What Spiritual Love means in Modern Times.

Via Benjamin Riggs
on Jun 24, 2017
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The Power of Love.

On the spiritual path, we will fall short many times. It is easy to become impatient, frustrated, and overwhelmed. That is why love is so important.

Love sees life in everything. It recognizes the life that abides within every creature. This recognition begets respect. Love is patient, kind, and endures all things, as anyone who has attended a wedding knows. Our knowledge, plans, and strategies will reach their wit’s end, but love never tires.

One day, while watching my favorite television show, “The Office,” I heard those famous words of St. Paul’s yet again but this time with new ears because I was holding my newborn son. As I looked at him and heard, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love,” I understood. For the first time, I understood.

In that moment, I knew: I knew that I could read every book in the world and make plans from now until the end of time, but my knowledge would be exhausted and my plans would fall short. No strategy and no amount of preparation could ever get me to the finish line. The only thing that remained was love.

Only my love for him can bear the hardships and difficulties that our relationship will bring to the surface. Only my love for him can overcome my impatience and arrogance. Only my love for him can guide him without trying to bend him to my will. Only love is humble enough to teach him how to think without teaching him what to think. For only the eye of love sees him as his own person and only love is selfless enough to grant him the space he needs to grow into that person. Love is the only voice within me honest enough to admit that he does not belong to me.  

Truthfully, it is not “my” love and it is not “for him.” Love is the defining characteristic of the Kingdom. I do not create love. I receive it. Love is a gift.

Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

And as children of God, we resemble God. Love is our birthmark. When freedom from self is realized, the likeness of God is reflected in our actions. The cataracts of fear and expectation are removed and we can see the world as-it-is. When we recover the freedom to see people as they are, we see the life that dwells and sings within them, and love is our natural response.

Love is wild. It has no manners.

It comforts the afflicted, and afflicts the comfortable. Love often defies logic. It would have us embrace our enemies and be uncomfortably honest with our friends. This cannot be taught. Love does not come with a manual. It is the spontaneous expression of our True Nature.

Unconditional Love

As I said before, love is complete freedom—the freedom of God to love friend and foe as our Self. Love is complete and total freedom because it is selfless. Selfless awareness is wide open, agapic awareness. This is the all-embracing quality of Undifferentiated Awareness that recognizes and embraces everything that is real and true, regardless of whether it is comfortable or not.

Self-centeredness is the worst kind of prison. It keeps us chained and shackled to our fears and illusions, reserved to making decisions that serve our own narrow-minded agenda. Love doesn’t see the world or the people in it through the knowledge of good and bad. Love does not see what we stand to lose or gain. It sees things-as-they-are. And when you see things-as-they-are, you see the spark of divinity that lives within all things.

Gratitude

In the embrace of unconditional love, it feels like we are loved into Being. This awareness brings about a phase change. It transmutes the energy of unconditional love into gratitude. Dominion is not control, but responsibility. Gratitude accepts this responsibility. When you are grateful for something, you “tend to it.” When God told Adam to tend to the Garden, he meant love it—love the body, your fellow man, and the earth.

Gratitude is an action, not an idea. It is the act of caring for that which we are grateful. Gratitude doesn’t hang out in the oceanic presence of unconditional love. It reaches out to the world from the deep space of love. It invests, not only in the maintenance of our Self, but through likeness recognizes and welcomes the True Self in others. Likeness is a quality of Basic Sanity. It looks beyond race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and social status to find its kind in others. In this way, likeness gives rise to kindness, which is the foundation of relationship. Having established relationship, love goes through yet another conversion.

Creative Love

At this stage, gratitude and kindness give way to the creative power of love. The principle of Eros or erotic love isn’t limited to “sexual desire.” It refers to the creativity of love. Therefore, sexual union is both an example of Eros and a most useful symbol for its creative nature. We are born out of love and therefore born to love. Love is the Alpha and Omega.

Eros is the desire to make love. It is the creative force that seeks to express love through relationship, art, poetry, music, prayers of devotion, and songs of worshipful silence. Eros articulates love. In fact, creative love is art—it is the aspect of love that lends shape to the unformed inspiration of our inner life. Eros is love Incarnate.

While creative love is the principle that underlies the great works of art, it is not limited to painting, music, or theater any more than it is to the bedroom. In fact, creative love is most active in our daily life. It is the aspect of love that expands the field of practice. It brings our spiritual practice out of our home and into our day.

