Bumbling Along the Path of the Heart
Born to love. We all are. But then come all the circumstances, limitations, attitudes and apparent deficiencies we encounter in life. Makes it hard to remember to “Be Love Now” (as Ram Dass suggests in his book of that title). Despite the challenges, I’m spending a good part of my life bumbling along the path of the heart, exploring many ways of returning to the love I knew before I was born. It’s a bumpy journey, with lots of ups and downs; pretty much always two steps forward, one step back.
At a recent retreat, my heart opens so wide and golden in a meditation that afterwards I am a bit bemused. I feel like a chick that has just emerged out of its shell. I am in unknown inner territory, having expanded beyond another layer of constriction, of old conditioning from childhood. With the guidance of our wonderful retreat leader, I am able to settle more into this new territory of the heart, which Ram Dass calls loving awareness.
At home after the retreat, I am feistier, and have less patience with old beliefs and senses of obligation that can take me away from this new space, if I let them. I am feeling more peace, gratitude, clarity and open-heartedness.
And then I listen to the news, and instantly start cussing the stupidity of “those jerks.” My old pattern of judging and condemning—of expecting the world to be different than it is—is still strong in me. My heart contracts, and peace and love disappear from my awareness.
Instead of condemning myself for this, I ask myself: Can I hold this judging mind of mine with loving awareness, without trying to change it?
And it’s kind of a little miracle. As soon as I ask myself this question, I relax, breathe, and feel peace and love returning to my heart. I don’t even have to do anything. Just turn my mind in the direction of loving awareness, and it flows back into my heart.
Seems to me that this journey on the path of the heart is like the ebb and flow of the ocean:
Expanding, allowing love and peace to flow in
Contracting, expecting the world to be different than it is; going into fear, anger,judgment, etc., often because expansion is scary to the ego
Noticing my judging contraction, my resistance to the way reality is being right now
Asking myself if I can hold my contraction (fear, judgment, etc.) with loving awareness
Expanding, relaxing, breathing; allowing love and peace to flow in
Repeat until I can let go of my attachment to my fears, judgments, etc.
I find the trick is to notice, to witness what I am doing without judging or condemning myself. My new practice is to then ask myself if I can enfold whatever is disturbing me in loving awareness. I have to admit, sometimes my ego’s answer is ‘no,’ but seeing that usually makes me laugh at my pouty, righteous self. Laughter is a great way to relax, breathe and let go into peace and love. When I am afraid, asking this question helps me embrace my fearful self with love.
We tend to think of love as an emotion, and there is emotional love, cause of much joy, despair, romance and drama. But then there is the love that is the nature of the Universe, and since we are part of the Universe, it is our nature too, our original nature that underlies our personalities. It’s the love I have been returning to (with more or less success) since I found the path of the heart. I love Ram Dass’s description of this love (called agape by the Greeks):
“Imagine that being in this love is like relaxing endlessly into a warm bath that surrounds and supports your every movement, so that every thought and feeling is permeated by it. … This love is actually part of you; it is always flowing through you. It’s like the subatomic texture of the Universe, the dark matter that connects everything. … Unconditional love really exists in each of us. It is a part of our deep inner being. It is not so much an active emotion as a state of being.”
Ram Dass, Be Love Now
I find it helpful to realize that unconditional love or loving awareness is not an emotion but this relaxed way of being, this state that for me feels warm and open-hearted, yet neutral with no judgments or expectations. Just being present to what is with loving awareness. I am slowly bumbling my way toward this state of being. The times I have been in this state teach me that it is worth all my efforts.
- How do you experience love?
- What steps have you taken on the path of the heart?
- What happens when you expand beyond a layer of contraction or old conditioning?
I’d love to hear of your experiences or thoughts about the path of the heart!