I once asked a bird,
"How is it that you fly
in this gravity of darkness?"
"Love lifts me.”
Lately, before going to bed I have been reading a poem by Hafiz to remind myself that spiritual practice is really a journey of love. One tends to forget all about Unconditional Love when one is identified with the small self and its bitter, often petty, judgements and resentments. Mired in conditioned mind, one journeys through life with resentment, righteousness, worry, impatience, irritability, moroseness, bitterness, rigidity, affront, hurt and hatred as companions. But to read Hafiz is to be in touch with a world alive with encouragement, laughter, mischief, whimsy and delight. It is to reaffirm the possibility of making this life journey in the companionship of a Beloved, a Friend, a Mentor, tender, wise, generous and unmistakably on one’s side. It is to be reminded that Happiness is another word for “freedom from suffering” and spiritual practice is not just a divorce from ego; it’s training to be in a love affair with Life.
When I read mystical poetry, I am enchanted by the casual intimacy that exists between the poet and Divinity; but what inspires me to redouble my practice is the certainty of the poet that Love IS the nature of True Nature. I want to “know,” the way Hafiz knows, that every particle in the universe is a dancing love dot, ablaze with the Beloved’s light. I want to live as Hafiz lives, in friendship with Life, in the togetherness that views living as “love mischief.”
If friendship is what I seek, I have to train to look for Friendliness everywhere, to look for the sparkling vitality of the life force in everything. Attending to the life force ANIMATING all is a necessary practice and one that is as essential as training not to attend to egocentric karmic conditioning/self-hate. It can be argued that if we don’t have a practice of relating to Life or letting Life relate to us, we are missing an important component of our training to be present to Presence.
If we are attending to Life, we fall in love with Life. It’s impossible not to wonder at the luminous shimmer of a dragonfly’s wings, not to marvel at the complexity of a spider web or delight in the beauty of a tiger lily. We can’t help but be enchanted by birdsong or mesmerized by the furry caterpillar’s million legs going at once. In getting to know life this way, we find ourselves to be lovers of Life in the way the mystical poets are, seeing the world alive with the signature of Love. We are part of the dance and the invitation to participate in the celebration is unmistakable.
This is not to say that we don’t also experience the abyss of identification or the anguish of separation. As another favorite mystic poet writes:
The way of love is not a subtle argument.
The door there is devastation.
Birds make great sky-circles of their freedom.
How do they learn it?
They fall, and falling, they’re given wings.
Perhaps part of the spiritual struggle is to come to terms with devastation as an aspect of the process of encountering the Unconditional. Life is not known partially. There is a totality of surrender required to be a partner in love mischief. Otherwise we are unequal in the partnership. Perhaps it also takes traversing difficult terrain to secure our faith that the Mentor is always with us. No matter how hard the circumstances, or how identified we are with the absence of Love, can we still seek the Beloved who never forsakes us? Isn’t that the true lesson of the dark night of the soul, to find faith where faith was absent?
The danger in the wake of periods of struggle appears to be the seduction of staying with feeling broken rather than training like phoenixes to embrace the resurrection. The nature of the “wings that are given,” the quivering resiliency that outlasts the shriveling of a conditioned orientation, is something we learn to possess. It does not have the quality of lightness and whimsy that comes from contemplating a butterfly’s wings. But isn’t it still part of the continuum of consciousness, a burnished awareness that can embrace the essential nature of existence as all stages of metamorphosis?
The point perhaps is that we can know both, lightness and the depths, because Life is All of it. But to know anything requires love. To quote another mystic:
We can only love what we know, and we can never know completely what we do not love. Love is a mode of knowledge.
Which brings us full circle to spiritual practice as a journey of Love…
Awareness aware of itself, in any expression, is the only true knowing. For when I contemplate a butterfly and wonder at its wings, or feel the joyful anguish of transiency, there is no “other” that I experience. “I know I,” not the “I” of ego, but the joy of Intelligence knowing itself. If “knowing” is by definition loving, then how can we ever escape Love as the journey itself?
It seems an important milestone in practice to recognize that the longing we have to be loved cannot be fulfilled by something or someone external to us. We have to access the Friend within that can befriend the one seeking friendship. And when we do we are made whole by the resulting union; we can live in a relating where there is no separation, yet there is receiving and giving, loving and being beloved.
And so as we begin another practice year, let’s listen to Hafiz once more!
Let's open all the locked doors upon our eyes
That keep us from knowing the Intelligence
That begets love
And a more lively and satisfying conversation
With the Friend