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)