Below the mind there is a beautiful, inarguable, direct experience that you are. I invite you to notice this fact: the felt sense of presence and all the flavors of what it is like to be, right now, going nowhere. When we are invited here, when we land in this moment, we find the simplicity and nourishment that emanate from the core of our being as we rest from the outer world. To the extent we can drop our attention away from the content of thought and open ourselves to this holy dimension of life, to presence, we are fed. We are zeroed and soothed in this stillness, resting from all of the things we've created, all the messes we've made and the victories we've had. For a time, we can just rest in a dimension deeper than thought, below the particulars, and drop into raw being.
Anything that arises to draw us away from noticing this moment, any struggles or suffering, are the essential arguments we have with our existence and places where our pain obscures the truth. None of these will be mended or addressed outside ourselves. No matter what we look for outside of ourselves in relating with others, these essential issues are ours to become conscious of, own and resolve or we will export the responsibility for it onto others and create messes.
The fact of our human predicament is underscored when relating to other human beings. How do we stay close to each other and clear in ourselves when we are faced with the simultaneous combination of our timeless depth of presence, and our shadowy collection of misguided creature motivations? We can feel pretty peaceful and perfect sitting on our cushions, but in a split second, even the tiniest little exchanges with others can take us away from this perfection into confusion. We must reclaim this ground of being as our sanctuary and resource for returning to sanity, especially in the presence of other beings. Centering in grounded presence isn’t just for the meditation hall but for every breath we take.
There are few places in life where we are more invested than in our relationships and thus relating intimately combines both love and challenge. The love makes it difficult to blow off what arises in the context of relating, which brings us closer to the inner conflicts we’d rather not face. This is one of the beauties of relationship: when we love someone, when we really value the connection we have with them, we tend to be more willing to look into what we are carrying — the things that flummox us or that we are unconscious of — in order to keep the channel between us clear. When something or someone truly matters to us, when there is something we deeply know we are for or is for us, it creates a cauldron that holds a fire. If we face the fire, it has the power to deconstruct the false in us.
Relationship is the end of spiritual bypassing. We can get by for a while on the high of romance and make a life out of avoiding things, but deep relating inevitably brings us to the heart of what matters. Rumi has a poem where he asks, “My darling, how can I love you more?” In this poem, he is constantly asking his love, “Help me refine my heart, help me refine my approach so that I may spill my devotion in a way that is useful to you.” This can be both thrilling and horrifying because when we ask, “How can I love you more?” or “Can you tell me about another little piece of my shadow that affects you?” your partner might just answer!
There is nothing sweeter than sitting with another human being or beings in the full realization of the Holy, looking into their eyes, simply and fully here. I invite you for a moment to picture and invoke the highest beauty you have experienced in the company of another being. To seed yourself with the possibility of this deep sweetness, whether it’s invoked by a cat, a child, a friend, a lover or a teacher. In my experience, the deepest beauty in relating occurs when we stop and rest in presence, and the two-ness is dissolved in the light of shared being. With this taste of sweetness, let yourself rest into the ground and abide in being, allowing your system to picture this sweet otherness as you directly experience grounding in your own sovereign, felt existence.
Now, I invite you to imagine a challenging moment you have experienced while relating with another being. Imagine resting in the same way in the middle of it, allowing whatever is triggered to coexist with breath and ground and a sense of your own sovereign being. When things start to get rough, at the soonest opportunity, it serves us to do what Shakespeare’s Hamlet tells Ophelia: “Get thee to a nunnery.” In other words, get thee to zero, to virginity, to virgin-land, to sovereignty — just here, resting as simple being. Before taking one more step or uttering one more word, stop and soak in the Holy.
Hafiz says to make a list of your top three priorities, and then follows that by saying, if they are not “God, God, God,” then you’re in trouble. Nowhere is this more useful to remember than in challenging moments of relating. This right here, this being, this zero is a foundation, a haven, a sanctuary. This is the portable phone’s charging base. We need to return to it regularly when we are relating to other people. It gives us the capacity to snip anything strange that is growing between us, to cut any malignancy or falseness in a moment with the willingness to go nowhere, to get nothing, to humble ourselves, to lose everything, to return to zero. When our relationships are ruled by this commitment to the ground of being, it can only contribute to relating from what is true in an enduring and fulfilling way.
Longing, Piercing and the Dark
“You cut me open and I keep on bleeding love.”
–Leona Lewis, Bleeding Love (modern pop song)
Not long ago I dreamed friends wanted me to come upstairs from a dark basement to meet some people. I ascended, realizing as I climbed that my pupils were fully dilated as if still in the dark. Reaching the people, my pupils had not changed and I could not see. Moreover, I had no active principle in me, receptively present to the depth of my being, which was bottomless night. At their mercy, I was unprotected even by the veil of a social face. Blind to the lit world and ecstatic, I turned toward them as an ambassador of the gorgeous dark, entirely open and given.
We are afraid of the dark. We are afraid of death, sickness, need, longing, grief, rotting, decaying and the void. What is hidden within us in darkness, and what we have grown to fear and loathe, is the realm of the Divine Feminine. To understand Her through linear methods is impossible: only through experience, through initiation, are we allowed to come close. Many are now being called to Her, through illness, tragedy or the draining of meaning from our lives, because her wisdom is critical to the healing and wholeness of our souls and our world.
The Divine Feminine doesn’t oppose the masculine, but embraces and blesses the whole of everything. Qualities of the Divine Feminine are present in both women and men, and are needed to draw us into our depths and thus our full spiritual potential. Speaking of the feminine clearly and freshly is challenging: she is hidden, many of her aspects have been so denigrated we believe they are valueless, and many concepts surrounding her have become cliches and linked with a wounding fury. Yes, there is pain where the feminine has been desecrated, burned and tortured, where her wisdom has been buried under derision and fear. This must be honored. Yet we cannot afford to splinter into dualistic battles when reclaiming these energies is so critical to the healing of the whole. We have all lost from her banishment and we all stand to gain when the energies of the Divine Feminine are rewoven into our lives.
Reclaiming this ground is not easy, much of it gunked up with dismissal, devaluation, and contempt, especially the pathways to Her transformative powers. The way is dark, guides are few and the harpies are loud and convincing — they live inside and outside us and therefore sound real. When we travel into these lands within ourselves, the conditioned negativity rises and we feel terrible about ourselves, which feels like a sure sign to turn back. However, the deep space of feminine receptivity and unknowing, her understanding of the interrelatedness of life, and her nourishing waters and sheltering dark are so vital for the healing of our world that it is worth traveling back through the territory of thou shalt not throw like a girl, cry like a girl, need like a girl or love like a girl.
Softening and opening is a big part of where we go when we journey to the feminine — what is softer and more open than an accepting vagina or the warm inside of a fluidfilled womb? We are meant to live open, and we must reclaim our way there. So many beautiful faces are hardened in stress, over-mentality, protection and separation. It is possible, without the world changing a bit, for us to re-inhabit these sacred waters and hold this shelter and healing out to each other as sanctuary.
I can hear the protests of all who carry the wounds of rape, abuse and humiliation. Soften, are you nuts??? It’s true we are vulnerable to forces that don’t know what to do with an open soft place other than colonize, plunder, poke and humiliate it. And it is possible to learn the ways of the warrior alongside the ways of the flower and restore what has been scared into hiding its rightful throne, manifested on this planet. The focus of reclamation seems to dance of its own accord back and forth between the poles of heart and warrior, reweaving a tapestry of wholeness — the stronger and clearer I get, the softer and more open I can be. As I explore the strength of my physicality and groundedness, the clarity of seeing what is true, and a right to my voice, I witness a shift then to softening, receptivity, and the ability to open to interdependence.
Denying the soft depth of the feminine mystery affects all of life – when we separate life from its holy essence we cut the world off from energy that can nourish, heal and transform it. A disembodied god and a world in which matter is unholy is devastating to the feminine. It is injurious to cast a whole realm of human experience, much of which is native to women, into a dark cavern of banishment. We are so confused about reality that we see our instinctive wisdom as pathology, attack ourselves for it and try to rid ourselves of it, leaving us with a deep mistrust of ourselves that makes us vulnerable to manipulation and control.
Here I will describe a couple vital initiatory aspects of the Divine Feminine as they have been coming to consciousness in my experience: longing (opening to a burning ache for something it seems we need) and piercing (meeting an experience wholly and allowing it to penetrate us to the core). These are aspects that have been somewhat vilified in a culture obsessed with mastery. To reclaim wholeness is not only to reclaim the sword of clarity and strength, it is also then to use what we have learned to set a throne for a kind of vulnerable softening and opening that replenishes our souls, relationships and world from within.
In an auditorium, face wet with tears, I watch my friend Ty passionately play tablas, and listen to Krishna Das sing from his heart devoted to God. A burning ache in my heart, for Man, for Masculine, for God, opens a well inside that I have grown to adore in its bittersweet mindless black depth. I have experienced it many times: as a child trying to kiss my brother’s coat fast enough to avoid his punch, longing to be invited into the mysterious world of his boy room, games, and friends; lying in bed, my mother ironing in the hall, wanting her without a way to reach in my emotionally distant family; sobbing when the distance between my heart and my boyfriend’s seemed impossible to cross; home from college locked in an embrace with my soon-to-leave father who was divorcing my mom; and on mushrooms facing a terrifying darkness no one else seemed to notice that filled the bar.
Our culture calls this something to get over. We keep ourselves from these doorways to the dark, and with derision born of fear or in the name of “helping,” encourage others not to go either. Discomfort (the first sign of impending transformation) is seen as something to control: figure it out, fix it and thereby eliminate it. Mind and will partner in brutalizing this soft underbelly, hardening to keep it away, making ourselves less affect-able and above reproach from the wandering police of the hyper-masculine within us and without. Anything but soften, open and allow it.
But we are affect-able. The web of wedded creation uses us to long through for itself. Women are wired for this softening and opening and it has everything to do with our longing for the Holy. We don’t need more therapy to eradicate this. No matter how many sessions we have on our dads, brothers or boyfriends, the Feminine will ALWAYS long for the Masculine, and we are not wounded or whacked or missing something because of it. Just as the iron filing is drawn to the magnet, the electron is drawn to the proton and the gravity of the earth holds our sweet bodies to her, we were born to long. Longing is the Feminine expression of divine love.
In all this pining I found why Hafiz wrote: “Let your loneliness cut more deeply.” In early experiences of burning for what I could not have, a fullness rose out of my emptied cup to fill it to the brim. Out of the fertile void, shaky young places would become sturdy. What worked on a small scale might be magnificent if I were completely denied satisfaction! So I prayed arrogantly, “Give me nothing that I want.” An unimaginable dark night ensued. Surrounded by and filled with desolation, I felt separate from God and was forced to plumb my own bottomless well. Longing is a guide that leads us into a potent purification for the heart wanting to be emptied of all but gold.
