The Sweetness of Separation.

Via Angela Raines
on Jan 1, 2011
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Photograph courtesy of the multi-talented Jason Digges.

Live from ISE2: Conflict as Love.

Throughout this week at the Integral Spiritual Experience 2, we’re exploring love in a particular way. We’re imagining desire as one with the very force of evolution, which also and simultaneously evolves, itself. Throughout its unfolding out of and into and through itself, love moves through three predictable stages or flavors: 1. falling in love; 2. separation and conflict; 3. sweetness or the reintegration and reunification which transcends and includes both the original sweetness and the differentiation. These flavors are universal in every manifestation of love, from romantic to filial to the love which moves the very spheres in the heavens. (If you wanna go there, that is. If not—stick with romance; it’ll do just fine.)

Yesterday’s keynotes and practice sessions centered around the first stage, that beautiful and gooey flavor of love where everything’s just incomparably and thrillingly perfect. Today’s centered around the second stage, where your beloved starts leaving the toilet seat up, your church becomes stifling, you start choking on a now soured spirituality, once so easy to swallow.

The heart of this morning’s practice was a juicy panel discussion on this stage of conflict and separation. Each member of the panel a powerful teacher in their own rite, the combustion of different lineages was profoundly illuminating: Joanne Hunt, co-founder of Integral Coaching Canada and a sassy firecracker of Integral theory; Father David McCallum, a scholar of human development and Jesuit (not a Jedi, as he lamented); Jeff Salzman, former president of Integral Institute and currently the lead teacher at Boulder Integral; Sofia Diaz, hatha yoga master of the Balasaraswati lineage and general rockstar; Michael Mugaku Zimmerman, former chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court and dharma successor of Genpo Roshi; and finally the infinitely graceful boddhisattva herself, Diane Musho Hamilton, close student of Ken Wilber, dharma successor of Genpo Roshi, and core founder of iEvolve.

They all sat on a big white couch together and talked about pain, loss, and separation in spiritual practice. It was wild.

Fr. David McCallum began by reminding us that separation, differentiation, is the movement of our evolution; if we don’t embrace it, we’re moving away from our own growth. The process of waking up is that very “emerging from embededness” in which our self-authoring identity becomes clear, conventionality can be released. Our freedom and requires disidentification; agency requires perspective on something which becomes “other.” As Keegan, the great pioneer of development studies so elegantly put, “what the eye can see more clearly, the heart can feel more deeply.” So when we can differentiate from and see the other, we actually open and expand our hearts.

This expansion isn’t just about our interpersonal relationships, but also the development of our morals: by releasing ethical codes that were merely habitual, we can (if we don’t mistakenly regress instead of transcend) adopt a deeper ethos. The disidentification allows us to identify with something even greater. The Buddha, himself, did this, as he left the privilege of his palace and its limited worldview and code.

Today that wild goddess Sofia Diaz shared part of her own trajectory, where her very devotion to spiritual matters was, in fact, an exercise in inauthenticity. It wasn’t until she stopped mimicking her spiritual teachers, painfully disentangling her identity from theirs, that she carved her own path, her own relationship to and embodiment of the divine. Tears lept to her eyes as she thanked this assembly of people for being witness to what is now an authentic voicing of her unique manifestation of the divine.

Though this differentiation can be challenging and painful and disgusting and awful—it is always a part of the process through which love evolves and allows us to identify with greater union. As an expression of love, the growth pains of conflict are not necessarily negative.

This separating energy is the clarity of discernment, that which wakes us up from samsara, the Manjushri sword. As love is not a feeling but rather an unfolding, evolutionary process and perception, and as conflict and separation are an integral stage of this love itself, it’s up to us to look them head-on. Bypass isn’t a detour, it’s a dead-end.

Of course, this separation can become pathologized. Jeff Salzman pointed aptly to the political polarization in our country: both conservatives and liberals claim, “if you’re not seeing evil and fighting against it, polarizing against it, you’re not paying attention.” The power of forgiveness, the recognition of a deeper unity, must be welcomed; but before the pain of differentiation, it’s not unity but unconscious embeddedness.

