Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > Showings of Love

 
 

Putting on Clean Underwear... Showings of Love

Nov 9, 2021


'The Pier' at Sunset

'The Pier' at Sunset

Old Orchard Beach, Maine

Grace Shireson, in Naked in the Zendo, shares how one of her Zen students showed love in what could be seen as a strange way and equally strange moment.


One of my Zen students was in Hawaii when a mistaken Civil Defense warning blared out the approach of an imminent missile attack. She was at her hotel, in her nightgown, facing an instantaneous demise by a nuclear blast. She decided there was no time to find a place to hide and shelter from the potential explosion. She sent a loving text to her family, and she decided to sit on her balcony facing the luminous ocean. But before settling on the balcony, she decided to put on her clean underpants. She should be decent, out of respect for her family, in case her body was recovered. She was prepared to die enjoying the view while taking care of those who loved her in the only way available to her - clean underwear.

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We can settle into an unconscious rut of habitual ways of showing care for others. Or, like the Zen student above, we can hold awareness of how to show love even in ways others might not think of as important or odd.

The Christian mystic, John of the Cross (b. 1542), points to the inclination of Love to love, so to express Itself. He writes, "Love likes to be strong, to touch with impetuous power." Love moves through any space allowed to express from outside form to shine through form. Matter becomes sacrament in this moment of effulgence. This occurs through the agency of Love expressed as apparent opposites: action, inaction. The passivity of Love complements the assertion of Love - both modes of expressing for others and ourselves, and "passivity" and "assertion" are misleading, for both are a single act. Herein, the Center of the sacred mandala, moving from and to the Center, is Love Itself. This loving is Love returning all to Itself and, in the process, to transmute us into Itself. In fact, in the moment of loving, we are Love, for loving unites us with Love in the act of love.

The means of Love loving, initially done mindfully and with awakened feeling, can become ritualistic. We may say "hello" or "good morning" or "how are you today?". We may give a hug or a smile or write a thank you note or card. In showing such care, we can operate on auto-pilot - the brain directing to respond to a situation we have encountered many times. The body, as so many times before, follows in its train. Certainly, it is good to express care, and it is more beneficial to do it consciously. Sleep-caring can be compared to sleep-walking: it is happening, it is not bad, but it happens without conscious presence.

Logical questions arise as to this auto-pilot care behavior. When acting in this way, are we acting? Or is the action happening without our being there? "Being there" means conscious agency. Even when action is at rest, presence itself is the action; hence, there is no absence of agency. A statement attributed to the Zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh speaks to this, "'When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?" Being present means much more than being physically in the same space. And loving non-egoically does not mean mindless loving. The absence of ego-directiveness means the presence of Presence acting in spontaneity, not the demolition of ego.

In mandala terms, the ego is another mode of energy arising and dissolving in momentary manifestations within the field of flow. At the same time, Presence is the unity of rest and activity - Presence is, while ego comes and goes. Ego can love, yet that love still arises from Presence. The power of Love increases when Love, being Presence, Loves directly, with ego in momentary abeyance. Of course, there are degrees to this, as Presence can manifest while ego remains in the mode of expression. The contemplative path is growth into the lessening of ego expression, so interference, so toward a more pure, unmediated expression of Presence, so Love. In the fulfillment of Love, no one can say, "I love," "I showed compassion," or "I gave," simply for "I" did not do anything, yet what needed to happen did happen. So, conscious action is a step within the move from "I love" to "Love happens."

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Conscious action unites the self, the act, and the receiver. Consciously acting sacralizes sharing with others, even when the sharing seems insignificant. No action done with awareness is negligible. When loving is done with awareness, the action becomes a spaciousness of presence surrounding the two selves sharing. A holy communion can occur at a deep level - more subtle than the appearance of the selves or the action. Selves, then, are part of the mandala decoration.

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Mindful caring does not mean effortfulness in creating conscious connection. But as we begin or start renewing this, we may have to put forth more effort than later - as in anything we learn. Ego effort - much effort for most, if not all, of us - must be present to move into effortless, non-egoic loving. In time, we relax into a balance of action and passivity. We grow to experience this as a unity.