Through longing, the interconnected web of life expresses relatedness. Not only are there young places to burn off and a divine alchemy that fills the empty heart, but longing has a vital role in our relationships. We ARE inextricably related. Where we know this, we relate in an interlaced and interdependent way. When one acts as though he or she is separate, the whole web feels it, and we feel it in our bodies as longing. We are wired to call each other back into connectedness. We might not know how yet, but we have the wiring.
Pain (emotional, physical or spiritual) is a piercing for those of us willing to open to being divinely mastered. We have been taught the opposite — that we are to master with mind and will. Granted this can be useful when a greater need is present, such as saving a life, or defending a village. After the battle though, returning to a tender human heartfulness serves the return to the community. We have overdone this hardening to our detriment and forgotten the rituals of a softening return. A valuable skill during times of great challenge has become a way of life. We harden and cut off the energetic exchange with the matrix of life, sealing ourselves into cells of separateness as our unhealed pain throbs inside, creating illness, violence, dullness and misery.
To be pierced is to allow the shell of protection to break, exposing and drinking the elixir of our innermost. Last year I had some work done on a frozen shoulder which entailed the doctor sticking a 5″ needle into the joint, poking around and injecting fluid. I had witnessed the progress in my shoulder and was committed to the process. Yet as I lay on her table during the final treatment, tears streaming down my face from the pain, I considered for a moment clocking her and running out of the room. Instead I yielded beyond my concept of an ability to do so, allowing this piercing to have me. I let it take and tenderize me until I was powdered. Never had I felt so given, so crushed, and so filled with Beauty.
After I told this story during a talk, someone brought me a copy of a photograph of Bernini’s sculpture “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.” St. Teresa reclines in a totally blissful swoon, mouth open, head back, eyelids half-mast, hands and feet limp while a curlyheaded young angel with a loving smile stands above her, holding the spear of God. Divinity piercing the human body, heaven piercing earth, spirit piercing matter. St. Teresa describes her experience as follows:
“I saw in his hand a long spear of gold and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart and to pierce my very entrails. When he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great that it made me moan and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God that I pray God of his goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.”
This was the experience of that hour on the table and the same experience during the birth of my daughter, when the pain of contraction came minutes apart, and I crouched howling like a dog. Arrogant about my ability to handle pain, I yielded to the contractions. However, I was unprepared for the final moment when Sophia’s head dropped and a force like the muzzle-loading of a musket moved through my body from the top down. Until then there had been some illusion of control. Feeling the power of the force that would birth my child, I instinctively bowed the lowest internal bow I could imagine, knowing I had come in contact with the terrible power of the Lady (I was going to write “Lord” but it’s fun to play in here — we have stripped ladies of this terrible power, though anyone who has been in relationship with one surely knows it.). Pierced and mastered, I was a portal through which delicious clouds of revitalizing, nourishing feminine energy bathed the room.
To long and to be pierced, to open to the dark and be mastered, to take the doors offered to Her mysteries and to fling them wide open in a passionate embrace with the Holy, spilling divine healing juicy energy to the four corners of the earth. We can bring this wisdom back if we are willing.
(c) Copyright 2010, Jeannie Zandi, all rights reserved.
Originally published in The Sun Monthly, May, 2010.
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As the Holy creates the world in each moment, the ground level of its expression is the field of vibration. Everything that you can see, everything that is, is made of vibration. Step back from thought, step back from seeing things as objects, and let yourself notice the hum, the vibration, the sensation of existing, of being. Without definition, without evaluation. It is impossible to be wrong. You just are.
It’s a given. It’s the gift of life. It’s the gift of existence. When we stay very close to this ground of being, this simple ground of presence and sensation, the Holy can create through us of its own accord rather than through our preconceived concepts.
We’ve often been confused, searching for a sense of “I” through thought’s eyes. But the sense of being is not in the head; it is directly experienced through your sense of felt existence. When you drop into the vibrating ground of being, into the most fundamental level of existence, the world of the Holy sings to you through the vibration in your cells. And beneath and all around, everything is rising out of and shot through with empty space.
Let yourself sink below the object level of things, toward this felt field. You’ll notice it feels three-dimensional. You’ll notice that attention can move to different parts of the body and you can sense the texture there. You may barely be able to tell that some parts of the body exist at all. They will feel spacious and open. Others will be asserting themselves through tension, often in the belly or the heart, but that tension can be anywhere. And throughout the body you may notice a kind of a felt hum, a hum of life energy, a hum of shakti.
Most of us have been conditioned to have our attention fused to the content of thought, to the reality that the mind creates. We look to thought to define us, to define others, and to define the world. But thought is delusional because it’s a representation of what is, and often many steps away from actual reality.
To allow attention to sink into felt experience is to say goodbye to the world of thought. At first we might take short trips to the realm of felt experience because we’re tired of the land of concept, and we’re willing to take a chance on something new. At some point we may be willing to say goodbye to the past, to the future, to our identity, to where we are, to what we are, to where we’re going or where we’ve been. We may be willing to experiment, to see what exists outside of thought.
Because of the strength of conditioning, we may think we are attending to felt sense when we are actually attending to some combination of felt sense and thought. Notice if any evaluation is happening: “Wow, I’m doing it. That’s my breath.” If there’s anything like that, a kind of reporting from your mind, it will sound like a sports announcer, up in the bleachers, reporting on rather than being immersed in actual experience.
Anytime you notice your attention floating up into thought, I invite you to return it to your felt experience. Let the body have breath. On the felt level of things, breath is a constant, incredibly multi-faceted experience, from the time it enters the body, fills the lungs, fills the belly, to its movement out. And let the body have ground through noticing your weight, softening and sinking. Notice where the body touches the chair, the earth, and soften there. Ground nourishes the creature and allows it to settle.
In your imagination or in your direct experience, let the boundary between body and atmosphere dissolve. Let attention and your felt experience start to feel a like an ocean, or a field, or like a spacious, vibrating cloud. See if you can simply allow yourself to sit there as a cloud of noticing space. Let all that rises come to this awareness that you are, from the feel of breath, to the sounds, to the sensation where your body touches your chair or your hands touch each other. Notice that sounds in the distance arise in your awareness just the same as the sensations in the body arise. When you sit as noticing space, all sensations are equal, though varied in texture. Let yourself not call any of it “you.” Or let yourself call ALL of it you. Sink all your attention into the feel of now, into the immediacy of breath and existence.
One of the biggest perceived obstacles we find when we explore this felt moment is pain, tension, and pent-up emotion. It is basically stopped-up, pressurized and repressed life energy. The potency and power of our life energy can feel uncomfortable, because we have been taught to distract from that intensity. When we take attention off of the mind-created world and sink it into this elemental hum, this creative matrix, we open ourselves to transformation. We say, “Here I am Holy power and potency, have me, have my life, have my creations. Remake me. Dissolve me. Live through me.”
This is not something that upper management would approve of. Wired into your survival system is the belief that your life depends on the continuation of your pseudo-reality and the energy management system that supports it. But your life does not depend on that. This system is obsolete and your life is right here, right now. Not down the road, not yesterday, and it’s not a continuum or a thread. It is a vibrating hall of present mystery–a masterpiece of immediacy, of the unknown, of utter possibility.
Exploring felt experience without the mind’s two cents starts to loosen the sense of ownership which is at the base of perceiving oneself as separate, and is the root of suffering. As identification with a particular “me” defined by particular thoughts loosens, the possibility of stepping into raw being can emerge, a way of being which is apart from having to be defined. To step completely away from identification is called freedom. It’s freedom from the dictates of mind, from the dictates of conditioning. You simply are.
In our culture, we think of knowing as a mental process. We think of knowing our name, our address, how old we are, and what our plan for the future is. Conditioning and that kind of knowing are in cahoots. Conditioning relies on you being divorced from your deeper embodied knowing of this moment, this life, this immediacy here and now.
There is a certain kind of knowledge that we have in our bones for having gone through an experience. Most of this knowledge is unspeakable, but it fuels deep grounded wisdom. What does a woman know in her body after she’s given birth? What does a veteran know from living through war? What do we know in our bodies after we’ve been through a dark time and come through to the light? The holy informs us through this field. This is why they call sages wise. Sages are beings who have plunged their attention away from the external world, away from the mind, and deeply into nowhere, into the felt hum where presence and sensation meet, and hover around the heart of the paradox of existence. There is an intelligence to this field, and we are, in reality, simply this field expressing itself.
Our life energy through conditioning has been distorted. It does not run in natural ways. Western white culture largely does not respect the intelligence and sovereignty of an infant’s cry, or of a child’s exuberance in the middle of church. We respect an externally created, fear- based order over the organic movements of nature, over things as they are, and over things in their wholeness and in their naturalness. Sages through time have talked about being simple and natural. They themselves have been described as being as simple as children, uncomplicated, and not moving from fear. Their responses in the moment are tailored to the moment, uninterrupted, and undistorted by conditioned ideas. There are layers and layers of falseness and delusion that keep us in prison and keep us using our life energy for something other than the simple expression of the Holy through our bodies.
Returning our attention to felt experience shines a light of love on the body and funds the creature with the treasure of our conscious awareness. The creature of the body takes on the brunt of conditioning–the brunt of stress, of harsh words and insensitive treatment. On top of this disregard for the creature, we attempt to get somewhere other than here that will be “better.” Thus our bodies tense and get sick over time because the queen has left the queendom; the king has left the kingdom. Attention and the rich backdrop of the vibrating Beloved has been abandoned for the god of our conditioning: mentation. The creature has been abandoned for a system of ideas. The body within conditioning is ailing. It is not seen for the amazing instrument that it is.
The body is a treasure to anyone who wants to live from what’s true. As the grosser energies of pain start to be digested, the body can begin to discern the subtle orders of the Beloved through a sense of aliveness. Attention returned to felt experience allows the body’s undigested, gummed-up emotional and energetic systems to be cleared out. When we put our attention on the body, it will tell us what it needs to do in order to untie a knot. The body will tell us how to move, when to curl up, when to dance, paint, stretch, run or weep.
Turning toward the body with tender attention is not for the faint of heart, and is often the last place we will turn. Usually we like the idea of fleeing the body to transcend this human mess. We hope that we can jump out of this humanness and simply be light. I invite the kindness and regard of turning toward and embracing, rather than turning away and fleeing.
This embrace is a way of transcendence through wholeness with nothing left out. In the end, we must be willing to mirror the unseen’s love for the seen by being willing to meet whatever is given at the body level. As we befriend the creature of the body, we discover a sane, felt capacity to open and soften. We can download light into flesh, and feel in the body the worlds of unseen and seen dancing together. This is a sweet way to be here on the planet. It is called the body of God. It is called wholeness. It is called heaven on earth.
SOURCE: "Heaven on Earth" by Jeannie Zandi
"The Almond Trees in Blossom"
Endlessly I gaze at you in wonder, blessed ones, at your composure,
at how in eternal delight you bear your vanishing beauty.
Ah, if only we knew how to blossom:
our heart would pass beyond every small danger,
and would find peace in the greatest danger of all.
