God’s Love

May 2, 2016

I was lying in bed last night, and I started to think about the concept of God loving me. Right? It’s one thing to love God, but a whole order of magnitude larger to begin to accept that God loves me. To realize that all my spiritual practice, all my struggle and prayer and meditation and reading and contemplating is really just a way to realize that God loves me. Already. Completely. As I am. It’s that simple.

I’ve had people telling me this in different ways for years. It is actually an important part of the Buddhist tradition, although many Buddhists don’t talk about God, as such. There are Tibetan stories of sages meditating in caves for years, seeking enlightenment, only to realize that enlightenment has been seeking them. I was on a retreat with the spiritual teacher Adyashanti, and one of his students reported the experience of having the Universe bend back around and ask her: “…and who are YOU?” One of my own clients reported a similar experience. He said, “I spent so much of my life seeking God, but the amount of effort I put in was nothing compared to what I received from God.”

In a certain sense I think that Christians may have it a bit easier than Buddhists, in that many Christians seem to know intuitively that God loves them. It has been a much harder road for me. I remember the shock I had several years ago when I realized that the Universe is cognizant. It was like my reality turned inside out. Here I had thought I was this little ball of life in a vast sea of non-life, only to realize that I am just a tiny part of an infinite sea of Life.

When I practice, and pray, and take care of myself, love begins to shine through me. It shines through to my clients, to my family, to people on the street. There are times in my life when I just radiate love. I know this is Divine love. I don’t own it, I am just lucky enough to be the conduit through which it expresses itself.

But here’s the reversal I am trying to perceive, and it comes back to me lying in bed last night. I am starting to feel that all the good things that come to me are blessings. I am very accustomed to think that I am responsible for many of the good things in my life. You know: I’ve worked hard, I got myself into school, I have focused as much as possible on my spiritual practice. Effort leads to results.

I’m not sure that’s true, or at least not in a strictly linear sense. I’m beginning to think it’s more like the blessings are there all the time, pouring down upon me, and all the effort I make is just to open my eyes a tiny bit and see.

But it’s more than that. Somehow all the effort I am making is really God’s effort to reach me. God is moving towards me, not the other way around. He is calling me and has been my whole life. Every “positive” action I have performed has been an answer to that call, and every “negative” action a turning away. Not only does God already love me, I already know it, in that I can feel the effects of this turning towards/turning away. In fact, on some level I have lived my life according to that knowledge.

If only I weren’t so forgetful.

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God’s Love

COMPASSION

 Arbus 3

 

March 10, 2016

 

To be compassionate (or more accurately, to be compassion itself), is to identify with the field in which all experience arises.

 

Mesmerized by the myriad variety of appearance,
Mad with hope and fear,
Beings roam the endless wastes of samsara.
So that they may find relief
In the luminosity and boundless space of their own true nature,
I generate immeasurable loving-kindness and compassion,
Sympathetic joy and equanimity,
The very heart of bodhicitta.

 

When I left the house this morning I had a strong feeling of something being unfinished. I get this a lot. Partially, I think it’s the fact that I am an unfinished person, not really a “me” at all. A collection of parts. A collection of more-or-less consciously adopted identities. Therapist. Father. Husband. Man. When I leave the house I leave one set of identities and sometimes there’s a break, I’m walking down the sidewalk and I have not yet taken on another set. Sometimes I fill that space with an identity as well, “The Depressed Person,” for example, or “The Nice Guy” who always chats with the elderly gentleman smoking in front of his building.

But it is all so unsatisfying. Sometimes these identities may not fit very well. Sometimes I don’t feel “nice,” and to stop and chat is a chore. I don’t know how to be true to myself in that moment. I feel so distanced from myself. I feel so distanced from the heart of my life. That is the unfinished feeling.

You see I don’t mind that my life is composed of parts. That’s natural and normal. I can’t talk to my seventeen-month-old the same way I talk to my wife or one of my clients. But what’s at the heart of it? What’s at the heart of me?  Is it really only memory that ties the whole thing together?

If so, I think I’m okay with that. It doesn’t bother me much that I may not exist. It’s been going on my whole life, this ever-changing slideshow of identities, and the existential terror I might expect to feel hasn’t shown itself yet.

What does not feel okay is the lack of perspective.

I was looking at a book of photographs by Diane Arbus the other night. She was fascinated by the moment when “the mask slips,” when the face of what is really going on shows through the face a person presents to the world. She saw the hidden despair of people very clearly, and photographed it with  precision and compassion.

Arbus 1

Diane Arbus committed suicide, and I am not particularly surprised. As is true for all of us, the despair she saw in the world mirrored the despair she must have felt herself. In spite of her famous quote that “It’s impossible to get out of your skin into somebody else’s…. That somebody else’s tragedy is not the same as your own;” the larger picture is that some of us feel the world’s pain very acutely.

