image by Scott Hanft
Our industrial civilization has created a scarcity of everything, and not just of ‘consumables': We’ve also, at least in our minds, created a scarcity of relationship (too many ‘Facebook’ friends and not enough real ones), trust, collaboration, time, and even love. Love, we are told, comes once in a lifetime, it’s personal, it’s hard work, and, of course, you can only really love one person at a time. No surprise there’s so much jealousy and loneliness in our world.
I asked a friend of mine the other day what kind of loving relationships she has now, and what she is now looking for. I knew she’d recently broken up with her boyfriend and that the breakup was difficult for her. I also know she has a very strong and deep network of friends.
Her response surprised me. She said (I’m paraphrasing):
I have a lot of friends who I care deeply about, and they sustain me. What I seek is a monogamous and deeply spiritual connection, a ‘oneness’ with someone based on mutual devotion and worship of each other. I want all that, and I’m convinced it’s out there. Until I find that, I’m perfectly content to live, and be, ‘alone’.
Devotion. Worship. That seemed an almost antiquated view of love, particularly for a woman. Is such love possible without ‘losing’ yourself, without enslaving yourself, I wondered.
But as I spoke with her, I realized that she is speaking from a worldview in which there is an unlimited abundance of love in the world, and that it’s possible to love, and to give, without in any way diminishing yourself or your love for and of others. In fact such love could be the ultimate form of self-realization.
Her spirituality is very personal, but it is rooted in Eastern spiritual principles that see all life on Earth as connected and as one, and which see love as the purpose, the driver, for everything in life. In this view love isn’t just an emotion, a feeling one has for someone or something. It is the essence of life, and exists beyond the physical plane. Life’s purpose is not to understand, or procreate, or provide some kind of legacy; it’s to love everyone and everything, to transcend the limitations of our bodies and our thoughts and our feelings.
I’ve written occasionally about brief glimpses of this kind of transcendence, this kind of presence where there are no boundaries, there is no time, there is no suffering, there is no ‘I’ or ‘other’. Where ‘I’ simply disappear into the wholeness of everything.
A year ago, in an article on my ‘presence’ practice, I wrote about this as a possible ultimate outcome of such a practice:
How do I imagine, in my moments of inquiry and contemplation, my normal state of living if I were able to awaken, connect, and realize who/what I (and the unity of which I am inextricably a part) really am, every moment?
I imagine myself in a state that is at once very relaxed and very aware. A state where my intellect is largely at rest (and damn, it needs a rest!) and where my emotions are calm, even, compassionate, and playful — not “under control” but just at peace. A state where my senses and instinct come to the fore, with my senses acute, noticing, connected, taking in, feeling-at-one-with, enjoying, and my instincts are ‘directing’ ‘me’, gently, letting go, letting things come, just being present, being generous, ‘touching’ appropriately when that ‘touch’ would be helpful.
No longer my ‘self’.
I imagine myself being just a part, flying, floating. Green and blue and white, flowing and glowing.
Softening. Getting lighter.
I think this is what my friend means as the place from which to enter into a love that is mutual devotion and worship. That love for ‘one other’ is not something apart from the love of everyone or everything, it builds upon the foundation of that love of everyone and everything. Only once she is herself in that state of ‘being’ –self-less, light, peaceful and connected, and can recognize and see this ‘other’ in the same state, can they together begin to create this even more intense love and devotion to and worship of each other, because that devotion is not exclusionary of the rest of existence, it is a deeper expression of that love for the rest of existence.
It hurts my head thinking about this, and our language is utterly inadequate to express these concepts. The words have been mostly co-opted by new age opportunists who prey on our anxiousness to proclaim this a state that is rare and exclusive and painless and above the masses and available if only you’ll buy their book and take their courses.
But what my friend says makes sense, not in the intellectual ‘sense’ of the word but in the sensuous ‘sense’, the intuitive ‘sense’. When she said it, it was as if I had a sudden glimpse of something so far beyond what I usually think and feel that I was briefly in awe, not of her, but of the possibility she was describing.
I realized that she brings this ‘sense’-ability to everything she does. Her work, which is extraordinary, is a form of devotion, love, worship of those she works with and for. And that love is unlimited, energizing not exhausting. And it is only possible from that state of presence and acceptance that she has practiced her whole life, and continues to practice. So now she hopes (without actually ‘hoping’) that she will find ‘an other’ who shares that, with whom she can build that next level of love and devotion and worship, to love even more. Or rather, she hopes that it will find her.
I hope it happens for her.
So back to my ‘presence’ practice, as discouraging and unproductive as it seems to be. If I am going to truly be of use to the world, in what’s left of my life, I need to be able to transcend (move past or around, nothing ‘mystical’ here) my own anxieties, my grief, my impatience, my mind’s false ‘sense’ of reality. To transcend them not by ‘detaching’ from my feelings, and others’, but by seeing them as just what they are — feelings, conceptions, reactions, inventions that are understandable and worthy of empathy, but not really ‘real’. And to do all this not in order to ‘better’ my ‘self’ but to get beyond my ‘self’ (my fictitious but demanding and preoccupying ego) and its limitations. To love more. To float, to fly, to vanish. To be a part.
How much might we love, and how much might we be able to give, if we could just get past this complex and intricate prison of scarcity and limits that our minds (in their terrible and misguided attempt to make ‘sense’ of us and who ‘we’ are) have locked us into.
So hard. Maybe not going to happen, at least to me. But still, I am, sometimes, in awe of the possibility.