——————————————————-— Rainer Maria Rilke
At a public gathering in my town’s plaza, two women pass me. The elder, who seems about 85 to 90, walks slowly, unsteadily, on sensible shoes. One of her slender, thin-skinned legs, bruised and dotted with age spots, is partially covered in knee-high panty hose, while the other is bare, the stocking fallen and gathered around her ankle. Her sparse white hair, somewhat disheveled, is loosely gathered at the back of her neck. Her frail arm stretches out, with her bony hand firmly grasping the arm of the other woman, who I assume is her daughter. The younger woman takes in the scene around her, while making herself wholly available to the older woman, putting aside any agenda she might have for herself. The mother relies utterly on her daughter’s strength, kindness and slowed pace. A tender closeness between them is palpable in the willingness of the daughter and the dependency of the mother as she clings to her daughter’s arm in much the same way the daughter must have clung to hers when she was too young to walk on her own.
Only a week before, my 7-year-old daughter, Sophia, brought up the topic of aging while we were walking. “Mama,” she observed, “old people are kind of like babies.” I asked her why. “Because they need help like babies. They cannot do things on their own. Sometimes they need help walking, some need helping eating, and some have to lie in bed and be changed like babies. It’s so sweet.” I asked her what she thought that would be like, and she replied, “I think it would be nice — like having servants.”
Most people experience being dependent as a humiliation rather than a treat, like my daughter does. Sophia’s innocent and positive view stands in marked contrast to the response of many people I know to the prospect of getting older and becoming dependent: “Shoot me first!” they exclaim. It’s as if the idea of becoming dependent on other human beings is so abhorrent that one would rather die a violent death than consider it.
How we value our independence, our strength and capability! How we prize our ability to do things for ourselves on our own, thank you very much. How we fear the fact that aging requires us to let down our walls, our protections, our pride, our privacy, and ask for and accept assistance. It lays wide open and bare the simple fact that we are not perfect islands unto ourselves, but fallible, sweet, interdependent beings in need. Aging asks us to open, to trust, to let go. It asks us to let others into our most private worlds and see us in our naked humanity.
Aging is life’s way of saying, “Last chance to realize what this is all about!” If one hasn’t been lucky enough to be humbled, softened and opened to one’s place in the interconnectedness of all things by parenthood, midlife crisis, illness, a failed relationship or two, or some other of life ’s challenges, aging certainly offers the opportunity in spades. Aging asks us to radically redefine who we take ourselves to be, after a lifetime perhaps of defining ourselves by what we can do. It invites us either to start defining ourselves by what we cannot do or to drop the defining altogether and allow ourselves to explore what it means to exist outside of definition, within the whole rather than separate from it.
Why should I write about aging? While I have not yet hit the deeper parts of aging that others around me have, despite my 44 years of experience in getting older, I have tasted enough to be intrigued by the rub of loss of youth that is just beginning for me. I felt like I was just about to find my groove until I gave birth to my daughter at the age of 36. Over the next few years it slowly dawned on me — as the soft saggy skin from my pregnant belly hung during yoga class, as I dropped into bed at the end of a working-mother day, as I glimpsed the chicken skin and wrinkles in the sunlit rearview mirror, as my child grew up and I grew tired — that gravity was calling me. Age spots like my grandmother’s started to appear on my face. The skin on my shoulders is turning from soft to dry and rough from the years of sun exposure. Now, I hold small print away from my eyes and have just purchased my first pair of “old lady” glasses, marking my entry into the realm of the aged. I started to hear inside my head something I ’d never anticipated: “You are too old to do that . . . to wear that . . . to say that . . .” When I ride my bike to work, I feel more like the Toto-hating Miss Gulch than I do a soaring bird or fit athlete.
I can feel the field of limitless possibility that is youth slipping away. The baseball players and movie stars on TV are starting to look like babies; the newscasters were born after my baby brother. The world is being taken over by the next generation, and I am not part of it. I am slipping out of it. I will not be world famous, I will probably not be much more of anything than what I am now. I am as beautiful as I will ever be, as strong as I will ever be, as capable as I will ever be. And I am fading into the past, while my daughter rises to greet the world. The world is going on without me — it does not need me to function, and I will likely disappear without having made much of a mark on it at all.
Oh, the small person in me does not like this. She was unconsciously betting on some future glory that would prove her excellence and importance. She doesn’t want to be one of the many unknown faces, one of the multitudes that live and die with little trace. She wants to be bigger than life, someone to take note of, making history. She wants superlatives: biggest, best, strongest, most beautiful. Life is a continual assault and insult to this one because unless we are lucky or delusional, we do not get to be the best at much of anything, or at least not for long. And aging is the final and most definitive insult. If we held out until now — either by large amounts of external success, achievement and prowess, or by ignoring the obvious fact that we as persons are insignificant grains of sand among the many — age and death will certainly rectify that. At some point there is no ignoring this, and the final settling with reality begins.
Do I need cheering up? An exercise program? A list of the pros of aging? Examples of women playing basketball, running marathons, looking smashing in their 70s? A lecture on rejoicing in my cronehood? Not at all. I want to face the gritty details of being in an aging body and touch that reality with tenderness. I have not found it useful to wave the flag of the bright side when darkness looms; darkness doesn’t go away by patting it on the head and telling it to go to its room, and the brightness of cheer is not the deep light for which I live. Aging is loss. Anything that I hold dearly that passes will invite my loosened grip. Aging is about getting weaker, saggier and wrinklier, losing faculties, and eventually dying and one ’s body rotting. I want to embrace this darkness; I want to hear the voice of loss, weakness and dying. I want to hear what it has to say and be reborn as a light that is not birthed of reassurance, but of synchronizing myself with what is real and surrendering to it. I want to be it all and know it all and kiss it all.
Aging is not a stranger, it is simply a more dramatic version of the same old friend whose face returns to us all throughout life in little and big ways — loss, death and resurrection. Rainer Maria Rilke advised: “Be ahead of all parting.” The more one has kept pace with the invitations that life offers along the way to grieve, open, be humbled and let go, the less settling of accounts must occur in order to meet the greatest invitation of all: to lose one ’s strength, prowess, capability and, finally, life. And to open and soften one’s heart in the face of it. Old age lays bare our vulnerability, our longing, our fear of each other, of ourselves. We cannot run, we cannot delude ourselves; we have to sit still and wrestle with and come to terms with the great mystery that this life is.
One invitation of being infirm is to be tender with ourselves. Not impatient, rejecting and judgmental, but tender. Aging invites us to learn self-acceptance and, with that, acceptance of all the parts of life as holy and worthy of our love. We are not worthy of love only for what we do and contribute, but worthy of love and tenderness because we are. Another invitation is to be humbled: we return to beginners, to not knowing. There is nothing we can use as a crutch to prop ourselves up and say, “See? I am worthy because I…” And we find ourselves worthy, as Sophia says, “Just because.”
We lose it all. If life let us keep it, we would not soften. We soften into the arms of life, into the arms of our caretakers. We let them love us. We let them have us. We let ourselves return to what we belong to, though we walled ourselves off from ever knowing that all along it owned us, this life, this clock ticking, this symphony of birth, death, living, dying, crying and loving.
We let it go, we open our hands, we let the bird fly away, we find the heart that lives through us, we find that we do belong, that we always did, that we are part of it, that it is OK. We are not special. We are not gods. We did not win a gold medal, write a famous novel; we will not go down in history. And it’s enough to have lived, to have done the best we could do, to have loved the best we could love, to be part of it all. Aging invites us to open to the truth that we are one, we belong to each other, we are here to be loved and to love.
Sophia and I play a game, where we take turns closing our eyes and leading each other around the neighborhood, up hills, through vacant lots, up onto the curb, down off the curb. She observed once during the game, “Mama, I trust you more than you trust me.” May I surrender and grow in this trust as I grow in years.
(c) Copyright 2006, Jeannie Zandi, all rights reserved.
Originally published in The Eldorado Sun, August, 2006.
Potentially, through Ms. Zandi's personal struggle we can all find that radiant seat deep within, where Love shines, soothes and abides within us forever. But first you must follow her through a journey of mental exhaustion, heart wrenching pain and utter defeat. It was only then, physically and mentally exhausted that she hears Love's call, tastes Loves presence, and comes forth from her self-imposed tomb.
How profoundly her words ring true, her aching heart is felt, and her liberation a hope for so many.
In the year that I was pregnant with my daughter and planning on marrying her father, I was plunged into an inexplicable darkness that ruled my life for four years. During that time, much of what had characterized me became eclipsed – I was no longer sociable, brilliant or on top of anything. My sole focus was a gnawing discomfort, a total loss of meaning and my inability to find what was “true” in order to right my life.
Why, as a well-adjusted woman who had kept up with her emotional work and led workshops on the topic, was I plagued to such depths? Was it a hormonal issue? A psychological issue? Had I made a wrong choice that resulted in my living a lie? Between working, mothering and doing the basics of daily life, I searched inwardly and outwardly, and mostly mentally, to find clues to this mysterious stalker who had performed a hostile takeover of my psyche.
As the months and years passed, as possible causes were exhausted (pregnancy hormones, postpartum depression, some early birth trauma of my own, some lie I was living, some way I had been bad that I was being punished for by a wrathful God), I entered into a sort of resigned despair. Many times I wished my life would simply end. I had fantasies of wandering out into the wilderness of Taos Mountain and being devoured by mountain lions. I would look up at the stars and long to disappear among them. The state of agony and anxiety was so acute, deep and constant that it hardly left my attention during my waking hours.
No matter what relative truth I would adopt in any given moment as the solution to my woes – keep the child, don’t keep the child, stay with the man, leave the man, live alone – nothing held the promise of righting things. In retrospect, while I was searching for the truth that I could voice that would correct something “off” in my personal life, a much bigger truth was stalking me, one that could not be told, but only lived.
I could not light on this truth with my mind, but had to be born into it through watching who I had been wear down and pass away. As I was no longer performing the self I had been and as my mind struggled with and was bested by this conundrum, I watched the “good partner” die, the “contributing community member” die, the “one who knows” and the “one who can find the truth” die. More and more I was simply left in the present with no plan or strategy with which to approach anything.
I would go to a nearby river and lay on its banks. I noticed the anxiety that pervaded my body most of the day; I noticed the hell my mind was in, scurrying this way and that, trying to save me by finding the truth about the anxiety; and I noticed the way the wind blew, unconcerned, through the trees by the river and the way the ripples danced, unperturbed, in the water. At some point I discovered that if my attention was buried in the unconcerned wind and the unperturbed ripples, my body would relax just a little bit. Over time I saw that things-as-they-are were complicated by my thoughts and plans, which obscured actuality and created a hell if I paid attention to them. Out of exhaustion and despite a certainty that this was not in “my” best interest, I watched the “one who could figure it out” and the “one with a clue” die too.
I began finding my attention immersed in my senses in the present and in simple being. My mind faded as the central navigational instrument for my life, and I watched its incessant chattering fade as the thoughtless realm of things-as-they-are took the foreground. My mind could not offer a rationale for the shift – this new way simply took over as the only way to be that did not create misery.
