• September 19, 2019

    “All we need is love’, says the famous song. And that is the cliché that we use to pacify the emptiness of ordinary experience. But love is not a simple pleasure or an easy solution; it is very painful to be so concerned about another and to suffer all their ills and problems. Love is rife with desires, needs and attachments which are part of its transformative power but not romantic at all. No wonder Buddhists prefer compassion.

    There is another path which I think of as intimacy. This path does not replace the wish to love and be loved or its importance to us as humans but it does offer another form of transformation. My sense is that intimacy is what most humans want more than anything else. By this I do not mean sex. Intimacy is a complete lack of barriers and defences, allowing free expression between us, without effort. It is a state of openness, ease and trust.

    Fourth way practices and theories do not encourage intimacy, in my view. Trying to self-remember or trying to voluntarize attention tends to isolate the practitioner. However, impartial observation of self can, over time, bring down the barriers and prepare for intimacy.

    Perhaps I wish for an intimate friend to whom I can tell everything. Here lies a trap. If I complain to this person, I arm myself with judgment and blame, the greatest of defences, and intimacy is lost. Confession is an entirely different matter because it is disarming and carries within itself the quality of humility. My most intimate moments arise from confession, but there are very few, other than His Endlessness, who can be trusted with my confessions lest they hold them against me.

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  • March 26, 2019

    Knowingly or not, we spend much of our time waiting for things to happen, or not happen, dates to arrive or pass. Can you see this? Can you sense how it narrows your attention and prevents you from being where and when you are?

    Real waiting is a powerful mode of being. I do not wish to denigrate it. Consciously waiting for something valued, without agitation or impatience, provides an accommodation for arrival and a thankful response. Real waiting is shot through with faith and love. Voluntary attention brings such waiting into the present. But not so with my unconscious waiting.

    Most of us have some sort of dream-like expectation of the future which is half-acknowledged and never fully embraced in the present. See if you can find it. Are you preparing every day for its realization? As you wait, are you preparing to be worthy of the gift? Or are you afraid to really commit to waiting, watching and preparing because you fear it may not happen? Does a vague hope of some good thing occupy your mind subconsciously without your diligent participation?

    The things we wait for shape our lives in a hundred ways. Can you engage with this? First Corinthians tells us that the three great virtues are faith, hope and love (charity). Do not think of these as separate. Hope alone will not sustain you. All three virtues are needed for real waiting.

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  • February 11, 2019

    The Sufis are fond of quoting Mohammed: “Wherever you turn, there is the face of God.” There are many ways to understand this. I offer you one. I do this because I wish for you to understand that these sayings may contain not only tremendous depth but also practical directions for our guidance. This inquiry uses logic to penetrate the words but it is provoked by repeated experience.

    Notice that these words do not invite me to see God. Although I may see His creation, I have never seen Him in any sense and I do not expect to do so. It is too great a thing. But there must be an experience of His face or there would be no point in telling me that His face is always there. Also, is it not implied that He sees me? Otherwise, why speak of His face?

    The words invite me to know that my experience of Him is independent of the direction in which I turn. Perhaps He is not to be found in one direction…neither one religion nor one type of practice? It is as if the space in which He can be encountered is not defined by, or contained within, the dimensions of the world.

    Yet, turning is part of my finding His face. I must turn. Is this a turning away from the world? I have inquired into this. It seems to me that it is not a rejection or negation of my ordinary occupations but it is most definitely turning towards something else and there is an immediate feeling of connection that I take to be Him, which I feel in my heart.

    I observe myself as I turn towards Him. What do I observe? As soon as the turning begins, which is seemingly a movement of my attention, I spontaneously have a response of humbling myself. This response is a part of the turning. The response to my response feels like what I know of love. Perhaps this is His face?

    My apologies for the gender-limited nature of traditional English. Obviously, God is not a guy but the contemporary ways of de-gendering seem strange applied to a Being who is outside time.

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  • February 27, 2018

    I find that compassion makes it easier to accept the world as it is.

    Perhaps I could suggest that you need to go deeper? There is nothing comfortable about compassion. The suffering in compassion has no limit and no corrective. This is why it is so powerful. There is no avoidance of the facts, no effort to change or improve the situation. Compassion is a deep penetration of the precise nature of the situation with all of its pain and hopelessness. And then it flowers in an exquisite play of love and sorrow.

    Isn’t compassion similar to forgiveness?

    Forgiveness is part of another stream, another remarkable avenue of human consciousness. Forgiveness does not stand alone. First there is the sensation of guilt or remorse, then confession, then contrition, then forgiveness, perhaps followed by expiation.

    Forgiveness is most often embedded in a process of correction. It is earned by agreeing to make a change, offering a sacrifice or recompense. It is focused on self…my misstep or yours. It offers the chance to begin again, anew. This is an extraordinary process of transformation. The challenge is not to become isolated in the self, its guilt and its need to unburden itself.

