Love’s Three Qualities
When I speak on the topic of Love, it is often imbued with three distinct qualities – Love’s cleansing fire, Love’s compassionate embrace, and Love’s playful dance. These distinctions are not ‘real’ or ‘unreal’ in any meaningful sense, but they illustrate the true nature of divine intimacy as it plays out in the immediacy of our own direct experience.
Loves Cleansing Fire
Of course, one of the most common questions asked by people of nearly all religious and spiritual persuasions is “if God is Love, then why do so many terrible things happen in the world?” The response is usually a hollow-sounding “the Lord works in mysterious ways”, which is, of course true, but lacking in an explanation of ‘why’. It is interesting to note here that the most commonly held definitions of God are inclusive of a being that is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Meaning that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-present; or, put another way, there is nothing that God does not know, nothing that God cannot do, and nowhere that God is not. There is also common agreement that God has a plan, and that everything that happens is happening as a part of the plan. If this is true, which it is, in a way, then how can anything ever possibly be out of alignment with the perfection of God?
Here we must return to our understanding that love and happiness are often mischaracterized as being one and the same, and that happiness is the highest goal or ideal of God. That all beings should be ‘happy’ is what we claim. So naturally, when something happens that makes us unhappy, or robs us of our happiness, we immediately judge it as being a mistake or an error of some sort. As something that ‘should not be happening to us’ or to the ones we love, or to other beings at large. It is a terrible thing, a tragedy, a horror – something that God should not allow to happen, and so we then begin to judge God. But if we believe that God, even if we define this term loosely, is the ever-present reality of being, in complete control of absolutely everything, knowing full well what is happening and why, is it more likely that God has it wrong, or that we do?
What we must begin to realize, as hard as it may be to come to terms with, is that everything that happens to us, that has the quality of pain and suffering, of difficulty and hardship, is also part of that very same plan. A plan that is completely grounded in Love, as freedom. Not the freedom to do what you want, when you want, the way that you want, but freedom from identification with words, concepts, ideas, models, notions, beliefs and preferences; from the egoic view that things should be some other way than the way that they are. Indeed, our suffering can best be measured as the distance between the way things are and the way that we want them to be. Closing this gap does not occur by wanting them more badly, or by thrusting ourselves more completely into changing our circumstances. It can only be closed through the process of wise acceptance and compassionate surrender.
As we begin to slow down and take notice of what is happening in our lives, and we begin to witness for ourselves that all of our suffering can be tied to some sort of fixation or clinging to our own conditioned views and beliefs of the way things ‘should’ be, the more we begin to realize that we are the architects of our very own misery. As this realization takes shape within us, and if we can make space for a deeper truth, we can begin to recognize that Love, in its truest form, is visiting us with the experiences that are required to free us from our condition, confused notion of a ‘self’ that is somehow separate or apart from the whole. The more tightly we hold onto and protect this sense of a personal self, the more we suffer. The more we let go of our conceptual notion of self, the more open, spacious, and loving we become. Cast in this light, in the true light of Love, we start to see clearly that our suffering is actually a manifestation of a deep, profound, loving truth that seeks to burn away all that is untrue.
Loves Compassionate Embrace
It is quite possible to misunderstand the quality of Love that we might call its cleansing fire, or its redemptive, transformative power. This is where compassion, as another key quality of Love’s true essence must come forth to reclaim the conversation. To say that our suffering is a sign of God’s love, and then to leave it so, would misrepresent the key focus of what is being presented here. It is simply an effort to reframe our experience of suffering so that we can better understand it and allow it to do its work; which ultimately proves itself to be joyful participation in the unfolding of our own lives, from one beautiful unfolding moment, into the next, no matter what the moment may contain. When you can learn to take joy in your suffering, are you really suffering anymore? This is not to suggest that we should seek out suffering in some sadomasochistic effort to become more ‘free’, but rather that a different, more compassionate understanding of suffering can make all the difference in our experience of life.
