There is a balance between dreaming and living.
When I say dreaming, I mean dreaming as in desiring. Dreaming as in reaching towards a future outcome. We may dream of journeys and of moving. We dream of making more money, and dream of the harvest. We all dream of what tomorrow, next week, next month and next year may bring.
You often hear that you should reach for your dreams, but what about when reaching for becomes chasing after? Dreams exist outside of this moment. So easily dreams become attachments, and attachments are the source of suffering.
Living is about being present, though it is not possible for most of us to live in full presence all of the time. Sometimes we need to plan. We construct futures that we can work towards, momentum towards a goal, or even just the planning that makes daily life run smoothly.
There was a time in my life when I was so strongly desiring the ability to be in perfect presence all the time – that sense of being fully empty, fully subsumed, fully at one with the Itness that is everywhere present and nowhere localized, whether you call It Brahman, God, Allah, nirvana, or liberation.
The desire for the subsumption into absolute non-dualist presence was the greatest pain I had ever felt.
In my mind, I found myself struggling with the choices I had made. If only I were a Sadhu, I thought. Then I could give myself over, cease the thinking, the planning. I could give myself fully to presence, constantly allow for the sweet surrender that is the great Union.
That was not the choice I had made in building my life. I had two children to attend to, a husband, a career. I had deadlines to keep, money to make, children to care for, love and support.
For months the ache of longing and the confusion caused by my desire for presence was like a sword in my heart. The pain of separation was searing, almost unbearable.
I had made my choices about how I was to spend my life; once a mother, always a mother. I could have left my career. I could have left my home. I could have left my husband. As a matter of fact, the leaving of my husband, now ex-husband, was already in the works.
But I could never leave my children.
The love for them felt, I am almost guilty to admit, was like a loadstone around my neck; heavy as an anchor, and pointing in the only direction I could go: nowhere.
Finally I began asking, “What is presence? How do I stay present in love? How can I be committed and present at the same time?”
The question rolled around my mouth in wordless curls. It ricocheted in my mind. It bounced and bounded, banged against the edges of my self.
After weeks of weighty rumination, after hours of sitting on my zafu, after what felt like gallons of tears, and after surrendering fully to the burning pain of separation, I broke through the koan that had formed itself inside of me. In a moment of realization, the answer arrived, fully formed and lotus-like.
Love is not attachment. Attachment is not love. Attachments are the expectations and responsibilities that we so often mistake as love.
True love, actual fully realized love, is not these things. Actual love is presence. The question became the answer. How can I be present in love became, love is presence.
The act of love as a sacred offering is presence. When we fall out of presence and into desire, into lack, into attachment, we fall out of love. Love is devotion, but devotion void of any expectation. No expectation of return, of outcome, of reward.
Actual love, absolute love, is showing up to my relationship with my children, my husband (yes, I found The One and married again), my life, in the fullness with which I show up to my relationship with the divine.
Because, after all, they are the same.
While the path of the sadhu may be (or at least seem) an easier one for the purpose of total devotion to God, the path of the Householder is a practice that puts the rubber to the road.
How do we stay present in love? By devoting ourselves to those we serve, as if they were God Itself, because they are. How do we stay present in that love? By staying present in our devotion to God Itself.
Presence is where you are right now. Presence is not always bliss. Sometimes presence is painful, dirty, messy, desperate, and confusing. Each of these states has equal potential for true presence. Many of us get caught in the trap of thinking of presence as bliss, presence as subsumption, presence as emptiness.
Presence is merely a turning of the mind toward What Is. In the path of Householding, “What Is” loves without expectation; loving without desire for something other than the fulfillment that this moment of full presence offers.
Editor: Jennifer Cusano