Love in Daily Life

The Upanishads say, “And then He realized that he was this creation, as it had poured forth from Himself. In this way, He became this creation. Therefore, he who realizes this becomes, in this creation, a creator.” To become a creator is to bring the divine image to fruition. Having discovered an untapped inner wealth, we are no longer dominated by our poverty mentality. We are full. We seek to give back, to create.

Eros transforms our life into an art form. It is the art of living. When we consent to the power of love, it shapes our life in the same way Michelangelo chiseled his sculpture of David from raw stone. This happens in relationship. We cannot wall ourselves off from the world and call it spirituality. Without relationship our practice is incomplete. Commitment connects the responsibilities and obligations of our daily life to the indwelling reality of our True Self.

Committed relationships are difficult because they demand that we give of our Self. This is hard because the false-self is selfish. It wants to avoid discomfort and clings to immediate gratification. Creative love matures us by reminding us that we cannot hope to grow into our True Self without something demanding our false-self in return.

The resurrection of our True Life is proportionate to the death of our inauthentic life.

The false-self is incapable of accepting this truth. It is bound to itself. Love is free to accept this maxim. This is the power of love to endure all things: marriage, divorce, success, failure, friendship, rivalries, heartache, and death. The freedom of love enables us to adapt to life’s changing circumstances. From the point of view of creative love, there are no problems, only opportunities. If the problem can be solved, it is not a problem, just something for you to work with; if it can’t be solved, it is not a problem, just something to accept and move on. Creative love sees everything as workable.

Eros recognizes disappointment as part of our path. It doesn’t see tribulation as something to be avoided. The Dalai Lama once said that we cannot view a beggar as an obstacle, if we hope to grow in generosity. This axiom can be applied to all other virtues as well. Patience is an indispensable spiritual principle, but when given the opportunity to grow in patience, many of us reject it. We rail against the person trying our nerves. We label those who try our patience as “assholes,” but without an obstruction or an “adversary” there is no growth. Creative love knows that we cannot grow in patience without an asshole in our lives and binds our actions to this principle.

Without struggle there is no growth which is why Shantideva writes, “All enemies are helpers in my spiritual work and therefore they should be a joy to me.” Where there is an enemy, a shortcoming, or an obstacle, creative love sees a gateway. When we are angry, afraid, jealous, depressed, or obsessed, love knows there is an underdeveloped aspect of our Self struggling to be born into the world. Love seeks to cultivate it. It loves our devils into the present moment; it does not reject them. We may be intellectually sympathetic to this idea, but only the power of love recognizes this on a practical level.

What we call spiritual principles live within us as potentialities embedded within the structure of Being, but just as the capacity to walk is a potentiality that has to be exercised by toddlers, these potentialities have to be actualized through the struggle of daily life. In this way, God is born into the world.

Spirituality is about accepting our obstacles as the path, not avoiding them. Only love is capable of seeing the relationships and tasks that present us with difficulty as the plots of land that we must cultivate. In short, what we call obstacles, love calls the path, and all paths intersect.

If we look closely, we will see an intricate web of interdependence emerging. It may appear that we are attracted to this person or that job for one reason or the other, but if we look closer—beyond the veil of the false-self—we will see that the power of love has brought us into this relationship. “Driven by the forces of love, the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come to being,” writes Teilhard de Chardin, the brilliant Catholic theologian.

It is as if the universe is working as a midwife, assisting in the birth of our Self. But love is never a one-sided situation. The forces of love are at work in the other person as well. The universe is using us to assist in their birth. There is something deep in the other that yearns to be realized, and it has identified a relationship with us as part of its path. We are there to aid in their birth, just as they are there to aid in ours.

While love may bring us together, it does not chain us to one another. It binds us to the truth in our hearts. So in love, there is solitude. “For the pillars of the temple stand apart,” writes Kahlil Gibran, “and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” Selfish love—which is no love at all—sees the other as an object to be exploited or a hostage to be taken; authentic love recognizes the symbiotic structure of the relationship. A healthy relationship moves back and forth between solitude and communion. It sees both interdependence and independence.

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This is an excerpt from Ben’s book, Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West. For more info, click here.

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Author: Benjamin Riggs
Image: Pixabay
Editor: Travis May
Copy Editor: Danielle Beutell

Social Editor: Lieselle Davidson

 

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About Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the author of Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West. He is also the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA and a teacher at Explore Yoga. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist and Christian spirituality on Elephant Journal, and his blog. Click here to listen to the Finding God in the Body Podcast. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter.

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