On The Nature Of Love
At a “satsung” in Oakland the other day I was struck by the words of the well-known spiritual teacher, Adyashanti. He was addressing the central importance of “love” as the primary commerce in human connection, and he was remarking that people often lack “sovereignty” over their own hearts and minds. Because of this, Adyashanti argued, many people find it difficult to know how to love, how to receive love, or even what love really is.
I listened more closely as Adyashanti described personal “sovereignty as having “an autonomous and empowered sense of yourself.” This “felt” sense of self involves knowing and trusting yourself to the extent that your core beliefs, values, and passions are unshakeable and non negotiable. In psychological terms we might call this “ego strength”, but I like the term “sovereignty” much better. I like the idea that your entire being is like a sovereign nation and you are the true “ruler” of that nation. Adyashanti pointed out that our greatest spiritual leaders such as Jesus, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, possessed the ultimate in personal “sovereignty”. All three of these leaders were of course revolutionary in their own time and their ideas were simply too threatening for those times. As is often the case, the bearers of revolutionary thought are sacrificed, even as their ideas live on. We can live by the example of these three great “thought leaders” though, and understand that what they collectively represented and brought to the world was Love…. Pure, simple, and unconditional. I would argue that love poured out from these men and came from the core of their unshakable beliefs about mankind.
So….How does this Idea of Sovereignty” play out in The Formation Of Our Individual Identity?
Here is how I think about it: It seems to me that all of us in our modern culture are bombarded incessantly by messages about how to look, what to wear, how to think, what to feel. These messages seep down into our unconscious where they comingle with messages from our childhood to create a mixed bag of input about who we really are at the core. It’s like computer software in a way…Programs are being run that we are not even aware of because they operate at a subliminal level. (Hence the effectiveness of advertising slogans)
What is most distressing to me is that the bottom line “message” is usually the following: “You are not good enough at any level of your being”…simply not good enough. You must have more, do more, and be more. Out of all this, we must cobble together some sort of an identity that is affirming, stable and consistent…no easy feat. It’s difficult to find your personal sovereignty in this climate.
The Riddle Of Forming Close Relationships When Identity Is Shaky
In a way that has always struck me as paradoxical, we are all simultaneously both individuals and social animals. As much as we hold tight to our shaky personal identities, we also long for personal connection. To put it simply…we long to love and be loved. The paradox causes conflict…. all the time. Consider the questions that we often ask ourselves when in relationship: “Will I have to give up some of me in order to be with you?” When does “compromise” become “capitulation?” Ideally one would neither dominate nor allow oneself to be dominated…but this ideal is hard to reach in the best of circumstances. I see it as a the “riddle” of stable human connection and I would argue that the riddle must be solved, or at least addressed in order to feel, express, and know true love with another person. I think you have to know yourself…including your beliefs and passions and your boundaries, weaknesses, strengths, and vulnerabilities. and then you can truly see and appreciate those same things in another. From this place, it seems to me that mutual unconditional love is really possible.
How To Know Yourself
I have been thinking lately of “Practices” that facilitate the embodiment of the principle “know thyself”. Here is what I have come up with:
- Take a course in “mindfulness meditation”…. or really any kind of meditation…. and practice on a regular basis sitting in silence and watching your thoughts go by. When you have mastered the technique you will notice that your mind will produce thought after thought after thought…but you will realize that your don’t have to believe any of them. You will begin to notice patterns of recurring thoughts about yourself or the world…. and you can begin to question these thoughts. Start just gently being curious and questioning about everything. As the Buddha has famously said: “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it, or because it is spoken, written, or rumored by many…But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conductive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”…. I would just add to this that meditation sharpens your powers of observation of all things in the world…from the use of your five senses to the use of your intuition…Spend quality time with yourself just observing without doing anything else.
- Any chance you get to walk quietly in nature is another opportunity to sharpen your powers of observation. You can make this a “walking” meditation, as you note sounds, smells, and visual and tactile features. When you are developing observational skills you will find that your mind is sharper and clearer about all things. You will experience directly a thought and a feeling about what you believe in, what you value, and what is true “beauty” to you.
- Develop a questioning nature to everything anyone ever presents to you as “truth.” Start always with the question…even if it is in your own mind…. Is this true? Do I believe it to be true? What if it’s not true?
- Dare to respectfully disagree with others, while avoiding the trap of insistence that you are right. The idea is to practice “speaking your truth”…nothing more. Make room for multiple opinions knowing that other people’s opinions don’t have to threaten yours.
- There is a practice called “morning pages” in which, for six weeks you write down everything that is on your mind every morning…first thing. These are all the concerns that have been rolling around your unconscious all night…. This is fresh non-defended “data”. Don’t read what you have written for six weeks. When you look at what you have written after the six weeks it will be obvious to you what your central concerns are. You can start then knowing yourself at a deeper level and you can begin an inquiry with yourself about those concerns, what you feel about them, what you can do about them.
So there you have it! Good luck in your quest for self-knowledge and your pursuit of intimate relationship. It is well worth the effort!