So we need to surrender to this process of harrowing separation, and we may as well do it with gusto, yet the pain keeps us painful.

Because—let’s not mince words—it usually sucks, right? The untangling is wrenching. Like brussels sprouts and squat thrusts, we’d rather just skip it and go straight to the sweetness that can come after.

Yet there’s great, discerning, clarifying energy within that very conflict. Finding the presence, patience, and courage to celebrating the discomfort, itself, was a difficult exercise. Yet Diane Hamilton pointed out the vital, energizing quality it brought to the room, and Joanne Hunt invited us to prolong that second stage of love, giving it its proper due.

What I realized throughout the rest of today is that bhakti yoga, that juicy path to enlightenment which embodies a devotional relationship with the Divine as Other, that realization and practice of fullness celebrated by Rumi and Tagore, requires separation to occur. Sally Kempton refers to this as the “path of longing.” That radiant sweetness that illumines all longing for the beloved, all praise of God, all kirtan to invoke the shri of vital luminosity—and none of this can occur without first a separation from the divine.

I invite you, in all your pain, drudgery, alienation, planned or already-failed New Year’s resolutions, to relish the sweetness in the separation, itself, and realize that this, too is a flavor of love. What will it take for you to savor it?

Speaking of juicy devotion, check out Wah!, the kirtan artist we’re listening to as I write this!

For more of my reflections from ISE2, check out Marc Gafni’s fireside chat to the volunteers and Deepak Chopra’s talk on love and consciousness.

You can catch up on this panel discussion and all the rest of the keynotes for ISE2 via the online media collection with live streaming webcast.


About Angela Raines

Angela Raines hails from "America's most dangerous city," St. Louis, MO. She recently moved to Boulder, CO (as one does) to write, do yoga, and sit. So far, this has worked out beyond her wildest dreams. She completed an editorial internship at Elephant Journal and still writes for them when Waylon reminds her. She landed a job at the company of her dreams, Integral Life, and is currently putting her third-person writing skills to work in her own online writing business, Conscious Copywriting. Her main teachers are Jun Po Roshi and Ken Wilber. She is an enthusiast of all things yogic, contemplative, and chocolate.


10 Responses to “The Sweetness of Separation.”

  1. Just like being there, Angela. I like the way you're providing links to your previous blogs in this series so people can catch up on what they missed. Thanks again for doing this.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  2. […] “Live from ISE2: Conflict as Love,” Angela Raines reviews a cavalcade of insight and experience from the second day of the Integral […]

  3. AngelaRaines says:

    Hi Bob! My pleasure! This conference is SO rich, both theoretically and experientially. I'm glad to have this platform to share a bit.

  4. jeff roth says:

    can i watch it on video online?

  5. AngelaRaines says:

    Hi Jeff,
    Yes, you can. There was a video recording of all the keynotes the entire conference. It's available for instant playback here… . In a few weeks the professionally edited versions will be available (which you get access to if you buy the media package for playback).

  6. […] I’ve let the wheel in my mind spin unawares and it carried me into some pretty dark places. When the light of truth started to show, I began to watch the ego wheel slow and the heart wheel start a turnin’. […]

  7. […] has been written over the course of centuries about separation between lovers, the longing for reunion and the depth of emotion experienced in the absence of one’s beloved. Is […]

  8. Wow, I wish I'd been there…..

    Absence and Longing: The Spiritual Meaning of The Heart's Longing | elephant journal
    […] has been written over the course of centuries about separation between lovers, the longing for reunion and the depth of emotion experienced in the absence of one’s beloved. Is […]

  9. […] in a mood that could never be disconnected from their main theme of separation and suffering in longing for their Beloved, both embraced and encouraged the pain it inevitably brought. Rumi acknowledged the pain as he […]

  10. […] which transcends and includes both the original sweetness and the differentiation….read more ISE 2 Morning Session: Rabbi Gabriel Cousens, M.D. by Joe Perez In moments, Gabriel Cousens will […]