Love knows our pain, our suffering, our difficulty and our confusion. Love understands the impact that its cleansing fire has on our experience of life – and the feelings of sadness, loneliness, and fear that so often accompany that experience. Very little of what we see, out there, in the world, makes sense to us. Why on earth would a loving God, by any name or description, force us to endure such heartbreak. The answer has more to do with who and what we truly are than it does with how we perceive ourselves – and is found in the unitive experience of Being that a spiritual awakening ultimately reveals to us. But until we are able to arrive at that answer for ourselves, Loves compassionate embrace is our refuge – it is the home of the Heart; the gift of forbearance that sees us through the dark times, the hard times, and all of the challenges that come. It is our ability to hold our suffering in our hearts and shine the light of compassion upon it that is the greatest example of how Love is holding us, guiding us, and offering us the solace we need.
What Loves compassionate embrace is offering us is an opportunity to sit with ourselves, in ourselves, and watch our hearts break. And rather than question this, push it away, or seek a better explanation, Love invites us into a very different kind of relationship with our experience. It is asking you to be an active participant in its own unfolding. Just know that, whatever is happening; right now; for you; is perfectly in harmony with itself. Just abide in it – from a position of non-judgmental loving awareness; and invite it in to break your heart. Then, notice just how infinite the capacity of your Heart really is. See through the eyes of wise, loving surrender, into everything as your Self; and give it whatever outpouring of love your heart calls you to endure. This can be a movement in your own direction as you struggle to understand why life is the way it is; or it can be a movement in the direction of a loved one, a friend, or even a stranger. So long as we are working to move in the direction of Love, for ourselves, for one another, and for the earth, we can never get it wrong.
Breath love, kindness, generosity, gratitude, grace, patience, forgiveness, and compassion into every moment of your life – and do not judge yourself when you fall short of this goal. Just take another breath – and continue on. Eventually this process becomes effortless; as you step across the threshold of doing, into the presence of being. Which is what you have always been, are now, and will never cease to be. The process of awakening to this realization requires you to encounter yourself over and over again, at deeper and deeper levels of Truth; revealing what needs attention, what needs healing, what needs love. It is a process that has no end. The wise do not avoid this fact, they embrace it fully; doing what must be done – whenever, wherever, and however they are called. Just choose love, over and over and over again; until you disappear into it. This is all that you can really do. This is what it means to live in the heart of surrender; the Heart of compassion.
Whenever you find yourself reacting to the endless vicissitudes of life, take a moment to slow down, steady yourself, breathe deeply, and drop down into the space of the Heart. Let go of the mental structures and formations – the story that is appearing in the mind and presenting you with difficulty. Drop it all down into the Heart. Drop the mind into the Heart. Just allow them to be there. Fear, uncertainty and doubt; anxiety and restlessness, and all of our painful emotional responses are all qualities of our experience that are born from the unexplored regions of ourselves. It is by shining the light of loving awareness upon them that we begin to free ourselves from them. When we see them become present, and we consciously hold them in the Heart of compassion, we can feel their heat as they ignite and are burned away; again and again at ever more subtle levels of experience. This too is the work of Loves cleaning fire, and although it can be uncomfortable – even intensely painful at times, it is the only method by which one can begin to resolve the unresolved and arrive at true inner peace.
Loves Playful Dance
The more that we allow Love to do its work within us, the more free we become from the ties that bind us. Love is the current that is guiding us home, and as we begin to flow as one with its calling, it shows us another side of itself. It offers us an opportunity to revisit the childlike wonder and innocent curiosity that once governed our earliest days – that fueled our thirst for knowledge, understanding, and expression – that inspired our imaginations and kindled our dreams. Not as anything even remotely resembling the state of lostness that we are in now, where these notions have a completely different meaning; but in the absence of our conditioned confusion, our misperceptions, and misunderstandings we return to a clarity that is luminous, empty, and infinite – an experience that is unhindered by our egoic fears, desires and efforts to control everything. It is, in fact, Love teaching us how to dance once more – Love teaching us to taste the freedom of Being that we have forgotten – Love teaching us to be true to Love – to be the dance of Love fulfilling itself; something so beyond beautiful that we can barely touch it with words.
