It doesn't interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.
~Oriah Mountain Dreamer
It's Valentine's Day, and I'm single, and I'm a veteran of one marriage that, like most marriages, had some good in it, some sweetness and some happiness. Yet it didn't work, it fell apart, it ended. Ah, love...
The past year, when my ex- and I filed for divorce, was filled with a lot of grief and guilt, and a lot of blessings too, like my travels, the sale of my house, my friends around the world, my work. I have spent a lot of time exploring what went wrong in my marriage, and exploring concepts of love. What does it mean to me? What do I want from love? Or, the flip-side - how much love do I have to give?
A lot, a lot. Love, in its deepest form, is boundless. There is room enough in my heart for all six billion people on earth - although, of course, I can't marry all six billion, or even speed-date all six billion (or even the three billion with the y-chromosome). Now, putting this capacity for boundless love into practice is another question.
I do believe we all have an endless and divine capacity to love yet it's generally easier, and very normal and human, to constrict ourselves, to withhold the love we give, as if there wasn't enough to go around, as if we'd run out. When by giving it, it only grows...
This is hardly an original thought of course; ask the Dalai Lama, Buddha, Jesus, any old guru or prophet you meet on the street, and they will agree. It's just that this is the time in my life when I am more ready to finally live it, to at least try to put this into practice in my life...
For me, love has expanded this year well beyond the concept of romance, where it was stuck on pause and rewind for a while. Don't get me wrong: I, like most of us, still want the soul-mate, passionate lover, best friend, all rolled into one.
I want a partner on the spiritual path with whom to share the joys and lessons, with whom I can contribute to the world, make a difference and give back, and also (ahem) with whom I can enjoy a good roll in the sack. Maybe some of you have that today already and if you do, God bless! Celebrate it!
I'm still searching, but I live a life filled with love in so many ways. I'm reminded every Sunday of what it means to really put unconditional love into action when I walk into Glide Memorial Methodist Church, where the sign above the door as you enter from the meal hall reads, "To be spiritual is to love everybody."
Glide puts that into action... Everyone is welcomed at Glide, no matter your ethnicity, religion, sexual preference. As they say, transgendered, transexual, even trans-bay are all welcome (okay, non-Bay Area residents, this last one is an SF insiders' joke!).
At Glide, they serve more than one million meals a year to those in need, run recovery programs, clinics and shelters. You may have seen the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness" featuring Will Smith that tells the true story of Chris Gardner, who went from being a homeless single father on the streets of SF to a millionaire Wall Street broker. He credits Glide for getting him back on his feet again.
Glide has a million more stories of redemption and grace, and I show up every Sunday to hear the stories, to be blessed by the spirit of joy in the church, to learn again and feel in my bones how very blessed I am to be healthy, alive, happy, to have a home and good food to eat and so many friends. I have so much more than so many on this planet... We are all so abundantly blessed, and it's easy to forget that sometimes.
Yet having a home and food and money and other external blessings don't guarantee a happy heart. "Loneliness and the experience of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty," said Mother Teresa, who knew something about poverty. Rev. Fitch shared this quote with us, and I watched one member of the choir weep, her eyes rimmed red, as the woman next to her wrapped her in her arms.
He challenged us all to reach out to someone who was lonely, someone who was hurting, to stop judging, to stop thinking only of ourselves, to help someone heal. There is no greater gift than unconditional love. As Reverend Fitch said, "When we judge people, we have no time to love them."
I do an exercise sometimes, inspired by a book by Wayne Dyer, while walking down the street. I try to simply send unconditional love to everyone who passes me. I was honestly surprised to find, when I focused my attention on it, that I pass so many quick judgments about people, that I can within seconds see someone and size them up, pass a judgment about whether or not this is someone I would want to talk to...
Judging by appearances is so easy to do, and we're so trained to do it by society, marketing campaigns, flashy billboards and glitzy advertisements. I think a lot of us at one point or another have had an idea in our head of what our mate is supposed to look like, or maybe we've fallen into step with certain friends because they look or dress like us (what teenager hasn't done that at some point, wanting to belong?) but it's so often a false construct. People so often surprise us.
