In last week’s blog, Knowing Yourself, I wrote about what I see as the first aspect of the spiritual life and I offered some practices to help us grow in self-awareness. This week I’d like to explore what I see as the next aspect of the spiritual life: opening to the Great Love, by which I mean the consciousness that animates the Universe and each of us, the Reality in which everything is being birthed, nurtured into its fullness, and received back again in complete acceptance. This second aspect of the spiritual journey is one in which we come to the real, experiential awareness that we are not living our lives as isolated individuals alone in the cosmos.
A Culture of Loneliness
I believe most people in our society are deeply lonely, which isn’t surprising given that ours is a transient society in which many of us move far away from home, friends and family. More than that though, we have been shaped by a culture that extols individualism, applauds self-sufficiency and scorns dependence, a culture that actually believes that people exist as independent entities, a culture that is blind to the sacredness that infuses the world we live in. These beliefs and values create within us a deep sense of isolation and emptiness that we may try desperately to overcome, often in very destructive ways.
If you look beneath the surface of these cultural beliefs, though, you come to see how erroneous they are. There simply is no such thing as an “individual”. The DNA that even now is replicating itself in your cells is the ongoing expression of millions of years of evolution. The water in your body has been on this planet for billions of years, having flowed through every stream, every ocean, every aquifer, and every species on Earth. The air you are breathing has likewise been breathed by countless entities on Earth, and the words you are reading right now, words which are conveying meaning to you, were taught to you by others, who learned them from others, and they from others before them, back to the far reaches of time when language was first created by our ancestors.
Just try to imagine what sort of “you” could ever exist in isolation from the rest of the cosmos, without DNA, water, air, language. Do you see how ludicrous the very idea is?
Awakening Out of Our Isolation
Eleven years ago this month I had a very powerful spiritual experience, and while I won’t go into all the details, I’ll try to describe it briefly. In the weeks and days leading up to it, I began experiencing a barrage of synchronicities, as though I had suddenly become a character in a magical realism novel. It was unnerving, to say the least.
Despite the fact that I was an ordained clergy person who had practiced the spiritual life for decades, and despite the fact that I thoroughly believed in a transcendent reality, never had I experienced that reality breaking into my life in such a tangible and unrelenting manner. It was quite literally blowing my mind because my worldview simply was not able to accommodate what I was experiencing.
So I went to the woods, bewildered and open, willing to surrender to whatever was breaking into my life. There, I walked to a large rock I sometimes go to to meditate and, not knowing what else to do, I sat down and simply started giving thanks. I gave thanks for what was happening, even though I didn’t understand it, and I gave thanks for the people in my life who, I sensed, were unknowingly participating in it.
As I began to name their names, I suddenly perceived that I was not a separate self at all, as I had always thought I was. I was more like waves coming together in an ever changing pattern, giving expression to an infinite number of causes, influences and relationships. I suddenly comprehended that my notion of “self” had been an erroneous construct of my mind.
As soon as I had that awareness, a barrier within me collapsed, and wave after wave of energy pulsed through my body. I felt something within me being released and something else being born simultaneously, and I sobbed with gratitude and amazement at the Love that, I sensed, had been laboring long and hard to bring me to this point.
When it was over, my limbs were on fire, tingling with energy, my heart felt as though it had expanded to encompass the entire Earth, and I saw the world with new eyes. Everything was vibrant and alive, and I perceived at the heart of all matter a sentience, all pervading and all loving. In that moment I knew beyond a doubt that if enough people gave themselves over to this Great Love, the entire Earth could be healed.
In the aftermath of that experience I went through a lot of tumult as I tried to integrate it, along with other experiences that followed, but never again have I been able to entertain the idea that any of us is ever separate or alone.
Even though our mainstream materialist culture has trouble accepting those sorts of experiences, they happen to millions of people in large and small ways. You have undoubtedly had moments yourself, perhaps not quite so dramatic, that revealed to you if only for an instant, that you are connected with and held within a loving Reality far greater than yourself. We can never will such moments to occur. They come, always, as a gift, as a surprise, as grace.
There are, however, things we can do to cultivate an openness to them, tilling the soil of our soul if you will, so that the seeds of those insights have a fertile place to land, and, just as in the case of getting to know ourselves, we each have our own unique ways of doing that. I would love to hear the ways you open yourself to that Great Love.
Shamanic journeying, prayer, ritual, energy work, spending time in nature, listening to great music, paying attention to synchronicities are all ways I open myself to that Reality, and it probably comes as no surprise that some of the ways I do it are the same ways I come to know myself, since there really is no barrier between “self” and the All. Meditation, dream work, creative expression and, of course, human love all help put me in touch with that Great Love.
For me, though, the most important thing I can ever do is simply say yes to that Love, an unqualified yes to whatever it wants to bring forth in my life, a yes that I truly mean with my whole heart.