I actually wonder if it is that sense of separation that makes life so very painful. It is not inherently painful to flow from one identity to the next to the next, it is the jarring effect of feeling that one should be feeling something other than what one feels, or BEING something other than what one is, in the moment. This could be as small as “I should be happy right now,” and as big as “Wait, I was supposed to be a famous actor by now. What am I doing working at Denny’s?” or “How did I end up in this alley with a needle in my arm?” Or, for that matter, “How is it that I am a porn addict? I’m not supposed to be that.”

This disconnect creates resistance, and the resistance creates more disconnect. I have clients who have no idea who they are or what they want, in the big sense or in the moment, because they are so convinced that they “should” be something else. More manly, thinner, happier, better.

I think the way out of the disconnect has to do with compassion. That’s the bridge. While my tragedy is my tragedy, and my clients’ tragedies are their own, the pain we feel is all part of the world’s pain. My thwarted ambition only exists because the concept of ambition exists in the world, as well as the concept that ambition might not be fulfilled. A client’s struggle with gender identity is rooted in the confluence of human biology and public opinion, both of which exist in the world, and of which we all partake, whether we want to or not. Grief comes from loss, which is a part of life. Obviously loss may fall more heavily on one person more than another, but it is a part of all of our experience.

Junger Mann mit Lockenwicklern zu Hause in der West 20th Street, N.Y.C., 1966

The Buddha’s journey to enlightenment began when he first perceived the basic and profound sufferings of the world: sickness, old age and death. Although he was raised in a palace, he understood that there are no walls that can keep these sufferings out. They are a part of all of us, they flow through us, and they will take us all in the end.

Compassion means being willing to take up our share of the sufferings of the world. The nasty little secret, hidden in the wording of the Bodhisattva vow, is that our share of the world’s suffering is, in fact, the whole thing. This seems monumental, unbelievable and unbearable, but there is another secret as well: WE ARE ALREADY FEELING IT.

The Bodhisattva vow, or any commitment to compassion, is really just a symbol and a commitment to feel what we are already feeling. We already feel the pain of the homeless person, of the addict, of the abused child. We feel the pain of a bird with a broken wing, even of a fly caught in a spider’s web. This is why we walk past with our gaze averted. It is too painful to look.

Compassion involves being willing to look. But not just to look, also to invite. “Hello, I see that you are in pain. What’s that like for you?”

Even if there is nothing we can “do,” sometimes the most helpful thing we can offer is our presence. I have a client who is dying of multiple debilitating health issues, and there is absolutely nothing I can do to help him overcome his problems. He’s dying. He’s in pain. What can I do? But I meet with him every week, and we chat about his present and his past, and sometimes about movies and books and politics and culture. We share space, we share time. And, because I care deeply about this man, we also share his pain. That helps. I know it helps because he keeps coming back.

Arbus 2

I have often said that love is acceptance. When we love conventionally, we accept the parts we like and reject the parts that don’t suit us. When we love unconditionally, we accept unconditionally. Compassion is a form of love that strives to accept unconditionally. Acceptance is larger than pain. Acceptance is the field in which pain can express itself fully. To identify with acceptance, to be compassionate (or more accurately, to be compassion itself) is to identify with the field in which all experience arises. In this place, there is no difference between the pain you experience and the pain I experience. Together, we can hold them both.

 

All Photos © Diane Arbus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMPASSION

LOVE RISING FROM A SEA OF EXHAUSTION

February 1, 2016

 

Not sure what’s going on today. Mostly just tired. Losing sight of the vision a bit, maybe. I need to exercise, need to stretch, my body just hurts all the time. Back mostly, but everything. Need yoga. Time and motivation.

Focus. What was the goal again? Something about “being Love.” Something about Bodhisattva motivation. Can’t afford to burn out. If I get lost, okay, but maybe more helpful not to get lost? Certainly less painful. Trying to just bring myself back to the present. I haven’t worked on the novel since the last time I mentioned it close to a month ago. It’s still fun to think about it but every time I shift focus seriously towards it I feel like I’m distracting myself. I feel like I’m taking my attention away from where it needs to be. Which is, I guess, in the present.

Lots of love this weekend. Love for the kiddo, love for my wife. But also just a sea of exhaustion. Experience feels like waves of love occasionally rising from a sea of exhaustion. I think I need to work on my body. I’ve just been a wreck for the last year. As I say, back pain. The pain in my back wakes me up almost every morning, if the kiddo doesn’t wake me up first. Not to complain. Just trying to remind myself of what I need. Focus on the physical. I am willing to give up writing, or at least give up some of my writing time if it helps me to live my life more fully. I forget sometimes that the point of the writing is to help me live, and if there is some other aspect of my experience that is being neglected, I need to attend to that as well.

LOVE RISING FROM A SEA OF EXHAUSTION