Thursday, September 27, 2012

Love and Longing

"Everything can be summed up as love. We’re all here in a quest for love. This is the alchemist’s potion that frees you from all suffering, and this treasure is in your heart. Let's continue digging for it."
 ~ Sri Prem Baba

As I wrote in a previous newsletter, two years ago the wise and mysterious Ajay, spiritual teacher and non-guru, told me while I was on a meditation retreat, "Yours is not the path of meditation. Yours is the path of love." It wasn't obvious to me why that would be, or what it meant, but it's feeling more clear by the day. The practice that he recommended was to "see love everywhere you go, and in everything you do." Like most practices, it's based on an intention, not some rigid doctrine that gets repeated like a slogan regardless of how you're feeling. Sometimes it happens, frequently it doesn't, but I'm trying. Good enough. 

Today's Big Question: how does Universal Love, the "love that needs no response," relate to personal love, that love that So Does need a response? Are they different, the same, variations on a theme, overlapping, or what?! How can we bring that Big Love and apply it to the non-theoretical, ordinary, everyday, people and events in our lives - including in the romantic arena. (Not that I want my romances to be held inside an arena - I'm just sayin'.) Preliminary findings: I don't know.

"The agony of lovers burns with the fires of passion.
Lovers leave traces of where they've been.
The wailing of broken hearts is the doorway to God."
 ~ Rumi

Here's what happens for me in a non-specific, I'm-not-giving-you-any-details sort of way. "Seeing love everywhere you go" lends itself to seeing the world as a loving place. We see what we're looking for, and I choose to look for love. 

"I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too big a burden to bear."
 ~ Martin Luther King

It's easy, when conditions are right, to turn that open-hearted, flowing love and point it in the direction of a person. Uh-oh. That "love that needs no response?" It really frickin' wants a response. Now would be good. No, I mean NOW. And in that universal-to-personal focusing of love, it could easily become a love-as-exchange; I love you when this happens, or I love you because you love me, or more subtly, I'll love you so that you'll love me back. At a bare minimum, it's I love you in a way I don't love that person over there. What do the sages have to say on the topic?

"Love is boundless. What is limited to a few cannot be called love. Personal love, however intense and genuine, invariably binds; love in freedom is love of all. In loving one you love all, in loving all, you love each. One and all are not exclusive. Love of one and love of all merge together in love, pure and simple; addressed to none, denied to none."
 ~ Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

"It is common sense that if you are seeking freedom, a relationship as conceived by someone wanting one is not going to produce freedom, except perhaps intermittent freedom from loneliness, which is not real freedom. And while samsaric ["worldly"] relationships may produce intermittent intimacies, they also produce almost non-stop anxiety because they are always in danger of going south."
 ~ James Swartz

Where is the love in that overpowering mix of emotions, hormones, desires, and longing? It's there somewhere, but it might be buried under the rubble of less subtle and more demanding impulses. And our peaceful state of mind, the one that an open heart will surely bring? Is it staying steady?

"You may easily believe that you love, but if you do truly love someone, you are at peace; peace is the fruit of love."
 ~ Sri Prem Baba

I can't speak for you (I can barely speak for me) but in my experience a personal love does not, generally speaking, lead to peace. There are oh so many benefits, including peaceful moments - but I wouldn't consider steadily being at peace one of them.

After not knowing how to end this letter, here's what I do know: there's not really a choice to be made. I suppose you could try to close yourself off to the drama and suffering of personal love. But we can't selectively close our hearts to the painful and unpleasant without also closing it to everything else. Are relationships messy and fraught-filled? Yes. Do you run the risk of being hurt? Oh, heavens yes. Are you willing to take the risk? What - is there a choice? "Love of one and love of all merge together in love, pure and simple; addressed to none, denied to none." Now there's a mantra I can live with.

"When we feel both our love for this world and the pain of this world - together, at the same time - the heart breaks out of its shell. To live with an open heart is to experience life full strength."
 ~ John Welwood

When you plant a tree
every leaf that grows will tell you,
what you sow will bear fruit.
So if you have any sense, my friend
don’t plant anything but love.
Wash your hands of all desires and
come to the table of Love.
 ~ Rumi

So much love, personal, Universal, both, and neither,

Enjoy some love-filled photos from the last couple of months...

