The habit of course, in response to unwanted feelings, emotions, fear, uncertainty, panic, and so forth, is to quickly become convinced that our very survival is at risk, that the very integrity of our being is compromised at the most fundamental levels. There is a place deep within us that feels quite sure that if we allow in our immediate experience that we may in fact not make it, that we might actually completely break down and fall apart, in a way that might be irreparable and permanent. And then what would happen? What about our jobs? The kids? The mortgage? Our stories about how “awakened” we are? Our images of ourselves that we must uphold at all cost? Our spouses? Our physical health? Our friends? The bills? Our sanity?
Those of you familiar with research in attachment theory know that when we were infants there were times when life was so overwhelming that we were unable to organize and digest our experience. In order to survive – psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, or even physically – we had to make a critical choice: to unplug, to move away, and to avoid our present experience; or, to panic, following the frenetic energy in the hope we can find a solution, get our needs met, and return to security and safe ground. Adult attachment researchers call these two primary responses deactivation and hyperactivation. We can all observe these movements in our own experience. As little ones, these strategies very often saved our lives. But, as adults, might there another way?
Well, yes, the way of love.
Here, love is that energy of willingness to turn toward whatever is arising in our experience, to not dissociate from it (including “transcending” it through our spiritual beliefs and concepts), and to care so deeply that we allow ourselves to fall apart, to take the risk of intimacy, to stop for a moment avoiding the reality of groundlessness and uncertainty, and to be willing to walk into the unknown. In this very pregnant, alive, shimmering field of the unknown, there is no support for personal identity: there are no longer any concepts of “awakening” or “self-realization” to entertain ourselves with – no longer any constructions of some sort of sustained transcendent experience or mythologies of enlightenment. In this blessed fire, there is no longer any perspective from which to label reality as sacred or profane, divine or non-divine, containing self or no-self; no stories of the “me” who has risen above it all, become “awakened” through some mythical journey, and all the rest of it. We enter this fire not because it feels good or so that the intensity will disappear. Rather, we do so because love wants to know itself through us, in all ways – through our bodies, our feelings, our emotions, our sensations, even through conflict, fear, and other “less-than-spiritual” energies. In this field of the unknown, we are no longer discriminating between sanity and confusion, between wisdom and neurosis; we see that they are made of the same substance, lit up from within by the same movement, designed of the same particles of awareness. In this fearless courage to be fully who and what we are, we are given the opportunity over and over to behold the dance of love in our lives.
And then when we sit with a loved one, a child, a colleague, a client, a stranger, a dear friend who is facing difficulty and challenge, we are able to naturally create a healing space together, like an attuned mother expanding to contain the emotion and pain of her little baby. In this space, our friend is given permission to meet whatever experience that is arising for her, to spin if needed into the groundless, uncertain dimension of being, knowing that you will be there for her if she needs you, to help her to metabolize the confusion and intensity. It is never easy to watch our loved ones suffer, but what they need more than anything from us is our attunement and our presence, knowing that who they are and what they are experiencing is valid and true for them, is an integral part of who they are, and they need not change, fix themselves, be different, or be “more spiritual” in order for us to love them. We set aside all of our agendas to awaken them, heal them, transform them, or to otherwise confirm our own identity in any way.
When we commit ourselves fully to our immediate embodied experience, whatever it is, a portal opens to connect our hearts with the infinite, and we yet again become transparent to the play of love in this world, in all of its qualities and ways of expression. And then whatever Life sends to us – whatever sweet or fierce grace comes our way, as both are equally luminous movements of the sacred – we somehow remain committed to staying close to our experience, allowing everyone and everything to deeply matter; we develop the most radical trust in this life, we know that our hearts will often break open, and that they may not actually be put back together. We are left with compassion, empathy, gratitude, and humility. We don’t really know who we are and what this life is. We know that the mysteries of love will never be resolved, that there will never be some permanent resting place for the heart, and we watch in awe as the unknown becomes our true refuge.