Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of January 30, 2012

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(Sacred Impulses: Facet 6 of 8)

Love: a word full of so many meanings, so central to our life. Even more than the remarkable and endlessly gratifying experience of being loved, when we love, our life seems full and meaningful. Yet we do not love as much or as well as we might wish; we settle for less than the real thing. But at any moment, we can rise to love those around us. One way to explore love is to look at its various manifestations on our different levels of experiencing.

At the level of obsession and attachment, possessiveness turns too easily into jealousy, hate, and anger. Attachment repels the person to whom we are attached, because they feel the needy and devouring fangs of our clinging. At this level also we can be driven by lust, deriving from the necessary, biological imperative to reproduce. We see the object of our obsession as just that, an object, a cardboard cutout of a person, not an actual living, breathing one. Possessive love leads us into an unsatisfying and destructive abyss. Such “love” destroys itself, either by becoming its own opposite or arousing its opposite in return.

At the somewhat milder level of our ordinary, half-aware life, we are driven to seek what we like. We like others, depending on their compatibility with us and on their attitude toward us. This level of “love” is about the lover, not about the beloved. It depends on the others’ actions and how they affect us. This transactional love readily turns into dislike if the other fails to uphold their end of the bargain, a mutual-liking contract. It is shallow and not very resilient to challenges.

At the level of being in contact with our life, kindness and consideration without expectation of reciprocity become possible. We have moments of contact with other people and of true generosity. We appreciate other people and we begin to experience a fellow-feeling, brotherhood and sisterhood. We can be a friend and gracious companion. In intense team situations, we can love our teammates. Even with strangers, we can be warm and courteous. At this level it starts to feel like love and to have a transformative impact on us and our relationships. We become aware that other people are not just animated things, but are alive, just as we are. At this level of kind and considerate love, we radiate a positive influence on our corner of the world.

Now we come to conscious love, which experiences and recognizes the sameness that we share with others. We step beyond the relationship of you and me to the sameness of I and Thou. We see directly that we all share the same consciousness, just as we share the same air. And sharing consciousness erodes the boundaries between us. Our defenses drop. Expectations, demands, and contracts have no place here, but compassion and commitment do. Mutual acceptance and respect come naturally when we live in love, even if only for a moment.

Wonderful indeed, yet there is more. Beyond consciousness, there is the love that reaches to devotion. The lover disappears into love. We move beyond sameness to oneness, beyond I am to We are. And ultimately we discover the Great Heart of the World.

So how do we navigate these levels of love? First, can we see where we are, see the nature of the love we give? Seeing this, we aim to rise to next level. Each of these levels of love corresponds to a level of the spiritual path, to a level of being which we may attain. Thus our inner work has a direct impact on our ability to love. For example, seeing that we are obsessed, we look to relax our obsession. At a higher level, presence brings us into contact with ourselves. Being in contact with ourselves, we can be in contact with others. In contact with others, we are led to practice kindness and civility until they become natural for us. Beyond that, the meditative experience of stillness opens us to consciousness, which opening spills over into our daily life, enabling us to see that consciousness surrounds us, not just individually, but all of us collectively. In that shared consciousness we find a new kind of love. And prayer takes us beyond ourselves toward devotion, toward the unfathomable ocean of Love.

The Russian poet Yevgeny Evtushenko once said: “Everywhere I go people love me, because I love them.” And why not? What keeps us from the fullness of love?

See also:

Stages of Love

Love and Compassion


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