Three short taps, three long taps, three short taps: Morse code that has come to mean Save Our Souls, the most recognizable distress signal the world over. During our glorious Summer of Sangha (this SOS was not an occasion for distress but celebration) the Guide took a stand against self-hate, urging us as a Sangha to focus on Unconditional Love. “SOS: Love Calling” became the call sign of the last few weeks of this summer retreat. Within this play on words is a serious message. Perhaps Life, spiritually speaking, is a game of hide and seek and all of us are on the trajectory to awaken, but the unhappiness that results from identification with ego is undeniably distressing for a human incarnation. The stakes feel high in the stark misery of the dark room but the situation is as dire in the low-grade malaise of the “middle room,” where dissatisfaction is a subliminal dampener of the vitality of the lifeforce. If it is possible to be happy while navigating the triumphs and travails of a karmic landscape, it behooves us, as spiritual practitioners, to recollect our role as the rescue party, charged with saving, as the Buddha taught, the one life we have to save. Practicing “I choose Unconditional Love” is a summons to attention, a signal to recollect our urgent duty, to respond to the call of love by mobilizing all available resources to mission Save Ourself.
If we’ve spent many lifetimes identifying with “what we’re not,” it’s not surprising that we find it difficult to relate to Unconditional Love as the nature of All That Is. But that doesn’t mean we can’t deploy the power of the practice as the Guide demonstrates at the end of this group.
Please do not do yourself the disservice of assuming there is something to do that is more important than being
right here, right now, present
aware, attentive, accepting.
―The Key, And The Name of The Key Is Willingness
Practicing “I choose Unconditional Love” throughout the day is training to be aware, attentive, accepting, choosing to do the most important thing to do—being here. From here, we can participate in the unfolding love story that is our life.
I don't have to have faith, I have experience.
― Joseph Campbell
Repeating “I choose Unconditional Love” in the middle of an ego storm is deploying its magical ability as a mantra. (Mantra definition: that which stills the mind.) The mantra provides a small but steady link to the vast depths of awareness while the “storm” rages, a thread we can grasp until the turbulent waves subside, reminding us of a context of well-being that doesn’t seem to be available in the moment. In some mysterious way, the choice for Love, in our darkest moments, awakens and reinforces awareness of the unwavering presence of what always is…here.
We are not here to create and cling to beliefs. We are here to pay attention.
We are here to use everything in our experience to see how we cause ourselves to suffer so we can drop that and end suffering.
― Short Recitation
“I choose Unconditional Love” is a reminder, when we find ourselves reliving the story, to drop the story. It recalls us to the awareness that any attempt to solve the “problem” at the level of content is just another entrance back into the karmic labyrinth. This expanded awareness gives us the clarity to act on our intention to end suffering, by ending the conversation.
Stand still. The forest knows where you are. You must let it find you.
― David Wagoner
“I choose Unconditional Love” is a passageway to the human being struggling to be heard through the cries of ego-identity. It is the movement of the left hand in a two-handed recording that drops beneath the surface identification of the right hand, addressing the heart of the human trapped by conditioning. As we become adept at making the movement of the left hand, we become aware that we are not alone. Assistance is always available. We only have to ask. “I choose Unconditional Love” summons what seeks us when the intensity of ego-identification seems insurmountable to me.
This magnificent refuge is inside you. Enter. Shatter the darkness that shrouds the doorway. Step around the poisonous vipers that slither at your feet, attempting to throw you off your course. Be bold. Be humble. Put away the incense and forget the incantations they taught you. Ask no permission from the authorities. Slip away. Close your eyes and follow your breath to the still place from which the invisible path leads you home.
― Mirabai Starr
“I choose Unconditional Love” is a practical way out of dualities we frequently find ourselves in.
“What does the heart want?” is often a question we’re asked to ask ourselves. In attempting to answer that question, the habit is not to ask the heart; the habit is to turn to the head, to conditioned mind, translating the question to “What do ‘I’ want?”
Consulting the complexity of contradictions, the multiplicity of “I’s” (I want this, I don’t want to do that, You can’t say that, You have to do that, I must agree, Should I do that?) that we falsely identify as “me,” doesn’t produce clarity! But if we pay attention, we always intuitively know the impulse of the heart. It’s just that we are habituated to deny it. We can’t/don’t choose its clarity because it’s often counter to our conditioning. To go up against our survival system is to unleash a tsunami of fear from which we are trained to rapidly retreat. “I choose Unconditional Love” allows us to steady the breath, calm the mind, and brave fear and resistance until we admit, at least to ourselves, what we see as the Heart’s clarity.
The point of practicing turning to the Heart is not necessarily to resolve a content dilemma. Should I move to New York or not? Do I want vanilla or chocolate ice cream? The point is to cease consulting conditioned mind, a habit of estrangement, and choose instead to reference the Heart that unfailingly represents the Intelligence of the moment. In choosing the Heart, we align with its vote, which is always for our well-being, no matter how the content plays out. So whether the choice is for vanilla or New York, the real choice is for the happiness that is independent of content.
The more practiced we become at choosing unconditional happiness, the more available is the awareness that “we are what we seek.” Choosing the Heart is choosing the Authentic Self, and the apparent rupture between “me” and “not me” dissolves in “the joy of Intelligence knowing itself.” As the Guide said in another marvelous group during SOS: Love Calling, “Awareness Practice heals the separation between ‘you’ and the Heart.”
And if the voices say….
“I don’t get it.”
“That’s beyond me.”
“What do I do?”
…..the practitioner’s response?
“I choose Unconditional Love.”
But with a caveat, one that the Guide articulated in a recent morning show:
“‘I choose Unconditional Love’ is not a meaningless phrase to say between two successive thoughts of self-hate. If we simply use it as we might say thank you, a polite rejoinder of acknowledgement when someone did something for us, we won’t have any relationship with the Unconditional Love being chosen. We want to live in Unconditional Love which means that each time we say it, we are making an active choice to direct attention to thisherenow, to feel in the marrow of our bones what it means to be fully alive, here for the totality of the moment that is.”
Only then do we have the “Zen” experience, as articulated by D.T. Suzuki:
Zen opens one’s eyes to the greatest mystery as it is daily and hourly performed; it enlarges the heart to embrace eternity of time and infinity of space in its every palpitation; it makes us live in the world as if walking in the garden of Eden.
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