    I can see how the process of forgiveness unfolds. I do not see how compassion is possible.

    When self-importance and self-isolation are temporarily suspended, compassion enters naturally. Probably for most of us, it first arises from a deep connection to the suffering of another. In time, it becomes compassion for self. For some, it is a gift that flows from genuine prayer. There is no rejection in compassion, nothing to be changed. It is the deepest embrace of the way things are.

    You seem to suggest that there is no such thing as compassionate action.

    When compassion moves towards action, it becomes mercy. These are two different states, two different qualities. It is easier to be merciful. Mercy only requires pity in which I do not suffer with you. In zikr, the invocation begins: Bismillah ir-Rachman ir-Rahim. We begin in the name of the most Compassionate and Merciful.  He is Compassionate as well as Merciful. It is very sobering to realize that He also suffers.

    Compassion Prayer

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  • January 10, 2016

    You say we should deepen our love. How are we to do that?

    I think perhaps you did not quite hear what I said. What I said, or meant to say, was ‘may our love be deepened’. This is a prayer, a request for something that I cannot bring about for myself. Love is not something I can generate or command.

    In our work, there are four transformative energies that humans can participate in—sensitivity, consciousness, attention and love. Each stands successively above the other. Love is the highest of them, beyond everything that we can manage or control. Love has the power to change us fundamentally, to redeem, even to resurrect. By comparison, all other agents of change are diminished.

    Love is governed by its own laws and answers to no one. Nonetheless, there are certain actions which may help to bring love into us, if we are courageous enough to wish for this.

    Can I remember the feeling of being loved? Perhaps this memory can be quickened by attention, enabling me to call upon love with a similar voice.

    Love is received in the heart, the organ of feeling. An open heart, a broken heart, accommodates love; a hardened, embittered heart does not. The suffering and sacrifice of ordinary life can reliably supply all the heartbreak we need. Can I accept it without resentment or self-pity? Can I patiently clear away the psychic structures, needs and identifications that define me? They take up room that is needed for love.

    Can I reduce my need for other things?

    Can I make myself attractive to love? Love seems to prefer the humble, the simple, the sincere, the unassuming, the undemanding.  Observing self objectively, I may come to these qualities naturally. Knowing self reduces self-importance, which love does not favour.

    Can I learn to care for someone more than myself? You may think that caring comes from love but I think it is often the other way around. Learning to care for another brings you to the doorstep of love. Making another more important than yourself is agonizing but potent magic.

    Consider that you may have access to a feeling that can introduce you to love. Compassion and longing may serve although they lack the risks that accompany love. Some of the ancient heart-gestures that are now all but lost may also bring you to love, such as glorification or adoration. If you somehow have access to these, you are well on the way.

    The greatest love is love of the Absolute. Love of others can be a preparation for this love. But love of the Absolute is also unlike any other love. This love is found through the experience of being loved unconditionally, as only the Absolute can love. It begins with being seen.

    One more word of advice: accept no substitutes. Sentimentality is not love. Affection is not love. Know love by its combination of pleasure and pain, sufficiency and insufficiency, sorrow and joy.

    Related Post:

    Love – Jan 1, 2016

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  • January 1, 2016

    We rarely talk about love and its relevance to the spiritual path.

    Yes, that is true. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that while it is the most basic and powerful of all qualities, love is also the most misunderstood.

    It is common to view love as always good, unfailingly positive. But I would say it is beyond what we consider to be good or positive. In what I am about to say, please understand that I have not travelled the full length of the path of love but I have seen the signs and know something of the route.

    When all else is stripped away, is it not love that remains, if anything? Love is not merely affection, nor is it romantic. In the beginning, love by its very nature deceives the one who loves, who thinks that love and all its satisfactions can be won. The deception continues until there is no longer one who loves, only love itself.  Love is the ultimate motive behind all other motives and its ultimate aim and satisfaction is love alone.

    The fullness of love is therefore the death of self, the annihilation of the one who loves. This annihilation is not peaceful or gentle, rather it is a slow process of exquisite suffering in which the limitations of the one who loves are ruthlessly exposed and burned away. Along the way, love brings us the agony of attachment in which our dearest wishes for the ones we love are broken.

    Hatred, envy and greed are thought to be love’s opposites but are they not actually imperfect expressions of love? Love itself moves these deviations that take us far from love. Love itself sustains its counterfeits, the aims we pursue as substitutes for love. Therefore, we could say that the opposite of love is not hate but apathy.

    As Rumi says:

    The way sticks and pieces of dead grass and leaves
    Shift about in the wind;
    The directions of rain and puddle-water on the ground;
    Those motions are all a following
    Of the love they have been given.

    From this perspective, the Universe is an act of love and love stands behind its forms and gestures, perhaps to find a worthy response in our love of the Absolute beyond name and form.

    May our love be deepened.

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