Although falling in love is perhaps the most intensely blissful experience anyone will have in a lifetime, this hasn’t worked to promote love as a way of life. Falling in love is temporary, and soon the real world returns, imposing all kinds of demands that seem impervious to love. Turning the other cheek doesn’t work in wartime. Feeling compassion for a mass murderer defies human nature. Loving someone who hates you hardly makes sense.
Therefore we have learned to isolate love in two ways. In ordinary life we reserve it for those who are closest to us and who love us back. In spiritual life we hold it out as a divine attribute, something to idealize. Either way, love plays little part in the rough and tumble of existence. Yet at the back of your mind you can’t help but wonder why great spiritual teachers preach about love as something very different from our glimpses of the intense emotion we call love. Without speaking for any religion, the great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “Love is not a mere impulse, it must contain truth, which is law.”
“Law” implies a universal force that holds true beyond any specific event. Let’s turn the tables and look upon falling in love as a glimpse of something universal, eternal, and essential to life. When you feel intense love, it alters your personal reality. Ask anyone in the throes of falling in love, and they will almost certainly affirm the following:
Love makes you feel safe.
Love brings you closer to God or the light.
Love is the essence of being alive.
Love is the journey that takes you to a higher world.
Love is the destination, the purpose of being human.
Here we reach a fork in the road. These beliefs about love are either a sort of temporary madness or the essence of the world’s spiritual traditions. Tagore, Vedanta, Jesus, the Sufis, and the entire tradition of love poetry in the East take one road— sensible people take the other. The reason in both cases is the same: personal experience. If you could sustain the experience of intense love as something normal, you would take the road that leads to love as the essence of life.
What prevents us from taking this road isn’t hard to discover. Everyone spends every hour of every day living a story built from the past. This story is bound up with the ego, past conditioning, memories of old hurts, accumulated frustration and failures—a potent mix that keeps us returning to the same default beliefs—and experiences—that fit our individual story. Therefore, it becomes inevitable that we don’t choose the road back to a sensible life: it chooses us.
You can modify your story in countless ways, making it better or worse, applying all your will power, discipline, good intentions, wishes, hopes, and dreams. But the one thing you can’t do to your story is to end it or escape it. Either it has you in its grip or it doesn’t. This is what the wisest spiritual guides, teachers, gurus, saints, and sages declare, a very simple truth, really. It is like being in the ocean and getting wet. Until you step out of the ocean, being wet is inevitable.
To step out of your story is the point of being on the path to higher consciousness. There are paths of knowledge, paths of service, paths of deep meditation, and also the path of love. To be on the path of love, there is a general outline of how the process works.
How the Path of Love Works
You have a vision of love as essential to life.
You favor loving experiences when they occur.
You stop favoring negative, unloving experiences.
You open your awareness to receiving love.
You become acquainted with bliss.
You settle deep into your awareness to stabilize bliss consciousness as your default experience.
These steps need to be followed in the order given above. The first step is the most profound. You set for yourself the goal of love as your normal experience. Favoring loving experiences is much broader than feeling a loving emotion. It includes experiences of devotion, compassion, empathy, selflessness, altruism, acceptance, forgiveness, and so on. The opposite of these loving experiences are the ones you need to stop favoring selfishness, blame, resistance, prejudice, anger, envy, and so on.
The remaining steps go inward and are expressed as changes of awareness rather than changes in behavior or belief. To be open to loving experiences needs a foundation in open or simple awareness. This is the same as being here now. Simple awareness is actually the mind’s default when we stop being enthralled by the active mind’s constant churning. This is the same as stepping outside your story, because your story is mind-made. The easiest way to know that you are not in your story is to meditate, which takes you to a deeper level of awareness that is quieter and less absorbed in constant mental activity.
Here at the deeper level you can experience bliss. The secret of every spiritual tradition is that bliss is greater than love. It is the essence or seed from which loving experiences grow. Capture the essence, and the source of love is captured. Naturally there is no single event that allows you to escape your story the way a prisoner breaks out of jail. Instead, bliss comes and goes. If you give yourself enough experiences of bliss, your mind will begin to favor it automatically. The process begins when your mind starts to favor being open, alert, present, and non-resisting.
That state automatically refines your awareness. Everyone notices on a dark night how alert one’s hearing becomes; the slightest sound grabs your attention. Similarly, the quieter your mind, the more attuned you are to slight stirrings of bliss. These stirrings are always there, just as slight noises are always there in the daytime but go unnoticed. This reveals the second secret of the great spiritual traditions: There is no effort or struggle necessary to reach the highest states of enlightenment (as the Old Testament succinctly puts it, “Be still and know that I am God”).
The path of love reaches fruition when your mind’s default state is blissful. I know that such a goal seems impossible, fanciful, idealized, or even absurd. But this is testimony to being inside your story. A story cannot lead you on the path to love. Awareness must do everything for you, which is why turning your allegiance to awareness is absolutely necessary. Good works, good thoughts, good words, and good intentions can upgrade your story or even turn it around. But these are all mental activities; therefore, they reinforce your allegiance to your story, when what you want is the very opposite, to weaken your allegiance to your story.
I’ve compressed the path of love to its bare essentials—there is a lot more to say once you get into the steps of the journey. Yet nothing is more important than having a vision of this path, and now that you have the vision, the dawning of love as your essence is at hand.
Reprinted from San Francisco Chronicle with permission
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