Two years into it I wrote to an acquaintance, author and teacher, Steven Harrison: “It has been a good teacher in that I now know that I don’t have a clue about anything, whereas before I was quite smug about having lots of clues about lots of things. I used to refer grandly to the “Great Mystery.” I think I thought that someone named God was my pet. Or at least that whatever that presence was, I was certainly among its chosen ones. Now I’ve seen the underside of that mystery and have referred often to it as the “fucking Mystery.” I really want to understand, and the more I try, the more I’m sat down on my butt. When I’m present these days it’s not because I’m groovy or have a practice or think it’s a good idea, but because anywhere else is painful.”
He wrote back: “What you described is to me the breakdown of the mythology of life and the emergence of life-as-it-is. . . . From the vantage of the breakdown, it looks dark. From the vantage of the broken-down it looks fresh and full of potential and possibility. This is the beginning of new creativity in which the myth is transparent and perhaps something inherently integrated is possible in the forms we bring about. This is, after all, the creativity that we are born into but conditioned to forget, the creativity that is your daughter, that is life itself. To explore this requires the ongoing abandonment of the known and the attention to the movement of life-as-it-is, which is always new.”
Not by my will, I had left the known and all my strategies for how to keep myself safe and moving forward. It is a feeling of being constantly naked and living by the seat of my pants as I watch life unfold and reveal itself a moment at a time instead of attempting to direct it. I find myself an explorer in the realm of what’s actual, what is here now, outside of the mind’s commentary about it. And outside of any plan for progress, improvement or goal attainment. It’s amazing how simple life has become, and how full and luscious. Transformation happens within me and around me as I give myself to the present and leave the mind’s commentary behind, as something essentially meaningless, like static on a radio.
What I have stumbled upon is the ground of being, who we are essentially, our birthright, and what is true about us in every moment, regardless of circumstance. This reality is Love, surpassing and dissolving all concepts of love – it is an alive, immediate experience of oneness that moves unpredictably and outside of concepts and social conditioning. Instead of something that is given or received, it is a basic fact of existence – not only mine, but existence in its entirety.
I can report on my findings from my explorations and elaborate on my experience of this Love. I can talk about how the past and future have faded as realities from my experience, how my life is pervaded by a sense of contentment, how full of radiance and mystery the moment is, and how this looks in my relationships and in my parenting. But that would move away from what is actual, now, for you, for me. And so what I really want to say is this:
To all those who struggle, to all those who wonder if there is something wrong with them, to all those who do not feel at home, at peace, whole and fine just as you are now, please know: You are Love. Your being is a mystery beyond comprehension. Each moment contains a miraculous myriad of sensations to breathe into and explore. Something greater than this you-with-a-plan is running your life and always has been. Let it have you.
Now that you have moved into my heart,
taken the doors off their hinges and
removed the windows, glass, sash and all,
beggars are coming from everywhere
for your sweet embrace.
The beggars stream in from every direction
walking, running, crawling, rolling and being …carried.
The neighbors have stopped screaming about it.
At first they had plenty to say but after weeks … … and weeks of this
they know there is no helping it.
This is beyond city ordinances.
Soon they will be coming themselves,
dropping rakes, dog leashes, clothespins,
leaving cars running in the street,
for a glimpse of your holy face.
What am I to do but
watch in awe at the blessed variety
… of your creation,
the myriad wounds, the incredible stories,
the way they gather around the door
quivering with the certain knowledge
that finally no one will be turned away,
and stay in the house making meals,
and carrying sheets up and down the stairs.
(c) Copyright 2004, Jeannie Zandi, all rights reserved.
Originally published in The Eldorado Sun, February, 2004.
SOURCE/Ms, Zandi's website: http://jeanniezandi.com/let-it-have-you/
—Click here to buy "Discovering Your Soul Nature "
By showing us who we are and how to live surrendered to what is, nondual wisdom can greatly minimize the suffering that is our common human affliction in a separation-based society. This awareness as a psychotherapist throws a new light on the issues that a client brings to the session room. Even the least “spiritual” client, who may not be interested in esoteric talk of one’s true nature as consciousness, is interested in suffering less, especially in the relationships that matter most. Here, I will explore the difference between the concept of relationship, which is born of conditioning and can only perpetuate the isolation and distress we feel inside of identification with a “me,” and the actual experience of moment-to-moment relating, which is our birthright and an expression of our natural state.
Typically when we speak of relationship in our culture, we are referring to the concept of relationship, to an object. We say “I have a relationship,” or “I’m in a relationship,” “I want a relationship,” or “My relationship sucks.” And we grow up with the promise that if we find the right person and do the right things, that relationship will bring us happiness, joy, fulfillment, belonging and the end of loneliness. We even bring this conditioning into our spiritual mythology as a belief that “manifesting our soul mate” will cause Nirvana to descend upon us.
The only thing that can deliver what we are seeking through relationship is contact with, and an ever-deepening living from, the Real.* Thus relationship, as an object to pursue, acquire, get right and keep, becomes a false god, heaped with the hopes and dreams of our lost connection to our deepest Self. To the extent that the relating between any two people is pressured to deliver on the societal promise, we turn something that is natural and easeful (learning about and enjoying each other, negotiating and appreciating differences) into a stressful attempt to force the actual relating to adhere to an inner ideal so that we are not left feeling the things from which the relationship is supposed to save us. A conditioned relationship gone bad simply becomes a competition to squeeze our sense of our own goodness out of the “other” by getting them to behave in the ways we need them to in order to feel good.
The concept of relationship isn’t simple, like the concept of a ball – something round that we can throw, kick or hit in a game. It is a highly complex set of assumptions, expectations, beliefs, rules, and conditions that are widely shared in our culture, though some variation exists between groups, families and individuals. In addition to the underlying assumptions, which are relatively static, there are dynamic learned strategies we use to attempt to evaluate, correct, solidify and nail down something that is meant to be beyond measurement, alive, changing and unpredictable – everything from pleasing to pouting to spying to working on our “stuff” to be good enough.
This complex conceptual system is largely held unconsciously – we don’t even know that this mutually bought-into system does not reflect reality. In fact, we don’t even realize it’s a conceptual system. And sometimes, neither does the therapist. So the first step a therapist needs to take before offering couples therapy is to examine the conditioned assumptions, expectations, beliefs, rules and conditions, and the accompanying strategies that make up her own complex conceptual box called “relationship.” This is no small feat. The more open, clear and self-knowledgeable the therapist is about these, the freer the space she can offer to clients. (A “couple” is another complex conceptual system, as is a “human being.” Discovering the reality and actuality of what any of these words points to is a fascinating excavation of our true nature.)
In nondual circles we talk a lot about our “conditioning,” but what is it? In psychology, it is “a process of changing behavior by rewarding or punishing a subject each time an act is performed until the subject associates the action with pleasure or distress.” (dictionary.reference.com) What we are left with after the completion of our extensive social conditioning process are large areas where we are unconsciously seeking pleasure or avoiding distress instead of expressing the truth of our being. And despite its occasional and generally short-term benefits (getting pats or avoiding whacks), it turns out the result of this behavior is suffering, as we get further and further away from leading simple, present-centered, truth-filled lives from our natural state, and become more and more unconsciously invested in our pleasure-seeking/distress-avoiding strategies.
We don’t suffer because of our relationships – we suffer because of our disconnection from the Real. And there is nothing better to distract us from the search for the Real than the promise that some object out there is finally going to make us happy. As long as we are living predominantly through unconscious concepts and seeking fulfillment through the acquisition of objects, we are putting our attention on conditioned pseudo-reality versus actual reality, and perpetuating our suffering. Attempting to relate to another human being through one’s relationship concept is a dead-end street in terms of joy, fulfillment and intimacy.
Relationship built on conditioning is not sustainable, transformative, growthful or, in the long run, fun or good for anyone. As we increasingly seek to solidify the other in order to feel good about ourselves, and find ourselves being solidified in order to evoke positivity from our partner, the life goes out of our togetherness. And how could it not? Instead of tending to alive relating, we are seeking to change living, breathing, dynamic expressions of God, and the mysterious space in which we meet, into solid, predictable objects. It can be a relief for couples who come to therapy to realize that they are not failures at applying a wonderful system that works for everyone else, but rather are sane wonderful people who unknowingly have proven through their experience the obsolescence of our conditioned model. They are actually healthy for the fact that they cannot make an insane strategy work on each other, and their seeking for help is more a sign of success than failure.
The complete and utter failure of the conditioned relationship model produces the humility that is a prerequisite to relating from aliveness, just as the utter failure of the “me” model is a prerequisite to relating as a human being from our natural state. So let’s raise a glass to the entry point to true living – total and unmitigated failure! If love is involved, if the two people have discovered something real about their togetherness and kept in touch with it despite their difficulties, that channel for love can be the beckoning glint that leads them further into the cauldron of their own undoing. So you now can see my bias as a spiritual teacher sitting with any two people on these issues – whosoever loves and enters into sustained relating opens the possibility of the death of “me.”
At some point an ethical consideration presents itself – is it fair to foist one’s penchant for dying to God upon one’s clients, when they are simply coming in to save their relationship? I tell people who I sit with that my emphasis is on the truth and alive relating, not on any particular structure of relationship, as the rigidified concept of their “relationship” might actually be what is getting in the way of satisfying relating! If they run screaming from the room, I know they are someone else’s clients. I think each true servant of humanity benefits from discovering and understanding her own approach and the perspective behind it. Ideally this becomes explicit in the counseling room at some point as well. The good news is that the benefit of nondual wisdom is not all about death and dismemberment – to relate simply from the present actually does serve our happiness, it’s just a deeper form than the pleasure-seeking, pain-avoiding happiness on which we were betting the farm.
What does relating look like outside of the concept of relationship? If we allow our beloved dreams to collapse, along with all of our scheming and strategizing to obtain them, and rest here in the moment as clueless not-knowing, what happens to our relationships? What are they? If we check in with every breath to see if what we are saying and doing is in alignment with our highest and deepest truth, what aspects of what we call our relationships will survive and what aspects will need an overhaul? What aspects of what we consider “me” will survive and how much will need to be discarded?
What is it like to function inside a relationship that is an object and what is it like to relate from aliveness and actuality without that concept? What are the rules, the feel, and the quality of each? If you saw a couple of humans relating from the first or the second, what would each look like? We can use the two descriptions not only to understand what I’m trying to convey, but also to see ourselves reflected in these descriptions during a particularly free or a particularly challenged relational moment, and learn something about the place from which we are relating.
