I’ve been getting messages lately about the most demanding of spiritual practices: to not leave love. What does it mean to abide in love whatever the circumstance? Is it humanly possible?
It rattles me to realize that the first thing it means is to have no enemies. What?!! Can I not hate the haters? We’ve just had an election in which (I believe) the worst in us prevailed. Fear. Incredible hatred. The defensive need to make others wrong. Denial of what is threatening (climate change). Reducing it all to a game of who can amass the most power and destroy the other. Not everyone comes from this place, but it’s what I see in what I label as the opposition.
Yes, I’ve heard of pacifists sending loving kindness to war generals. That is one example of not leaving love. But a step before this, for me at least, is to let them out of the category of “wrong.” I’ll change examples here to one closer to home.
I have an old friend who I’ve made wrong recently. I’ve made her into an enemy. I think I can legitimately argue that her behavior is offensive. Her need to dominate and be in control certainly triggers me. Feeling I can’t call her on it (I have, but it doesn’t seem to change her behavior, which just becomes more subtly controlling) furthers an uncomfortable feeling of powerlessness—and is a dangerous parallel from my early life. The way I have been managing my discomfort is to make her the enemy and justify pushing her away.
What is the alternative? Can the adult in me manage the terror that might rightly belong to the child in me? Can I step out of righteous and remember that we are both wounded? Can I hold in compassion the need behind her behavior: to not go near a place where she feels inferior or not in control. It is a binary system for her: either she’s in control or the Other is—which are not the only options.
Or back to the larger social arena, can I hold in compassion the need (of whole populations, however aggressive) to not feel vulnerable to being victimized? Can I hold in compassion the overwhelming fear of one’s world being turned upside down or the planet unlivable? How about the immature need to have “power over” others? To make oneself king?
Oh, the Way of Love is ruthless! It takes away my anger, my righteousness. It whittles away my hardness and the energy of doing battle. Having to own my own stuff, it exposes my raw places and gives me no place to hide. We are all so imperfect, and all so in need of love.
The second thing the practice of love does is to eliminate the Other. I was at the end of a startling piece of inner work one day and heard, “Forgive them. Love everyone.” Pardon me? Forgive those that I had just remembered as violating me? You’ve got to be kidding! I’d rather wring their necks. Still the message shook me, and I recognized in it something radically true.
I will focus here on the second part of the message, “love everybody.” What does it mean to love everybody? I think it means seeing them as the Divine sees them. Seeing a basic goodness, however distorted that may have gotten. Seeing a preciousness that has been wounded. Or even a preciousness that is whole and certainly does not diminish anyone else’s light.
To love everybody involves seeing what people have in common with me rather than keeping them at arm’s distance by focusing on differences and making them Other. If there were no Others in our experience, there would be no war or exploitation. There would not be the insensitivity that allows us to scramble over people in order to “take care of #1” (me). Perhaps even greed would disappear.
I have held love as a supreme value for a long time and even written about it as spiritual path. Loving Spirit is easy and feeling love for myself has become a stable “station” too. And certainly loving those who are easy to love is coming along just fine. But bringing this love into the world in all situations shakes me to my core. If I were to truly practice it, it might just be the end of “me.”
And that would be a great grace.
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