shaped” hole in the heart.
I decided to take care of my own need hole through a careful cultivation of my own sense of wholeness and well-being. My hypothesis is that if we all tend to our own need-holes, than when encounter each other and our world, it isn’t from a place of needing to suck on the world in order to fill our own needs. Rather, we can encounter the world as whole beings, and from that wholeness, we can truly give freely, in the ways that are being asked of us, out of overflow without the need or expectation of getting anything back for it. This is sacred-selfcenteredness: loving yourself the way you want to be loved, a willingness to put yourself at the center of your universe as mirror image of the whole cosmos so that the healing that is done there, the ways you treat your body, the ways you listen to the parts of you that have been neglected, the ways you clear shame and shoulds—all of that connects you to the direct experience of fullness of being alive that, in my experience, can’t help but spill over into doing unto others the way they want do be done unto them…or something like that.
This, I find, is a particularly important practice as a queer person and as a woman, who's physical existence has for millennia been devalued and considered less then, and this day is still under daily threat of abuse and erasure. To elevate and prioritize, then, the love and care of this queer female body in which I dwell takes on the quality of a subversive, revolutionary, and gospel-inspired life-generating act.
Let’s carry forth with the prophetic words of 15th century Sufi poet, Hafiz:
"With That Moon Language"
Everyone you see, you say to them, "Love me."
Of course you do not do this out loud, otherwise someone would call the cops.
Still, though, think about this: this great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives with a moon in each eye,
that is always saying,
with that sweet moon language,
what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?