The concept of relationship is a noun, an “it.” It’s something to get, to have, to keep, to protect, to tell people about: “I have one.” We are either “in” or “out;” it is either “on” or “off.” This sort of relationship bolsters and supports the “me.” In fact, a “me” is a prerequisite to living inside this sort of relationship, and the relationship can become an ornament on our “me” tree, another trinket that we use to prove that we are somebody. Somebody good! Each aspect of a highly conditioned and complex concept such as relationship has a good side and a bad side, depending on whether we have been conditioned to glean pleasure or distress from it. (In other words, neither “side” actually produces pleasure or distress – it is our conditioning that does so.) So within the conceptual system of relationship, generally if I have one, I’m good. If I don’t have one, I’m bad. If I have a bad one, I’m bad (or my partner is). If I have a good one, I’m good (I’ll take the credit here). It’s going well today, I’m good. It’s not going well today, I’m bad (or my partner is). The reality is our sense of well-being and connection to the Real is not actually predicated upon certain relational configurations, but it seems so within conditioning.
The 360-degree sphere of actual experience (what’s it actually like in this moment for everyone, below thought?) is shrunken down to a finite set of possibilities: good and bad. We are nowhere near the actual experience of the moment – we are too busy evaluating it and scheming about how to get good and safe in the next moment. With each aspect of the relationship concept, there’s a way to be good and a way to be bad, and unconsciously we’re working overtime to be good, which actually obscures our connection to our inherent goodness as being. Once we discover our true being, the whole system of identification that keeps us enslaved to proving our goodness and minimizing our badness, is seen as a ridiculous waste of time. [A short anecdote here – when my daughter was 7, she came home from school and asked, “Mama, what does ‘being fake’ mean?” To which I replied, “That’s when you pretend you are different than you are, or you feel differently than you do, so that people will like you.” She exclaimed with horror, “Why would anyone want to do that!?”]
Alive relating, on the other hand, is a verb, and it requires no maintenance or evaluation. There is nothing to be “in” or “out” of – it just IS and it is like this right now. The quality of the relating in the moment is met, without distancing from it to evaluate it, manipulate it or manage it. The emphasis is not so much on what it means, but on noticing that it is, and deeply receiving/feeling how it is, whatever the flavor. Relating is happening all the time, for your enjoyment or excruciation, courtesy of the Beloved. Within conditioning, we skip over the actual experience of relating in pursuit of the “it” of relationship (getting a good one, making sure it’s going well) because we think that achieving the “it” will get us somewhere good. But any of us who have some years under our belts know that this approach to living doesn’t result in anything but suffering. There’s something wrong with the program, not with you.
In addition to this goodness/badness game of conditioned relationship, there are also tracking systems – it’s important to keep track of who’s good, how good we are, how good we are in relation to this one, how good we are in relation to that one, and who owes whom. We move toward the ones who make us feel good and away from the ones who make us feel bad. Again, our relating in this case is steered by the unconscious habit to seek pleasure and avoid distress, not by the truth. When we are conscious of this dynamic, we can willingly move toward pain and move through it, so as to start to develop a wider view of the possibilities in any moment. When our vision has shrunk to see only good and bad, only short-term pleasure and pain, unconsciously we will move toward trying to get good every time, ignoring reality and possibility, like rats in a maze.
Relating through a concept has fear as its motivational energy, whereas relating from actuality is based on love. Where conditioning lives, unconscious fear lives too. In the absence of conditioning, love and freedom reign. In fear-based me-centric relationship, our questions are, “How does this serve me?” and “What’s safe?” In alive relating, our questions are, “How does this serve God?” and “What’s true?”
Within the paradigm of relationship as concept or as an ”it,” I need one to give me love and connection. If I have one, I’ll have love. If I behave properly inside of one, I’ll have love. If you behave properly inside of it, I’ll have love. So I need it and I need to control it, so that I have the good stuff. When we are in this sort of acquire-and-protect mode it has the feel of going and getting something, of working to get it, to secure it, to nail it down. This sort of togetherness is based on an underlying sense of lack and the need for control in order to guarantee love’s supply. It requires at least one project manager, as we try to control things so our comfort is maximized, shutting down pieces of ourselves as necessary. The project needs to be managed closely because if we did not stay on top of it, where would we be?
In alive relating, I am love, I am connectedness itself, and the fact of love’s abundance is clear from the bubbling fountain of my being. From alive relating and resting in the Real, it’s completely ludicrous to think that love comes from the outside. Pats and kind words are nice, but our bread and butter come from within. In alive relating, the sense is, the Holy has it handled. So there is a giving over of anticipation, management, and figuring it out, for this right here. Maybe it will end, maybe it won’t end, maybe you’ll like me today, and maybe you won’t – no management, just a meeting of what is. Alive relating invites a settling into the now, a settling into what we are, whatever the feel of it is in this moment.
In the concept of relationship, separation reigns and objects seem very solid. So there’s “me” and there’s “you” and there’s “the relationship.” There are other discrete objects too, those who might threaten it, those who might take us away from it. In alive relating, objects disappear as the background becomes the foreground. Mistrust is met as it rises and dissolves as we rest as vibrating Being. Objects become almost transparent, like waves. There’s a sense of a you and a me, but what’s really primary is this vibrating field, this alive moment, to which everyone belongs.
Inside the relationship concept, you are a solid, predictable object, or at least you should be. Don’t surprise me, because a “me” doesn’t like to feel out of control, and I’ll blame those feelings on you for misbehaving. When I come home, be home. When I say “I love you,” say “I love you” back. Don’t leave me out here in the sea without a paddle. You are my reassurance object, my reference point for my safety and you owe it to me to be that, according to the rules of the relationship concept. The primary relating here is between conceptual images, and the alive flow of life is mistrusted and seen as a potential threat to the relationship. The unknown is seen as dangerous and thus filled in with identification, definition and meaning. Authentic impulses are seen as suspicious, potentially leading to the dissolution of the status quo, and therefore are ignored or downright discouraged, as we take solace in our predictable, defined togetherness. Our focus is on how we need to be for the other to feel good and loved, or how we need our partner to be so we feel that way.
Within alive relating, you are an ever-changing miracle, and so am I. You are a wonder! An unpredictable, wild force of nature, and I love you to be that, because I love actuality. I am not demanding anything of you because I see you as a gift to cherish and enjoy, a free being whose truth and path are not mine with which to meddle. The primary relationship (if we can even call it that, as the sense of “two” dissolves) is between emptiness and the flow of experience. There is a trust and love of the flow, and a sense that the unknown is enlivening. Emphasis goes to what is happening now, whether it brings pleasure or causes distress, because we’re here for it, we love the truth, the actual flowing moment! We are both expressions of this flow. When we are dropped in and dissolved in this, the feeling is that everything is alive and new, nothing is ever the same. Authentic impulses are celebrated, made room for, as possibilities for each of us and our togetherness expand. This sort of relating can dismantle what’s left of the clinging “me.” Our focus is on blessing and freeing the other to be the unique, organic, authentic expression that they are, leaving identification behind.
In the concept of relationship, time is important. Our relationship has a past and a future. Our past becomes very important either as a wellspring of inspiration [“Remember how in love we were?”], material for identification [“We’ve been married 56 years, longer than anyone we know!”], or as a database to draw upon when cross-blaming [“Well, why should you be mad at me for being attracted to him, you were attracted to her!”]. Our future as well becomes very important – we need constant reassurance that we have one together, to plug up our great fear of the unknown and unpredictable nature of being alive, and to cheer us up with promises of trips and goals that distract us from our current suffering.
In relating, past and future fade and there is only the timeless immediacy of now. There’s just this. Right here. All our eggs are in the basket of the present, not in saving anything for later but in fully experiencing this. Memories from the past, whether pleasant or unpleasant, are met as they arise, when they arise, without fishing for them or using them to bolster good-me-ness. Thoughts of the future are traded in for a complete immersion in the trust of the flow, no matter where it leads or how it feels.
Within the relationship concept, the structure and agreements of our partnership come from socially conditioned and unconsciously held rules and agreements, and these are seen as a standard that “everyone knows.” These rigid rules and agreements are imposed like a template upon actuality rather than rising from it, and deviating from them (or wanting to) is seen as not loving the other or somehow betraying the relationship.
The creative structure that arises through alive relating is birthed out of what’s alive and organically enduring for these two unique beings. Contrary to belief, there is structure in God’s country – the Holy builds mountains that last eons and cells that are perfect for their function. The structure here rises out of what is, rather than being imposed on it. It is mutual, conscious, unique and revisable. When the structure of relating is built from moment-to-moment abidance in the truth, it is a gift, but a gift that must be subject to new bulletins from the Holy in each moment. Conscious agreements are forged as long as they are alive, mutual, and born of these unique beings at this time [rather than from rigid definitions of “should”], and they form what we are together. Rather than relying on rigid rules to make sure things go well, we trust in our mutual integrity and respect, and our ability to stay in touch with each other in an ongoing way. Sadly, most of our relational structures are built from unconscious encrusted ideas that we are trying to cram living, breathing beings into, rather than from Divine Will – and so turn out to be deadening prison cells.
Inside the concept of relationship, our idea of commitment is to a person and to an unconscious and rigidified form of relationship with that person. We make efforts to preserve the structure and adhere to it, and follow its rules, as proof of our love. The commitment from within alive relating is to the authentic expression of our highest and most tender Self, and regard for all beings is included in that – a strict adherence to what is true for us is combined with a constant awareness of the sensitive heart of the other.
One caveat – the concepts that rise out of talk of nonduality and freedom can be used to justify all kinds of shoddy behavior in relationship. In the name of “no structure” we can be running a pattern of fear of intimacy. In the name of our “freedom,” we can demand our narcissistic right to do whatever we want regardless of the effect on another. It is important that we explore the bounds and possibilities of relating with people who share our own depth of integrity, self-responsibility and purity of intention.
To journey from living within conditioning to living free is to land here, now, dropping everything and noticing what is. It is the willingness to look, see and become aware of how conditioned complexes operate within our energetic systems, to take responsibility for them, and to find the infinite possibilities that lie outside their walls of right and wrong, good and bad. It is to have passion for self-knowledge, a thirst for drinking the pure, clean water of our own authentic expression. It is to find support for the things we have to face as we drop our conditioned patterns (they were born of pain and it’s pain we’ll get to feel as we stop using them to cope) and open to a radical vulnerability in the moment. It is to free every human being we come in contact with to be who they are and to feel whatever in us has difficulty with that. When things get confusing, it is to find sources of clarity in those who have carved out areas of sanity in themselves. And by being a pioneer in her own discovery of Self-in-relating, the nondual therapist can become such a source of clarity, and a torchbearer for others.
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--Sacred Heart by Cristie Henry
Go sweep out the chamber of your heart.
Make it ready to be the dwelling place of the Beloved.
— Mahmud Shabistari, 13th-century Sufi
When I was 10, I was in love with Miss Walker. After a series of wrinkly and stern grandma types who had been teaching for decades, in fourth grade there was twenty-something Miss Walker. Miss Walker at the chalkboard. Miss Walker in short skirts that showed her beautiful legs, Miss Walker with her electric-curler-created brown curls bouncing as she walked briskly down the hall. I would sign her name as if it was mine: Miss Nancy J. Walker. It was the first year I got straight As, and that was out of my deep adoration which demanded expression — I wanted to give something to she who seemed to lack nothing.