Yet it's still a challenge, I find, to send love to everyone I see - but it's a challenge I want to continue to take on. Who doesn't benefit from some simple kindness, loving thoughts, a little attention? We all want to be noticed, appreciated.
That is not to say that we have to like everyone, or should even try - we all have different sensibilities, we all have different tastes. And there just isn't enough time to be friends with the whole planet, or to have all the inhabitants of your continent over for dinner. But to love everyone? In spirit, and in practice, when you are face to face with a stranger? In my mind at least that's a noble goal.
Luckily, I do like all of you who are reading this - my friends. Blessings to you. I honestly don't know what I'd do without having so many incredible friends around the world, who inspire me, make me laugh, boost me up when I'm feeling down and help me to know that I'm not crazy for feeling whatever I'm feeling, whatever wave I'm riding at the moment... Who are there to make my life really worth living.
My daily meditation practice also helps me to love myself and my life more deeply by reconnecting me with my breath, my body, and by helping me to clear some of the cobwebs out of my mind. I find myself a little bit less caught in stories and drama, every day, a little more able to live in the present moment fully, and to choose my response to the moment...
Which helps of course when it comes to men. As for the other part of the love relationship equation, what all my other relationships in my life can't give me, i.e. sex, physical love, well, this is a PG-13 blog read by many of my family members so we won't delve into that too deeply.
I'll let the funny, wonderful and wise author Elizabeth Gilbert speak for me on this one - I, too, want to devote myself to God, but also want worldly pleasures... Here is what she has to say on that topic, as she discusses it with the medicine man Ketut in Indonesia:
"I want to have a lasting experience of God," I told him. "Sometimes I feel like I understand the divinity of this world, but then I lose it because I get distracted by my petty desires and fears. I want to be with God all the time. But I don't want to be a monk, or totally give up worldly pleasures. I guess what I want to learn is how to live in this world and enjoy its delights, but also devote myself to God."
Ketut said he could answer my question with a picture. He showed me a sketch he'd drawn once during meditation. It was an androgynous human figure, standing up, hands clasped in prayer. But this figure had four legs, and no head. Where the head should have been, there was only a wild foliage of ferns and flowers. There was a small, smiling face drawn over the heart.
"To find the balance you want," Ketut spoke through his translator, "this is what you must become. You must keep your feet grounded so firmly on the earth that it's like you have four legs, instead of two. That way, you can stay in the world. But you must stop looking at the world through your head. You must look through your heart, instead. That way, you will know God."
"You must stop looking at the world through your head." Ah, yes. Easily said, not always so easily done - but that is what my journey is now, to follow a path with heart. When I'm living in the present moment, not obsessing about my past or fantasizing about the future, when I'm being led by love in my life, when I'm following my intuition and heart (and showing up, and doing the work this life calls for too) there is no "wrong" or "right," or rather, I'm always in the right place. The challenges and what seem to be failures in any given moment become lessons.
When I look at love and dating that way, I'm more willing to take risks, put myself out there, knowing that all experiences of human connection are worthwhile, and that if I am true to myself, my path will lead me where I need to go.
I'll end with this beautiful quote from Pujya Swamiji: "Love has no conditions. When we put conditions, when we put barriers and boundaries, then we lose love. Love is condition-less. Love is barrier-less. Look at the moon, sun, stars, trees... they are just on for everyone. When our love also flows for everyone, you become very natural."
Here's to being like the sun, moon, stars, which are "on for everyone." May I be a light in this world, as the Buddha urged his followers on his deathbed. May I not be afraid to shine. Because you never know when your light will illuminate the path for someone else, as so many other shining lights have illuminated mine.
Blessings to you all, to my friends around the world, for being lights in my life.
Now, go give someone a big smooch or hug. Go spread some love! Happy Valentine's Day.
"Ever since Love heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you...."
Lisa Powell Graham © 2007
Friday, February 09, 2007
It doesn't interest me how old you are.