Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Dance with the Beloved

There was a 16th century Indian saint by the name of Tulsidas, who, when he was first married, was so in love and passionate toward his bride that he had to be by her side all the time. He was so infatuated with this beautiful woman that he couldn’t be without her for even a few hours. One day she decided to visit her parents in another town. She had not been gone more than a few hours before Tulsidas found himself not being able to stand being without her. Before the day was over he showed up at his wife's parent's home.

At this point, his beloved turned to him and said, “You know,Tulsidas, if you were to take all this passion and devotion that you feel toward me and turn it toward God, you’d be enlightened in no time.”

He thought about this, and something began to shift in him. He began to take her advice, practicing turning his heart toward the Divine, and it is said that he became one of the greatest bhakti yogis (one who practices the yoga of devotion).

It has been said that relationship is the hardest kind of yoga. Yoga means "union,", and there are many different kinds, beyond what we typically think of as yoga—there’s Bhakti Yoga (the practice of love and devotion), Karma Yoga (the yoga of selfless service), Raja Yoga (the eight-limbed path that emphasizes states of meditation), just to name a few. These are all seen as paths to union with the Divine.

Many say that union with God through loving another person (in any kind of relationship) is the most difficult of all paths.  Stories have been told about devoted spiritual seekers who go to live in monasteries for several years. They become very masterful at sitting with themselves. They achieve great states of concentration and bliss. They experience great insights, expanded awareness, and deep peace. Then, when it’s time to re-enter society, they go home to their family of origin, and it all goes out the window at the dinner table.

Meditation teachers joke that if you really want to test how spiritually evolved you are, go home to be with your family for the weekend.

For one human being to love another: that is perhaps
the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the
last test and proof, the work for which all other work
is but preparation.
~Rainer Maria Rilke

The challenge we face as humans is that we have this heart that seeks union, but we also have this ego that wants to protect, defend, hold on to its separateness. Through the workings of the ego, we blame, go victim, are overcome with jealousy, attempt to dominate and control, compare ourselves and our loved ones to everybody else, and on and on.

The heart, however, our wellspring of True Love, wants to surrender, to lose its separateness, to merge. It is spacious and open and soft, whereas the ego is hard and contractive.

The greatest longing that we have in this life is known as the "Great Desire," it is the longing for union with the Beloved, with that presence that is the Source of all Love. Our own beloved, our partner, becomes a vessel into which this Love is poured, a channel through which God’s love flows.

The most conscious love relationships are ones in which both partners are “triangulating with God.”  Spirit becomes the focal and guiding point in the relationship.  The love then becomes less about your own individual desires and needs, and more about the big picture. Something Loves through you. Something that is bigger than both of you is loving through you.  And the purpose of the relationship is to lift one another’s hearts up to God, rather than the satisfaction of your desires and my desires.

Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now,  says that “The purpose of relationship is not to make you happy, but to wake you up.”

So what about this experience of falling in love? Ram Dass has a wonderful way of describing what really happens when we fall in love. He explains that we go through our lives like hungry ghosts, insatiable, needing and wanting to be filled up with love. There’s a sense of desperation for that feeling, and we feel deprived when we don’t have a partner. When we do feel adored by another person, we get so high from it that we can get hooked on that kind of attention --so it is very much like an addiction.

It’s as if the love inside of us is all locked up, and we are like these human locks walking around looking for a key.  Then, one day we find the person who acts as our key, and boom! We say that we’re in love. And that feeling of being in love makes us feel expansive,as if we’re walking on air. Colors look brighter, we feel fully alive and joyful. The experience of loving someone cracks us right open.

But where we get confused is that we say “I think I’m in love with him or with her” rather than "I think I’m in love." Where we get fooled is that we believe we’re in love with the other person, but what’s really happened is that that person has become the key that has unlocked the vast reservoir of love that is our own true nature. It was in us all along.

So, said rather unromantically, “I love you” means: “You are the key stimulus that is opening me to the place in myself where I am love, which I can’t get to except through you.”

Now whether we touch into that vast ocean of love within us through a romantic partner, through meditation, through a guru, or taking psychedelic drugs, we get addicted to the method that got us there. We want to hold on to that state so badly, because this person or substance has worked to tune us to the place in ourselves that is the Awareness of Love. So we end up becoming very addicted to the vehicle. So, if it is another person that has opened us up to this love, we get very attached to being in the presence of that other person, and then starts the fear, possessiveness, jealousy, “I can’t live without you” “don’t ever leave me”, and all those other states of mind and behavior that are really not love at all (just listen to pop songs on the radio--it's all there!). We create a hell realm around the addiction to the vehicle for coming to love.

In other words, we get so caught in the relationship that we can’t ever arrive at the essence of dwelling in Love.

The mind has veiled the heart from its boundless merging with everything else in the universe. And when we fall in love with somebody, that veil is lifted, at least temporarily, and we come back into the place in ourselves where we feel whole and complete and expansive.

In a spiritually-based relationship, we move from the place of “I Love You” to “We are In Love together.” We are meeting in the space of love. Once we can unhook from seeing the other person as the vehicle to get us there, then we realize that this is something arising from within us, and the neediness and desperation around being in relationship starts to dissolve.  We can move beyond needful relationship to partnership as celebration. Loving is happening through us.

What about those of us who are single? Not being partnered, whether by choice or not, provides us with an opportunity to practice being one’s own beloved, to practice dipping into that wellspring within. If loneliness arises, it can be a great gift that turns one's heart toward Spirit. The great Sufi poet Hafiz has written:

Don't surrender your loneliness so quickly.
Let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
As few human or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft, my voice so tender,
My need of God absolutely clear. 
So we have this Longing, this Great Desire, for union with Spirit, and essentially all other desires we have are sublimations of this Great Desire. Even the desire for a loving relationship is our longing for God. Because when we do connect with another human being at the heart level, where we feel completely and fully loved and understood and cherished, it is for many of us the closest we get to God in our lifetimes. There are other avenues, but a loving partnership is for many of us the access point, the portal, to that experience of oneness with God, of God loving us completely. And the challenge we face is learning how to sustain that experience of being in Love in our journey through all the pitfalls of the egoic mind the landscape of the personality, and to eventually come to see this love as originating in ourselves.

Once we can see Loving as originating within us, and happening through us, then we can see Love everywhere, and anything can become the stimulus. The curve of a branch covered with new fallen snow. A fragrant blossom, the song of a bird, a trickling stream… our own breath moving in and out…

If we see all of that as God’s love for us, then everything we do becomes a dance with the Beloved.

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