According to the dictionary, to adore is to “worship as God or a god” from the Latin adorare, which means “to pray to.” It is a deep, often rapturous regard that pours from the heart without concern for social custom or convention and, in its pure form, looks for nothing for itself but to love and pay homage to the beloved.
For the 13th-century mystic and poet Rumi, the adoration of his beloved teacher Shams of Tabriz led him into the wilderness of his heart, taking him through the depths of its dark pockets of longing and pain, and ultimately opening into the wide vista of his love for God and for all that is. The human heart, hung heavy with disappointments and sorrows, complete with sealed-off passages and hidden lonely caverns, longs to be known, to express itself fully in this world. It desires to bring the love that we are, beneath our accumulated pain and confusion, to this earthly plane through our eyes and our hands. For some, the yearning to live as love is so acute that there is no other choice but to travel this seemingly dangerous road of Rumi.
Traveling this road may mean wholeheartedly devoting one’s life to knowing the oneness of God. For others, it may mean a simple practice of allowing what we feel to be experienced and touched, without distraction or minimization so that we may come to know the depths of who we are. The shining truth and beauty of our hearts leaping at the sights or sounds that touch us can act as a tractor beam, drawing us onward as we explore and touch every desolate corner that stands between us and our inner beloved, and therefore also between us and all of creation.
In India, ashrams exist where a pilgrim can fall completely in love with an embodiment of God and seek shelter and solace in the haven of regular food, regular lodging and regular contact with the beloved while undertaking the heart’s journey. Given that the teacher is one of integrity and clarity, he/she can hold a space for temporarily allowing the devotee to see the teacher as God on the way to knowing him- or herself as God. The guru holds the space for the exploration of the longing, desperation, self-loathing, doubt and sorrow that come from living a human life. This way is revered in India, so a God-crazed love dog is generally treated by others within and without the ashram with tenderness and understanding.
The following poem by Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks, sheds light on the idea of a love dog:
One night a man was crying,
His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said,
”So! I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”
The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of the souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
”Why did you stop praising?”
”Because I never heard anything back.”
”This longing you express is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of the dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.
Give your life
to be one of them.
In our country, it is rare to find a circle where this tenderness and understanding are extended to one who deeply hungers for God and expresses it through great devotion, nor are there many socially accepted containers for traveling the path of adoration all the way to its end. We Americans tend to sexualize all adoration (that is, assume that it must be sexual), becoming suspicious of the man who adores the girl, the woman who adores the woman, the man who adores the man, etc. Gurus are widely suspected, seen as megalomaniacs or manipulators, and their followers are viewed as naive sheep. (This is not to say that there aren’t examples of men who adore girls that we should be suspicious of or gurus who are megalomaniacs.) The only widely accepted forms for expressing adoration are within a heterosexual couple or between parents/grandparents and children. The therapist/client relationship can also be an accepted container for this adoration to flourish and find its true home in the client’s own heart.
I remember the first teacher I met who allowed others to praise him and it felt clean. He came from a tradition in India, though he was American, and devotees were encouraged to write him poetry, to extol his virtues, and as far as I could tell, he was simply standing in for the Holy while we sang the reverence that was in our hearts. How wonderful to let loose the devotion I had felt for so many, but had held inside out of fear of being laughed at, rejected or rushed to bed, or used to fill someone else’s bottomless pit. For most, our egos are so hungry for validation that we can’t hold space for another to adore us — we are too interested in it, too starved for it ourselves to invite and hold space for its expression. We think it means something, and something about us, rather than seeing it as the natural expression of the holy through a human being.
The heart ideally needs a laboratory, in a sense, in its rocky course toward freedom, where many conditions are held consistent, such as (a) the adored and the one who is adoring are mutually aware of the holy context — in other words, that this is about God, and the adored holds that container if the adoring one gets confused; (b) the adored is willing to stay with the process (as opposed to lovers who sometimes leave); (c) the adored does not contaminate the container with his or her own personal needs; (d) the adoration doesn’t lead to anything concrete happening in the everyday world (such as dating, marriage, etc.); and (e) the adored is able (because he/she knows the territory) and willing (because he/she loves attending the birth of light) to witness and offer company through the gnarly parts of the journey without freaking out. Then the longing heart is free to adore, drool, blither, blather, be foolish; try its hand at poetry, at praising, at singing; descend into deep sorrow, feel jealous, try its wings.
Most of us know what it’s like to adore the average human and how much space he or she has for all of this. We have a certain amount of adoration we can tolerate before our “stuff” comes up, and we want to shoo the loving fan away, make fun of them, be mean to them, assume they are lying, assume they don’t know us, assume it’s all about us, assume perhaps the person is not “right” for us, etc. The task requires someone who has carved out her/his own heart to have space for another to play, and for that someone to create and maintain a clear laboratory for the exploration to proceed untainted.
Though we may not be aware of it at the time, when we are adoring another human being we are seeing God reflected in an earthly face, and our hearts call to plumb their depths. What we adore is the reflection of our own divine inner beauty — in a landscape, a flower, a serene face, a gentle manner. When we allow ourselves to adore, we become acquainted with the depths of our own hearts, allow ourselves to approach the grandeur within our own selves, and realize ourselves as love. When our hearts are still cluttered with old pain and fear, love moves only where it seems safe to move, only under certain conditions. The swept-clean heart is an indiscriminate lover: its nature is to love. It loves in every direction; it is love. It knows itself as love, and its joy is to love. It no longer is seeking fulfillment from the outside, looking with hungry eyes toward the false gods through which it was promised fulfillment. Instead, it has burrowed down through the rubble to the fresh wellspring of the Source and drinks there, overflowing outward.
What if we let ourselves love what we love? What if, at least within the privacy of our own solitude, we let ourselves notice what we adore? We have deadened ourselves out of not knowing what to do with the wealth of feelings inside. I recently met with a man in my travels who realized he unconsciously had stopped noticing that half the human race was made up of women. For him, acknowledging the presence of females almost always had ended in disappointment, discouragement, desperation and longing, and so on a subconscious level he had given it up. No wonder so many men gaze at images of women in the privacy of their own solitude: exposing that vulnerability to another human being even in the best of conditions can feel daunting, never mind the possibility of freshly eliciting scorn, fear or the unloading of years of a woman’s pain.
The simple invitation I gave this man was to walk around and notice that some people are women and to feel whatever was there. The point was not for him to get a woman, which is what men are taught will bring them salvation. The point was for him to reclaim the wilds of his own heart, to touch and explore them, and to return to a place where no woman could rival the internal love affair between him and his Source. Then we drink from our own inner spring, and relationship becomes a celebration of that rather than yet another attempt to squeeze a drop of love out of an external source that never will satisfy like the inner one.
When we adore, we tend to measure ourselves against our projected deity and we come up short. We are human, wanting, full of flaws, life-size, and the adored one seems larger than life. If we take the whole journey to reclaim our divinity, this is a temporary condition: painting our own holiness on another. Often, instead of honoring this opportunity to feel reverence and experience what is touched in our hearts, many of us use this flooding of insecurity to flee. Until the last decade, if I was attracted to someone, my strategy was to look at that person as little as possible and bury any sign of my attraction. What if the intensity of my adoration was seen, and right alongside, the squirming and writhing intensity of my self-loathing? What if the person decided it was something in particular — sexual attraction or an interest in dating or a supply to fill the black hole within — before I myself had the opportunity and space to explore it? It was better to stay safe and below the radar, doing damage control on those feelings, right?
Yet the key to plumbing the whole depth of the heart is precisely to dare to walk through this uncharted territory of squirmy things that rise when our hearts are drawn out beyond where we can maintain our cool. For many of us, that territory is gnarly enough to hobble us to the point of hiding forever, resulting in crowds of people walking around trying not to notice the beauty of their neighbors — throngs of hearts in hiding. However, the journey through this wild land is precisely what lets our hearts sing on this sweet Earth.
We can notice where we are drawn, where we love, consenting to have whatever feelings that come with it flood our bodies as we sit with them and let them sift and work themselves out. This willingness washes our hearts little by little until the full blaze that knows no fear is reclaimed, and we walk this Earth as love instead of looking for it. As Hafiz (translated by Daniel Ladinsky) writes, “Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye that is always saying, with that sweet moon language, what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?”
(c) Copyright 2007, Jeannie Zandi, all rights reserved.
Originally published in The Eldorado Sun, November, 2007.
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While your eyes are closed, I want to invite you to let your whole body soften. Let your attention sink into your felt experience. You might take a few long breaths. Focusing on the exhale, just to let the whole body settle. And gentle. Noticing the weight of the body sinking into your chair, into the earth. Letting your root soften open to the earth, as much as it can. Letting your belly be fat. Inviting the solar plexus to soften with breath. The heart to soften. The hands. The face. Let every expression just droop off of your face. Just here. Softy. Letting breath travel around your body. Softening as it goes. Softening all around the things that are tight, letting them be here. Letting them float along in our soft pool of being. Little nuggets of tenseness floating in this soup of being. And this is the voice of yin. The voice that invites softening, the voice that invites sinking, the voice that invites receptivity, availability. The voice that calls us to soften and dissolve. Give into gravity.
In that dark privacy of having your eyes closed, I want to invite you to imagine that you are surrounded by the walls of a womb, so this darkness is a fluid inside of a womb and you float there. Nothing you have to do. Held in every direction by warmth, by protection, by space, receptive, love-filled space. And I invite you to imagine that you aren’t formed yet, that you are tiny. A tiny cord of light from your bellybutton to the heart of Holy yin at the center of everything, tracking you, tethering you. As you float in sweet, warm, dark. No harm, no harshness. Nothing to protect from. Nothing to do. And softening open.
When I first put my new baby into a bath in a candlelit room, she unfurled herself in the water. And so that’s my invitation: an unfurling, an uncurling, an unwinding. Like a fern unwinding. Like a flower blooming open, falling open, sinking open, softening. And whatever it is that you are experiencing in response to my words is just perfect. The words are meant to evoke your experience, not for you to have to completely mimic what I’m saying. Because the call to yin, the call to soften, the call to open, the call to melt into the unity of all things will potentially bring up arguments with that. And they are welcome. Fear is welcome. Tightening is welcome. Holding on is welcome. Numbness is welcome. These are all love’s children. All blessedly welcome to float in the same womb of being held.
I would invite you as you float there, to notice your weightlessness. To imagine warmth. To imagine a kind of attentive holding, not a left-alone holding, but an embracing holding. By an intelligent heart that knows you, blesses you. Stands sentry for you while you float and unfurl. Really letting every struggle be given over to this water. Everything you carry, for the moment allowing it to float. And I want to invite you to imagine that every cell in your tiny floating body has its mouth open, its heart open, its arms open, soaking up the ions of love in the fluid. You are in a brine, marinating in a brine of love pickling. Let the aliveness you feel in the flesh of your body be that charged water coming into your cells, blessing you. Just soaked. I invite you to soak. To even let the gentleness in my voice into your cells. Softening, softening, softening, softening, open.