Sunflowers growing next to a wild camping spot where Jen and I stayed just before the yatra started.

Another wild camping spot. Hello! People!! I'm trying to sleep here! We never figured out what the occasion was. 

A night of live Celtic music and dancing. So fun to watch.

I was a child porter most of the yatra. I loved it.

Inexplicable. It was a setting on Jen's camera. She looks like a happy Labrador Retriever, while I don't look that different.

A sunset meditation session on the yatra.

Impromptu music on the yatra, with Siddhartha singing his "Yatra No-Blues."

What? They serve coffee and ice cream on the yatra? They did, sort of, on this day. That must account for the guilty smiles.

These guys lit the place up when they played a free concert in Carcassonne the night the yatra ended. They're called "La Troba Kung Fu," from Barcelona.

Kristien and Ivet making a beautiful lunch in the van.

Inside Chateau Puivert, our first stop on a one-week meandering tour after the yatra ended.

Ruins of Chateau Puivert.

Kristien had the brainstorm to hike to the top of Bugarach mountain with our sleeping bags and some food to spend the night. I didn't want to, but Ivet did, so I, thankfully, was forced to go along. Fun! Some people think that aliens live in the mountain, but we didn't see any. True on both counts.

Another unplanned excursion, up this cold creek for a shallow swim on a hot day.

I eat so much better when there are women in the van.

At a small village festival, they're seeing who guessed the closes to the weight of the wrapped ham, on the left.

A tiny little lady bug of some sort.

Lanza, son of Lydia and Denis.

Lydia, Denis and friends. The guy on the right rowed a kayak from the north of France, around Spain and Portugal, into the Meditteranean and along the coast all the way to Turkey. 18 months and 10,000 kilometers. Among other adventures, Denis bought donkeys and walked for 600 kilometers in the Rajasthan desert.

In the top image, you can just see the kid launching himself off this Devil's Bridge. In the bottom image he lands. The bridge was built in the first half of the 11th century. Dang.

Water rushing through an arch, feeding the falls shown in photos further down.

A church in La Roque-sur-Cèze, a beautiful stone village.

Wandering up the street in La Roque-sur-Cèze. Notice how the wall arches toward the street at the second floor.

The impressive Cascade du Sautadet at La Roque-sur-Cèze.

Just downstream from the falls.

A panoramic of the falls. Click the photo to enlarge it.

Another famous river and gorge - the Ardeche. One of these days, soon in geologic time, the left and right portions of the river will join at the narrow part, and bypass the section at the bottom of the photo.

I went on a walk without the least clue where I was going. Using Google Maps on my phone, I could see that this muddy, rutted road was shown on the map, and it allowed me to do a big loop.

I came across this scary-looking abandoned house in the forest.

Inside the scary house. I got scared and left!

Fall is coming.

This reminds me of Lake Tahoe.

The big rock in the center has a big Private Property sign painted on it. "Hey you kids! Get off my rock!"

Polished granite, I believe. I camped just next to this flowing river. Lovely.

Cascade de Runes in the Cevennes National Park. It was rainy and cold. Time to go home?

(The End)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger..."

"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin." 
 ~ the Savage, "Brave New World"

I love this quote so much I'm tempted to get it tattooed across my back. But that sounds a little uncomfortable; and maybe dangerous. (No irony there.) Maybe I'll get it printed on a t-shirt. Regardless, they are words to live by, especially when I'm feeling open and brave.

After the last newsletter, where I wrote about my all-Czech bike trip, I visited with my old friend Bryony, who, last you heard, was becoming a nun. Well, that's so 2004. After a good seven years in the monastery, she's out and about now, has hair and visits friends in France, where I met up with her. We visited Montsegur (photos below,) where we first met.

After a few days on my own I met up with Lucie again, and we traveled for a week in the Cevennes mountains. We didn't know where we were headed from one day to the next or where we'd stay the night. That's a delightful way to travel, if you have the time and get the chance. Recommended.

