My karma predisposes me towards asceticism. That may have been a virtue in a different culture and age, but in this world it has made me a slave. I grew up poor, in a poor community, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. I have never prioritized pleasure or happiness, because I was taught those were luxuries we could not afford. That fidelity to joyless duty has followed me into the middle class, and along my spiritual journey.
Even after awakening to my true nature as an infinite being of love and bliss, I have remained in some ways impoverished. I have passively accepted things that serve neither my happiness nor that of others. I have retreated into inward bliss, as the inertia of a middle class life set in motion before my awakening consumes most of my time with things that serve a life I do not desire.
This world rewards those who doggedly pursue their desires to the exclusion of all else, no matter how misguided. I have seldom had strong desires beyond my desire for union with god. Before awakening I did not know yet what I sought. So I set about building a safe middle class life designed to alleviate the condition of material deprivation.
Then within months of starting that middle class life, I awakened to my true nature, and realized the worst poverty is that of the soul. I now wistfully reflect on the freedom of that materially impoverished child from the mountains. He wanted to seek god, but had no one to show him the way. I now know the way, but have less physical freedom than ever before. How long will I continue serving a middle class life designed to alleviate a poverty I no longer fear?
Though I have undergone drastic internal transformation since my awakening, the external aspects of my life have been more resistant to change. Each year brings gradual reform to my habits, circumstances, and outward identity. But the outward circumstances of my life are ever lagging behind who my soul is calling me to be.
Since 2011 I have changed political affiliations, cities, jobs, adopted a daily meditation practice, become a vegetarian, and have found spiritual community. There are many other outward changes I might list, but these are a few that stick out. What is most notable about these changes is that all of them have slowly been moving me towards a more loving and peaceful way of being in the world.
Over the years I have come to see a decided pattern to these periods of change. Each major change is preceded by a prolonged period of discomfort and unhappiness. A circumstance or habit simply has to become unbearable to my soul, until finally, I reach a point where I must choose between inward regression or outward reform.
I am still moving toward a more perfect alignment between my soul and outward circumstances. But as I become more inwardly peaceful, I have become more acutely aware of those places in my life of tension, discomfort, and unhappiness. I know what makes me happy and what does not, and I know the direction I need to move in, if not the destination.
Upon finding god it is hard to misplace him. I have found him in grand old churches with high steeples, steeped in history and traditions. I have found him in new age circles of those seeking a transcendent mystery they dare not name. I have found him in the forest, where the mountain lion hunts the deer, and the oak tree gently sways. I have found him in all these places and more. Upon finding god there is no escaping him.
Love requires the community of lovers. Alone it shrivels and dies. Perhaps some rare saints and perfect beings can love in the absence of love. But I am not a perfect being. Alone, my heart grows heavy then numb. In the community of lovelessness, I become loveless.
Love requires the community of lovers to stay alive in my heart. It needs gurus of love, who exemplify vulnerability, giving without expectation of return, and abundance. I can rely neither on god nor my own efforts to learn the lessons of love.
Much has been given to me by grace and self-discipline, but my heart requires the community of lovers. Truly, love cannot be learned from god nor the inward directed gaze alone. It must be received from your fellow beings, then freely given, without expectation of return.
I spent this past weekend in Asheville at a spiritual retreat with soulmates. These retreats are rare, and only occur once or twice a year; but the light gained always prompts transformation, healing, and opening of my heart. I see in these moments of retreat the more beautiful world my heart knows is possible. I also see within myself the more beautiful version of myself that is possible.
It is a place where people look one another in the eyes, and enter into silent communion for moments, minutes, or for a period outside of the reckoning of time. There are no perfect beings there, but each being is striving earnestly to be a more perfect and loving version of themselves. There is magic in the air when one or more gather in his name.
My heart seems to have grown three sizes over the weekend, and god’s peace and bliss seems more firmly rooted in my being. But already I find a world and life out of alignment with love and peace chipping away at those gifts. A hectic schedule and stressful job demand that my time, energy, and attention be expended on things that do not serve me or others. People have stopped looking me in the eyes and sharing their souls. The suffering world, that has not yet identified the source of its suffering, lashes out at me in pain.
All these things separate me from god, my soul, and my peace. Is it my duty to forsake them, or try to share some of the peace and love I have found, before it is gone? I know the answer is out there, but I doubt my courage to know.
After my awakening my heart opened, and I was raptured with divine bliss. But while the bliss has never left me, my heart almost immediately began its retreat. I awakened to a life built by a self that did not know love, that could not understand it or believe that such a thing existed as a real force in the world. It was an unconscious and loveless life, and my newly awakened heart was horrified by what it found.
I knew that embodied love could not live the life I was living. Love demanded I change everything about my life at once to serve god and my fellow beings. Love asked me to forsake my identity, my profession, my ambitions, and all my preconceptions about the world. Love demanded that I die completely to myself – and I feared death.
So my heart retreated, but did not close. It stayed open just as much as my life could bear. Like a candle in the night it continued to burn, illuminating those things that were loveless and wrong, and calling me to change them. First it illuminated my violent and selfish thoughts. Then it came for my careless and loveless actions. One by one, on and on, it has illuminated my sins and called me towards conversion.
I have changed much over the years, and have shifted many things about how I choose to be in the world. But many loveless circumstances remain that are informed by major life decisions undertaken by my former self. I brush up against those circumstances with love, and try to shift or transform them. But I fall short of rejecting or abandoning them outright.
So I allow them to do violence to my heart, because I fear letting them go. I hold onto an identity that is no longer true, a profession that does not serve me or others, and remain attached to habits, big and small, that separate me from god and others. Truly, fear is the absence of love.
I cannot keep doing violence to my heart. I can no longer ride the inertia of the great omnicidal world destroying machine. I am asked each day to deny the god in others and the world, and with each denial my heart grows more heavy and finally numb. Then the greatest sin of all. I no longer feel the suffering of the world. I no longer notice the god in my fellow beings and the creation. I turn my eyes upward and cry out, “God why have you forsaken me!”…and he responds, because you have forsaken me in others and my creation.
I can no longer keep doing violence to my heart. I can no longer forsake my god in others and in his creation. I can no longer passively ride the inertia of the great omnicdal world destroying machine.
Did I notice god, or was I noticed? I think he must have always been there, waiting to be seen. Supporting me as he supports the universe, with tenderness and infinite love. Always reaching for me, and waiting patiently for me to reach back. Yes, that must be it. I noticed god noticing me, and I reached back.
I noticed god noticing me and reached back, and I was welcomed by a bounty of bliss. I was invited into the divine dance between finite mankind and our infinite god. But we aren’t just dancing, we are drawing closer.
I prayed that there be no separation between us. I prayed for all that does not serve my highest good and the good of others be taken away. I prayed for sanctity. I prayed for the dance to never end and that I be drawn into unending union.
I prayed many prayers, with no small amount of trepidation. How I sympathize with St. Augustine’s wayward words, “Lord make me pure, but not yet!” But the time for wayward prayers has passed.