My wife and I were having a conversation about a mutual acquaintance who had in our minds behaved appallingly the previous weekend. At first, she wondered why I wasn’t as upset as her, and then she got it.
“Oh,” she said. “You’re loving them two levels deep and I’m only willing to go one level at the moment.”
To understand why that struck both of us as funny, here’s a simple model of human psychology:
Surface Level – How we pretend to be
On the surface, people present themselves to the world in whatever ways they would like to be seen. They may be charming or cynical, light and bubbly or deep and moody. This is the “mask” of our personality, often revealing our fears, judgments, and insecurities in the very attempt to hide them.
Whether we enjoy or loathe someone’s personality is fairly arbitrary – an accidental coming together of our own innocently acquired preferences and prejudices. But like it or not, at some point the mask slips and we see through to…
One Level Deep – The selfish self
Underneath the masks of personality, we’re continually navigating the world through a swirl of thought. Because we feel that thinking as though it’s coming at us from the outside world, we tend to see our actions, as one of my clients once put it, as being ‘the only sane response to an insane world’.
This is how we justify our ambition and ruthlessness; our cruelty to ourselves and others. After all, if it wasn’t a dog eat dog world out there, who would ever want to eat a dog?
When we see through someone’s “nice person” or “tough guy” mask, we often see only as far as this level. And it’s difficult for most of us to feel warmly towards someone who is seemingly only out for their own self-aggrandizement or self-preservation.
Until, that is, we see through to…
Two Levels Deep – Doing the best we can given how the world looks to us
There is a quote often attributed to Philo of Alexandria that we should “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” This is not only true in the physical world, where our bodies begin to decay long before our thoughts are ready to let go, but also in our innate psychology.
Every human being I have ever gotten to know at a deeper level has wanted to love and be loved; to be happy more and suffer less; and to feel like in some way their life had meaning and value. How they go about achieving these aims is a product of their level of understanding – the way the world looks to them in each and every moment.
It’s easy to love people “two levels deep”, because we see ourselves reflected in them. We all have a natural compassion for the suffering of others and an abiding conscience which ensures that while we may at times act in ways that are harmful to ourselves and others, we do it in spite of and not because of who we are at core.
Loving people at this level doesn’t mean we have to live with them or let them get away with murder, literally or figuratively. It just means that we don’t get so upset by their humanness or carried away by our own delusions that we can escape the human condition.
While seeing through to people’s innate humanity makes for richer and more wholesome relationships, there is a level beyond even that which takes us past the illusion of separation which allows us to play judge and jury to our fellow humans…
Three Levels Deep – Who we are before the fact of Thought
Who are you before thought comes into the equation?
Mystics throughout time have described our essential nature as being made of spirit – a name for the invisible life force that makes up the visible world of form. The theosopher Syd Banks referred to this essence as “pure consciousness, uncontaminated by our personal thinking.” In the inside-out understanding, we often call it the universal Mind, or “our true identity”, or refer to it as “our innate health and well-being”.
It’s difficult to even talk about “loving someone” at this level because rather than two or seven or even seven billion separate people, there is simply the presence of Love with a capital “L” – and as we dissolve into that Love, we fulfill the age-old proverb that “we are that which we seek”.
|With all my love (and all the Love that was never mine to give),