Much love to you,

The impressive mountain-top fortress of Montsegur, one of the last hold-outs of the Cathars, a religion that dared to stand up to both the Catholic church and the King of France. Bad combination. After some nine months siege by up to 10,000  troops, those who refused to renounce their "heretical" beliefs were burned on an open fire - all 220 of them. This photo is an "HDR" image, combining three photos at different exposures. "HDR" stands for "Kinda Fake Looking." But cool anyway.

Another HDR image from the fortress, looking towards the sunset. It is a really beautiful area, and the mountains are forested, steep, and spectacular. It's in the foothills of the Pyrenees. (On Google maps.)

Nearby is this intermittent spring, which cycles over a 90-minute period between a rushing river and a mere trickle. Something to do with natural siphons and suctions and whatever. When it's going full blast the stones steps are underwater.

A canal boat in Carcassonne. Or is it a car, with a canal boat attached?

I wild camped next to this little stream.

LovelyLucie, back in Nimes. She's a good sport, that young woman. "Bullfights" are common in this part of France, but the bulls are only pestered and irritated - they aren't killed.

Our first night of wild camping overlooking a beautiful valley.

There was an amazing view from the top of this mountain. That's the Mediterranean on the horizon.

An impressive canyon area called Cirque de Navacelles. You can see where a river had circled this little island in the ancient past. I've seen the same type of formations in Utah and Arizona.

I found this really interesting. The pepper shaker must have been knocked over, and as it rolled it created that near-perfect semi-circle with the dots of pepper.

A river cuts its way through the rock to form this canyon.

Oh, these horses were fun and affectionate.

This is a picture of Lucie before she had fleas. Or as she was getting them. We petted these horses, and later a dog, and the next morning Lucie was covered in flea bites. I escaped unscathed, which I attribute to good taste on the flea's part.


The reason we smell so good here is cuz we just took a bath in the river.

Another ancient little village in an improbable location.

I'm telling ya, she's a good sport. Lucie was kind of excited that we had a flat tire, so she could help change it. This was a wild camping site, sort of. Technically it was a park you pay admission to get into. As we drove in at night through the exit (the entrance was closed) we were wondering why we thought it was OK. But it was.

Down the hill from the van, we hiked through these great rock formations. The park is called "Montpellier la Vieux."

Another HDR photo. One reason to use this technique is when there are strong shadows and very bright areas in the same photo. It allows for them all to be exposed correctly.

I have no idea what Lucie is doing to this rock, but he seems happy about it.

It's a really rugged landscape.

"Contemplate the wonders of creation, the Divine dimension of their being, not as a dim configuration that is presented to you from a distance, but as the reality in which you live." ~ Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook
(In the beautiful and deep Gorges du Tarn.)

Amazing cliffs rise on both sides of the Gorges du Tarn.

The GPS indicates how windy the switchbacks are as we climb out of the canyon to look for a wild camping spot. That blue line is the Tarn River on the right side.

A viewpoint from edge of the gorge.

I can't imagine how long it's taken the river to cut into that rock.

Now that's a lovely view. (We wild camped here.)

The next day Lucie insisted on us renting a canoe for a couple of hours. Fun!

"It takes grace in our time to keep our minds open to wonder, to be ready for the tug from God, the push from the Spirit, and the revelation of deep things from the hearts of ordinary people. It takes grace, but it is a great gift." ~ Lewis B. Smede
Our last night of camping before I took Lucie to Avignon. We had an amazing 360 degree view from here, and the stars were incredible.

I thought I was really over caves. But now I'm so over being over caves. This Aven Armand cave was unlike any I've ever seen. Amazing!

These stalactites grow at the rate of an inch per century. The tallest one is 100 feet (30 meters) tall.

The cave is 4 million years old.

I call this photograph "Love." But I call all my photographs that, so you can draw your own conclusions. I think we see what we're looking for.
"We don't see the world as it is, we see the world as we are." ~ Anais Nin

After dropping Lucie off at the Avignon bus station for her 20-hour trip to Prague, I went back to the fantastic Pont du Gard. Mind-blowing!

After dark I took this photo from the same place where Lucie and I had swam 10 days before. I also saw three foxes as I walked under the bridge to this spot.

(The End)