If we do not put forth effort, nothing happens. If we put forth too much effort, we block the naturalness. As embodied beings, we learn how to navigate this apparent contradiction, and we forgive ourselves when we make a mess of it. As one practices this mindful caring, it becomes less self-conscious, so more spontaneous, without losing the conscious. It is less self-conscious, imbued with more awareness, is less deliberate, so more pure and true. To engage with others, even for a moment, becomes a momentless sacrament of self-oblation. Yet, ironically, in these passing moments of self-oblation, we most feel like who we truly are.

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When this action arises through someone, she may sense some persons move away - hiding, even if using excuses or blaming her for the distance physically, psychically, and soulfully. The "spiritually" is seen as too disruptive; fear can set in, as the ego feels threatened by what it sees as a forward thrust of Life. The ego has been acclimated prior by the disguise of spiritual intimacy in personality relationships. Also, the feminine receptivity can close down due to the power of masculine ingression. Counter-intuitively, however, in energy terms, in subtle experience, the passive, open feminine feels like the dynamic masculine insertion. Spirit-with-spirit, expressing as masculine-and-feminine, are one act of Love and its daunting power and, thereby, a threat to ego imperialism. Spiritual intimacy exposes the social fabrication of individuality along with the accompanying individual rights and responsibilities. Simply put, to love, action happens, yet a someone does not act.

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All of this should caution us about glibly engaging spiritual practice or talking lightly of such things as oneness, unity, nonduality, theosis, enlightenment, or whatever way we speak about these matters. To enter the Holy is to be entered by the Holy - this is no small matter. No wonder many wisely play spiritual games and play at religion. In materialistic cultures, persons are not prepared for taking a path of union with Love earnestly. This fact does not mean, however, they are bad, wrong, or do not love. It means the cultural context does not support this wisdom and fails to prepare persons for it. Persons giving birth are educated in mind and body to give birth; even so, we need education through teaching and experience on how to give birth to the Light, Love. However, how can religious institutions prepare persons for this, when they do not encourage it and shield persons from it, turning what is meant to be spiritual wisdom into institutionalism, with its partisan dogma, guaranteeing salvation to its obedient children?

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How do we respond when one separates from sharing with us or avoids us due to the power of spiritual intimacy? We keep consciously loving, yet we adapt ourselves to persons to love them in the way they are prepared for us to love them - this adaptation is a general rule, for there may be times, though rare, when proceeding with the same degree of expression is the wise action; as in, when you are the means of challenging the limits of the intimacy welcome of the other or a group, so your being a means of compassion. We learn how to do this by experience. And some persons may separate from us entirely, usually blaming us for the escape - that is okay, and we bless them and their leaving. I am not saying it is pleasant or easy to accept having our offer of loving intimacy rejected or it does not sometimes deeply hurt; still, consciously caring is honoring the wish of the other. To withhold an act of love can be an act of love and, thereby, an expression of non-harming.

In time, we grow to be able to experience progressively less personal upsetness about how others respond to our expression of intimate loving. In this, we need to be patient with ourselves. Also, we can grow into an experience of upsetness not personal, and this is an act of compassion arising from the Heart-of-all. In theistic terms, God would never take personally someone turning from His, or Her, offer of Love - this despite the egoic, petty, and vengeful god myth many are taught.

The release of the other who turns from our spiritual intimacy and caring can be the start of a process of our own healing and experiencing a more profound capacity to care mindfully and without attachment. We are left more receptive to welcoming others into our lives who can contain and share a like intimacy in sacramental harmony - spirit-with-spirit.

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* Brian K. Wilcox, 2021

*Quote from John of the Cross, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross. Trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez. Quote of Thich Nhat Hanh in the public domain, source unknown.

*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse. The book consists of poems based on wisdom traditions, predominantly Christian, Buddhist, and Sufi, with extensive notes on the poetry's teachings and imagery.

 

Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > Showings of Love

©Brian Wilcox 2021