Most will read this and agree without reservation; see joy jumping in their hearts; feel hopeful tears running down their cheeks; or sense a deep and unfathomable longing to experience this kind of return to Love. This is what we want – what we desire most, and what we demand from the experience of awakening, and yet each of these represents a movement in the direction of denial and avoidance that says “why can’t I just have that?” “Why must I endure so much suffering – why is it all so hard?” But these questions are arising from within a fundamental misunderstanding of who and what you truly are. They are the very voices of pain and suffering speaking. It is for this reason and this reason alone that your pain and suffering remain in place and why Love’s cleansing fire and compassionate embrace remain so necessary to your journey. Until you understand your own true nature, you will be plagued over and over again by forces that are beyond your control; forces that you must first yield to before Love offers you its greatest, most deeply held, most profound gift of all. In other words, one must first crawl through the fires of hell to arrive at the gates of Heaven. To discover that you are already in and as Heaven must be arrived at by leaving everything else behind. This is the true nature of the spiritual journey – taken with absolute earnestness and sincerity.
We should not fret over such things though, for Love is always with us. To paint a picture of joyful suffering is to bring a brushstroke of Truth to the scene, but it need not be the final image that we commit to the canvass. As we begin to pay attention to what is happening in our experience, and feel the tightness around us start to loosen, something in our experience begins to dance with us. We start seeing through our fears and Love catches us on the other side, over and over again. The more we relax, let go, and surrender to the current of our lives, the more free we become – and, the more free we become, the more present we are with ourselves and our circumstances. Even amidst the most difficult and trying times, we can learn to take deep joy in the very movement of life itself, no matter what we find ourselves engaged in. We learn how to smile through our tears and be authentic in our experience. Loves playful dance is the result of living in this authenticity. As Loves cleansing fire performs its work, and Loves compassionate embrace holds us close, Love begins to shine through more and more clearly; and this Love consumes us within itself – we become Love at play… we have always been this Love at play.
Such a revelation is not arrived at through the various methods that are so often spoken of in spiritual circles though. One does not simply change their thoughts to bring about the clarity that allows Love to fulfill itself in such a manner. For Love to be free, we must step fully out of its way and relinquish ourselves into it. For Love to be alive, we must become its perfect embodiment in the world. For Love to spread, we must give voice to its true nature and weather the storms that will inevitably and invariably result. Within Love’s playful dance, the continued cultivation of patience, wisdom, and compassion – the fruit of Love’s cleansing fire and compassionate embrace, give birth to this new way of Seeing, Knowing, and Being. Here it is known, without doubt or question, that the play is not of our own making, but that of Divine Will, the impersonal impetus of Awakeness as it draws itself out. Indeed, the promised playful dance of happiness, bliss, and joy emerges out of deep surrender; out of a willingness to give ourselves up; out of humble deference to the Whole.
Notice here that none of these explanations are consistent with the worldly notion of happiness – which is little more than a passing fancy. Nor does it align with the conceptual notions of bliss and joy that are clung to by the seeking mind, by the suffering separate self. The playful dance is not ‘yours’ or for ‘you’. The playful dance belongs to Love itself, and it will dance in whatever manner it sees fit – not in accord with your demands, desires, or wishes. It is not until you have been cleansed of your misperceptions that you will be invited into the full experiential beauty of the dance. Why? Because it is invisible and imperceptible to one who’s mind is the arbiter of a relative reality which has no Reality to it. And so we return once more to Love’s cleansing fire, where this revelation occurs; and to Love’s compassionate embrace, where this revelation is nurtured. Those who are wise will not make happiness their first goal; will not focus on the acquisition of blissful states, or the joyful exuberance of transient pleasure. Those who are truly wise will sacrifice themselves upon the alter of Love’s cleansing fire, allow for Love’s compassionate embrace to sooth their wounds, and surrender themselves to Love’s playful dance – all on its terms, and not on those of the person who is confused to begin with. There is no other way home to the place that we never left – which is none other than your very own Self.