The law of love

I wrote a commentary last Friday on Workbook Lesson 344 that deeply affected me. That lesson is “Today I learn the law of love; that what I give my brother is my gift to me.” Much of what the commentary focused on was that phrase “the law of love.” Here is what I wrote about that:

This is the first of a series of lessons that features “the law of love.” This series also includes 345, 346, and 349. What is the law of love? Surely we already know the answer—it’s right there in today’s idea: “that what I give my brother is my gift to me.” This agrees with the commonplace observation that giving benefits the giver. Yet the law of love far exceeds that common idea, in two crucial ways.

First, it makes the connection between giving and receiving a lawful one. We tend to hope that giving will benefit the giver, because we have often observed that to be true. Yet if this is a law, then hoping my giving will benefit me is like hoping that a rock I throw in the air will come back down to earth. We don’t hope that a law of nature will still work the next time; we assume it as a matter of course.

Second, it means that this law is operating in regard to everything we do. When I give my brother love, that is my gift to me. When I give him attack, that is my gift to me. When I ignore him and act like he doesn’t exist, that, too, is my gift to me. Just as gravity operates on all objects, regardless of size, shape, or mass, so the law of love operates on all interpersonal acts, regardless of their quality.

The fact that the law of love is a law that operates all the time, without exceptions, makes it quite distant from that commonplace observation that giving benefits the giver. For we hear that and then turn around and think, “Then I guess my occasional gifts will probably—hopefully—make me happier.” Rather, we should be thinking, “Everything I give will return to me as lawfully as objects thrown upward return to the ground. Therefore, the way to find happiness is to continually throw love ‘upward’ to others, so that by God’s gravity it constantly falls back down on me. I want love to shower down on me. I don’t want rotting garbage to splat down on my face.”

That image of the law of love being like the law of gravity actually made a powerful and lasting impression on me. The specific picture I have is that I’m at the bottom of the stairs and the person I’m thinking about or interacting with is at the top. My thoughts, words, or deeds toward that person can be likened to a ball I throw up the stairs to that person. And due to gravity, that ball then tumbles back down the stairs and bounces into me. Since I am thinking about or interacting with people all day long, those balls are constantly going up the stairs and constantly tumbling back down and into me.

Therefore, the way to happiness is, very simply, to constantly toss goodwill up the stairs. Goodwill, good wishes, loving intent, a wish for their happiness, an active intent to contribute to their happiness—whatever you want to call it—if I toss only that up the stairs, then only that is what will constantly be tumbling to me, in all ways and on all levels.

This probably sounds pretty basic and perhaps even a bit trite. And it is very basic (though it’s not trite). But it also goes entirely against the ego. It is the last thing any ego would permit. Therefore, the person who believes he already lives this way either is a saint or is introspection-challenged.

In terms of the relevance of this to me, I experience myself in a constant dilemma of whose needs do I serve—my own or others? There seems to be no way out of this dilemma. If I serve their needs, my own are neglected. If I serve my needs, I feel self-indulgent and guilty. And it all gets messier. The fact is that serving their needs often becomes a way of just getting burdens and obligations off my shoulders—a pretty selfish motive. And worse than that, serving my needs often takes the form of judging and attacking others, which of course makes me feel guilty, which doesn’t serve my needs. The whole thing seems like a classic lose-lose proposition.

When I wrote that commentary, it struck me as containing an actual way out of this dilemma. I serve my needs by serving their needs. The two aren’t in competition; they actually go together. So I can do both, at the same time, all the time. I can constantly throw loving goodwill up the stairs and constantly feel it tumble back down onto me. I don’t have to delicately thread my way through a minefield of competing needs. I don’t have to carve out little guilty pockets of self-indulgence. I can just have a river of goodwill going up toward them and flowing back down to me. That’s how I get my needs met. It’s the same river, blessing both of us.

If I can hang onto this, it would be huge. So far, it’s been a week, and it all feels very fresh. I just hope and pray it stays that way. I do think this is everything. I think everything in the Course is either directly about or an indirect support for this cycle of throwing love up the stairs so that love tumbles back down.