Receiving. Like the ground receives the rain. Soaking. Like the open flower receives the sunlight. Soaking, absorbing, filling. Uncurling your tiny fingers.
Space. Water. Darkness. Dissolving, yielding, softening, gentling. Taking in Nourishment. Protected by this womb that surrounds you from anything that is not utterly nourishing and made just for you. Just for you, the temperature, the weightlessness, the size of the womb, the love that you are soaking in. For you. Tailored to you. So that there’s nothing you have to do, but absorb. And you might consider in your posture as you sit there or lie there to open your hands or tip back your face. Like let the body be as an open cup. And please be so tender, so patient with yourself, whatever experience you’re having. Slowness. Patience. Space. Abiding. Merging.
We lose touch with yin to the extent that our environment doesn’t nourish and feed us in just the right way. When we have to protect against things, when we have to lean out our effort further than what’s easy as young beings to get something that we need. We leave the yin rest. And we learn not to trust yin. When there’s no company to soften open again in our tears, in our trusting, we forget yin and we harden. And we create a kind of rigid strength, shielding ourselves, and pushing ourselves.
Yin is healing, deep, deep healing. The waters of yin, of rest, of death, of gravity, call us down and call us open. To be rocked, to be renewed, to rest. For some of us the closest we get to yin is exhaustion, and we will finally stop, and we will finally soften when we have run the active aspect of ourselves, until we run ourselves into the ground. And if you notice any exhaustion in your body right now, I want to invite you to really tune into it, the feel of heaviness. Let yourself not hold anything up. Let yourself really just float. A core part of what I teach is the restoration of yin, of being, of softening, of sinking to zero, to inactivity, to receptivity. And as much as I can talk about it, to talk to you from it, to talk to you from tenderness, to talk to you from stillness, to talk to you from resting, from dissolution, to me is far more instructive than anything we could read. That you could feel in your body a softening, a mercy, a warm touch of loving company, an invitation out of alienation into a sweet welcoming embrace that needs nothing from you. And that you could be energetically rocked in that.
We need to know that someone has our back, that someone has the door, that someone has the yang aspect covered so that we can soften open. We need to be able to lean into another being’s energy, whether it’s a tree or a human being, and feel that place where we feel weak, feel soft, feel like a flower petal, like a slender waif, to lean into something solid. And I would invite you to feel the walls of this womb solid, solid for you. So that you are not going to be dropped, you are not going to be poked, you are not going to be left, you are not going to be forgotten, but held in such conscious, deep, tender regard. Love it.
There is a sweetness to softening, to tenderizing. A relaxation, this is in a way, the first level of coming out of a grip, coming out of an over-yang position of rigidity and over-activity. And just to ease the system to soften is no small thing in this culture. Sometimes we need help: massage, cranial-sacral, being floated in a hot spring, a cozy bed, a heavy fuzzy cat, someone to hold us, a conscious, sinking our felt experience into every inch of our bodies. Tears soften, shaking the fear out of the body softens. And this act, that is bodily, to soften, can be reflected inside, and the physical act of softening is just a metaphor for the entire apparatus of the human doing to soften open into being. To soften and dissolve in unity, in our mother so to speak. And as we soften, deeper and deeper, I invite you to soften your organs. Invite your organs to soften, your heart, your liver, your stomach, your intestines, your kidneys. Let them all soften. Our body becomes energetically porous. And then the exchange with the energies we are surrounded by can resume. The Holy can find us and soak our bodies in Love. You can even picture each of your organs being rocked in the arms of a Beloved. Your heart rocked and sung to, your belly, to soften out of the grip of fear and harshness into a reflection of Beloved-ness, of preciousness.
We need yang, we need strength, we need the capacity to act and to move. To stand for things. But we need that to grow out of this yin base, the ground of being. So that when yang is gathered up, it’s gathered up like sparkling energies from the roots of a tree, rising from this great ground of being, tiny roots through the whole body collecting Divine energy, so that it might travel up the roots into our bodies and express itself as clear, zeroed action. And I hesitate to even talk much about that because we have so much overdue yin homework. So much softening to do, so much uncurling to do. So much finding the ground, finding safety, finding what’s dependable, finding what’s simple, finding zero. Reclaiming being.
Yin by nature is utterly present. The minute that our attention moves ahead of just here, the body starts to tighten. Something starts to assert itself and tighten. And so in this softening, in this call to return here, soft, open, I am calling you to yin. I am calling you to dissolve in this amniotic fluid of the Beloved that you are surrounded by. To give yourself back, to return whatever you have built, whatever you think you are, whatever has formed, to the dissolving sweetness of this darkness.
Some of you have heard this story and some of you have not. It’s a yin dream that I had, and it was clearly for all of us. I was in the basement of, some of you know Tecumseh, in the dream I was in the basement of her house where I have given some events. I was in a room that was black, pitch black. And I was meditating so to speak. I was dissolved in this blackness. I was sitting in stillness with my eyes open just dissolved in this luminous beautiful darkness, floating, no thought to any action, just dissolved and blissful. And I heard Tecumseh up on the landing. There was a landing halfway up to the upstairs in this dream, and she was there with a professor and his wife, who were very dear to her. They were old and wise, very dear to her. And my love for her had me leave the darkness to meet these people. She wanted me to meet these people and so I started to ascend the stairs, my eyes still focused as though in the dark. And so I couldn’t see, all I could see was darkness. My pupils were so dilated and I was still looking into that beautiful dark as I walked.
And as I walked up the stairs I thought, “Well, surely my eyes will become accustomed to the light, so that when I meet them, there is someone-ness here to meet them. I will be able to see them. I will have enough of an active principle to meet them.” But as I went up the stairs, my pupils didn’t narrow. They stayed absolutely widely dilated. I stayed absolutely blind, just looking into the darkness. Utterly receptive. Not even the yang of a personhood, not even the yang of sight. I couldn’t see outward. Just this huge, my eyes were like a huge threshold into the dark, and this is how I met these people at the landing. I met them, I held their hands. They could look into me. I was darkness, I could not look out. I was looking into darkness.
And there was a sense in the dream, and it is my experience that, it’s time for this level of receptivity, of blissful dissolution in the dark Beloved. It is time for it to re-enter from the basement up to the landing where the front door is, to meet people as no one, as nothing, as darkness, as utter receptivity.
And the only thing that helps us to feel strong enough, protected enough, safe enough to show ourselves in this yin, is the Holy, is the embodiment of the Holy, is the reclaiming of Holy ground, of Holy breath, of Holy love infiltrating every cell of the body, to return to the places that are crying out in us, and to bring the Holy’s tenderness there. Whether we borrow another being or a tree to seek out every tight fist that lives inside of us and let it feel ground and let it feel warmth and let it feel a regard that lets it know it’s precious, it’s safe, it’s wanted, it’s lovely, it’s alright. It’s alright to come out.
And yin has this beautiful capacity to tailor itself to the needs of a particular moment, a particular creature in a particular moment. And so this is the beauty of the healing property of yin is that it will leave nothing behind. It will require nothing to leap over or out of its developmental cocoon or womb until it’s fully formed and drops out on its own accord. This deep, deep, organic wisdom is the domain of yin. So that everything is seen without judgment, whether it’s just born on wobbly legs, learning and loud, and extra awkward in its teenagerhood, fully formed, aging, rotting, falling to the ground, or utterly still as a seed.
Yin and yang are meant to be dancing, like they are in that beautiful Asian image of the black Yin and the white Yang, with an eye of each other’s color, spinning. But first yin. First Yin. When a being is born, it’s first yin. For nine months, it rests in dark liquid, resting, resting, being. Not a single active thing required of it. First yin. And for any of the places that we want to reclaim our strength or our capacities, first yin. We fall to the ground, we find our ground there, our no-one-ness there. We’re rocked and dissolved, and allowed simply to be. So that things can be birthed through us and strengthened through us.
Yin absolutely needs her partner yang in a human being. Because we have not had a balance or been held in a balance, our beautiful receptivity feels like something that we can’t show. And instead of an active, empowered, charged, alive and nourished receptivity, instead we have passivity or we have exhaustion. And then instead of a beautiful strength that serves this deep knowing and this deep being and this deep surrender and connectedness, we have fear-based action, we have action that preempts this beautiful organic flow of things. And we have a rigidity inside of our bodies in the place of strength. I want to invite you as you soften here to keep sinking and if you notice any place that’s numb, any place that’s held tightly, I want to invite you to surround it with an imaginary womb. Surround it with tender, dark, holding embrace. Let it float there as it is. No harm.
I had a meeting today with someone who wants me to take on a certain role in relation to a conference and co-facilitate with someone who I don’t know, who’s a man. I am percolating on this invitation. But in speaking what rose for me there, there was this beautiful exposition about how yin requires protection and authority granted to her for her gifts to be given. And part of the maturing of yin, because at first yin is something that has no words, it’s something that we are barely aware of because in our culture it’s largely, we’re largely encouraged away from it and so we can have gut feelings, we can hear someone else speak something and say, “Yes, that’s it!” But when yin is newborn or young, it doesn’t have words yet. And this way that words come to yin and it starts to become conscious and able to be expressed, is a really vital part of stepping into an integrated being here.
And in most situations, I notice in the yin aspect of my role, a container is set. A yang container is set for the yin to appear, and the yin to open, and the yin to download its energy from a kind of open portal to the whole. So if you could imagine the pupil of an eye or the heart of a flower opening, opening, opening, being this utter soft portal and sweetness pouring through there. That power, it’s a raw power, the raw power of life. It’s the raw power of love. It’s deeply Transformational. It’s deeply challenging for beings who are frightened of the gap. If it is not carried with a kind of an awareness and a respect and a wisdom, imbalances, harm, disruptions can occur. To open the high beams in an environment where that hasn’t been invited, either explicitly or energetically, is potentially to drop a catalyst into an unpredictable wilderness. So I notice that the way that yin moves here is that it has a certain requirement of containment in order to even bother. And many of you can see the various aspects of containment that are involved in this work. The way that we quiet ourselves at the beginning of things, the way that there’s a guided meditation to invite people to soften. The way that these things aren’t drop-in, and they aren’t open to anyone, and they have a certain start time —this is all to create a cup within which yin can be glorified for all of us, to come through all of us as portals.
And so it was very sweet to be of this age…when I was 25, I didn’t really know what yin was. When I was 35 I had some ideas. In my younger life, I might not have been able to say, “If you would like me to show up in this kind of role, I need to know that I have the authority, the respect, the support, to lead from the heart of softness.” Because the heart of softness does not compete with loud things. It does not argue with arguments. It simply will fold up its circus tent and go where it’s invited. And this is why the heart of spirituality is a heart of surrendering, not a heart of accomplishing. That in its essence, being is yin.
(Pause.) It wanted me to pause for itself there so it could assert its yin-ness. You see if we don’t have a bit of awareness about the beauty of yin, we will miss the way that it peeks out of the cave and spills its light. If we are looking for objects, if we are looking for discrete things, for actions, for content, for stuff, for reference points, we will miss the energetic, quiet revealing of yin in a child’s face, in a loved one who is about to tell us something vulnerable. In a quiet moment.
I remember my daughter when she was young, her most wise utterances would be preceded by a kind of a yin silence. You could feel the energy of it. She got very quiet, she got very sparkly and deep in her eyes, and there would be this quiet. Like you would want to whisper. You would know that church was starting. And then she would say something from that depth, as though it was just born from the depths. And the earth needs beings who can feel, see, know, and embody yin, being, the vibration of things, the sea of things. Even before things are born they arrive as energies. And when we are softened open, we can feel these energies and we can step into them, step away from them, direct them, redirect them for the good of the whole.
The whole way that I teach, I should say the whole way that I speak because there are yang aspects to this teaching. But the whole way that I speak, that I deliver through this portal of my being something for us, is yin. I have no preconceived thought. I give everything that I am to the dissolving waters of the moment, allow it to reclaim every cell of this body. Turn it into a soft, open, downloading station and if it has nothing for me, if it has no words, so be it, no words. If it has outrageous words, so be it, outrageous words. If it takes an hour to give birth to the beauty that it has prepared, so be it. And what’s beautiful is that in between the bits of content and actually sewn throughout, but in between when there is a pause, the dark looks out. The dark invites you into your own depth. The dark invites the things that are scared of the dark to talk to it, to cry to it, to be seen, and embraced and welcomed back.
I would invite you, if you like, to gaze at me with your eyes looking into my eyes. But I want to invite you to have your felt experience be paramount so that your eyes are soft and relaxed and your attention is buried in your felt experience. What happens then is that it invites the eyes to be receptive, to receive. So you can feel your breath, your weight, the vibration in the body. And let the eyes be soft, let them not be focused hard, but just kind of receiving. Imagine the world falling into your eyes, falling into your heart, and let my words fall into your heart. Let this energy fall into you. This way we meet each other as being, as emissaries, wide, open portals of the Beloved’s love. This is to me the most beautiful thing about yin. The dark, yielding openness charged with love. Anything that’s brought before it is blessed. And you can play with grounding, feeling weight, feeling your feet on the floor, opening your root. Softening the body. It’s sweet here because I’m just on a screen, and so it’s all the more safe. For just simply being in the privacy of your own nest there where you are, letting the body soften and if it’s numb or if it’s tight, just bring some womb to it. Soften all around it. Let it be here. We have been terrorized, many of us have been brutalized and terrorized in this softest of places. Softening. Being here together. No harm. Warmth. Embrace. Invitation. Goodness. Love. Quiet.
What if our planet, and the planets of our solar system, and all of the stars and the planets that we can see, are held in a dark womb? I would invite you again to picture every cell in your body like a mouth or an open hand, drinking, drinking the quiet, drinking the tenderness. And I would invite you to use my eyes with anything in you that has forgotten that it’s precious. Let it look at me. Let it look at me in the safety of your own nest. Let it show itself with only tenderness to greet it. And feel free if you are just rocking the dark yin right now to just join me here. That we would be a single field of invitation and embrace to whatever has hidden, whatever has been banished. Among us and among anyone who is called to utilize this energy, this energy of loving emptiness to reveal itself, welcome. Welcome to the dark, deep, womb heart of the Beloved: travelers, aliens, derelicts, homeless, desperate, in pain, terrified, agonized, stalked, raw, helpless.
From the heart of the universe, there, there, precious children. We are all her children.
The more aware we become, the more sensitized and softened we get, the more we see how harsh we are, and it kills us. We don’t want to look at it, nor the pain underneath. And if we’re lucky, this slowing down crucifies us on our humanness, and we have to howl and open, open to the love that we are.
Nobody wants to go into these places where things are gristly, unkempt, unresolved, bedsprings sticking out all over, you know, where gum sticks to our shoe. You’ll notice that everything inside says “Get out, solve it, quick hide, do something!” And if it’s a really good one, everything outside is saying that too, where the walls themselves are reverberating with “Danger, danger Will Robinson! Don’t feel THAT! Get outta there!”
I love to sail in there and have us all take one long slow breath, and let the sunshine of Presence in. If we slow it all down, this is the place where we have to feel the very thing that the spiritual path was supposed to eliminate, the very heart of separation: something here deserves to be banished.
These places are not places to get away from. That’s just what’s in there from the moment we got overwhelmed and instead of staying open and breathing, we had to shut down and start to cope in separation. We had to flee. And this whole emphasis on getting perfect and getting better and on “some day when all my shit is gone” is not where it’s at–it’s a fantasy. Freedom doesn’t happen because we get perfect; freedom happens because we so utterly embrace what’s here, exactly as it is.
I don’t care if we call it my shit, your shit, their shit–it’s OUR shit. As long as any one of us believes we’re shit, that’s OUR shit. And the most hilarious part is that every one of these ones that appears to be locked in a jail cell is just another face of God. Here’s God, pretending she’s locked in a jail cell–feels really real, can’t get out of it with just that insight. We have to climb down the stairs, get on our knees into the black gook with that face of God like she is our very own self and kiss her on the mouth or we’re not free there. It’s the embodied part of the paradox. You either kiss everything or you don’t, and you can’t fake it.
I invite you to bring mercy to your body, to this interesting vehicle of embodiment, this amazing instrument of openness that’s been so harshed on. First by the outside and then we take over and mimic it. When we rest our hand on a place in our body that is in pain or tense, we put our hand on the whole of humanity. The whole body of humanity needs to hear the message from Presence, “It’s all right, it’s all right.” The message that is delivered in the moment, through the air, through the feel, through weight of your body in the chair, this benevolence here, right now. Not a fancy benevolence, a very basic, simple, is-ness.
There isn’t anything in creation that is not the body of the holy. There isn’t any difference between putting your hands on your flesh and putting your hands into God’s heart. There is nothing here but this, and there is nothing to hate or love but this. It’s not there’s the body and there’s the spirit and there’s this and there’s that. It is just one collage of holiness. Anything you hate or turn away from becomes your jail cell of separation. And so that hate and the feel of it has to be directly met, the feel of the killer in yourself, the feel of the curser in yourself. We’re so conditioned not even to notice it in our tones as we curse ourselves, as we curse objects, people. The feel of separation is one of tremendous harshness, tremendous casting out, and we’ve gotten used to that as a culture–that’s how we converse with each other, that’s how we treat each other on the road, that’s how we treat our bodies. We are all looking for a justifiable place to land this hate rather than actually turning around and feeling the harsh edge of it as it lives in us.
It’s like when Jesus said, “Forgive them father they know not what they do.” Our conditioning has it so that we are absolutely unaware of what we carry and what we perpetrate because we don’t know what we carry and we’re not conscious when we’re perpetrating. Those guys nailing Jesus to the cross had no idea they were doing wrong. So numb, and so appropriate an enemy—they probably felt like they were doing good, every hammer strike, sending the bad person away. And there’s probably no where that we are so harsh as on our own flesh, driving ourselves, denying ourselves, denying ourselves breath, pause, rest, time outside the incessant wheel of the mind. And it’s not like we can be blamed for it, we’ve been trained well. So first we just get to notice that we have a pet, a very dear loyal pet, that cries out in various ways we call suffering. Let our attention go to its cries, let it move the way it wants to, be kind to it. Just to notice that and drop out of the mind in this culture is revolutionary.
There is nothing between you and I. My heart is tenderized to the extent that when your pain rises, I feel it in my chest, and there’s simply this love that doesn’t have a two. Because that extra one, that ‘me’ and ‘mine’, is over, it went when the will was broken by life’s refusal to do it ‘my’ way. So there’s no longer anything between us.
In that, this love rises that knows the beauty and the heartbreak of our shared humanness, the heights we can soar to, the depths we can sink to, the heartbreak that we must bear because we often cannot embody what our hearts wish to embody in all its beauty and perfection, the love that we are and have the potential to express. We long to be love in every cell and we fail so miserably, and it hurts us to the core. We’re so beautiful, and so brave, and so screwed. We can’t get away from the unconscious aspects of ourselves and we can’t commit ourselves entirely to the dungeon. We are all crucified on that cross of humanness.
And for this there is such a rising of compassion and mercy in the empty heart that has taken that crucifixion to the end, such a sweetness and a desire to give whatever kindness or assistance one can to these brave and beautiful creatures – you as a servant are born. And then God moves us deeply to see that everyone is not only Her creation for me to give myself to, everyone is actually Her. The feeling rises that says anything I have I will give you, oh brave children of God, oh sweet faces of Her.
I could never repay the debt I have to the Beloved for the gift of being allowed to see Her face, to see that everyone has always been Her, and that I’ve spent years treating them and myself, which is Her, as objects or enemies, or merely walked by so many in need or failed to look upon Her face with the love that is so obviously due Her. What was I doing? What was I thinking? As Donovan sang in Brother Sun, Sister Moon, ‘preoccupied with selfish misery’. That’s what I was doing.
And an awareness of every moment of this selfish obliviousness is there, alongside the clear sight that all are so worthy of our love and kindness. We know there just aren’t enough years to praise Her name, to love Her tender face in the faces of our brothers and sisters. There is no bad guy! There is only the embodiment of Her, on the cross of heaven and earth, angel and creature, struggling to live up to Her heavenly gift under the weight of this unconscious conflict and self-hate. There is nothing so compelling as that and to offer whatever we have to that.
This is something that rises when you get broken. There’s this wealth of gratitude, this feeling that the debt can never be repaid for the beauty of Her in every being. I couldn’t possibly give any of you enough to serve the liberation of the love that is hidden in your heart. Ammachi says I want to die comforting someone – she’s hugging herself to death and it’s her joy, because everything in her says I am here to be given to You who I am as well. That is the feeling when we’re emptied out. It’s what we are underneath the conflict.
And it keeps getting deeper. We keep getting more sensitive, more transparent. Pretty soon we might as well sit inside everybody’s pants, it’s so intimate. You have a feeling across the room and I feel you. And it’s my joy to have you guys fill my body with your angst. I’m dying to help you with that. I’ll meet anything you have. You have a cold? Give it to me. I can’t even imagine the joy Christ must have felt to die for his God in the form of his brothers and sisters. What else can I give? All I’ve got is my life, sure. What a joy it is to love you, to be this love, to know you as love, to break the bread of love with each other, to give you, my most precious, whatever it is I have to give, which is never enough to glorify your beauty and Her name, and to liberate the dove of gorgeous tender love that lives in your heart.
And guess what? All the while She is loving Herself through you. THROUGH you. So you get loved as it moves through your body. Your entire body is radiated by God’s love as you apparently love. There’s only Her radiant love.
So, yes, that’s the only thing worth longing for. If you have the longing for this love, yeah! Stoke that fire, burn in that place where you want it so bad. Don’t calm that down! It’s worth it.