the quest: to love or to be loved
I'm ruminating today on what a spiritual journey (over a few decades, now) has been like, in my life. in the early years, I was suffering from extreme heartbreak, depression, real trauma from family circumstances and abuses.
my primary motivation in life was to be loved; there seemed to be such a lack of love, cumulatively, in my own experience, everywhere I turned. toward that end (wanting so desperately to be loved), it was easy for me to extend friendship and love to people -- but underneath the very real and warm feelings of affection and caring, there was often an undercurrent, an edge, of selfishness, of manipulation, of being loving and accommodating and understanding and kind out of a desire to be treated reciprocally.
it's a painful moment, to recognize that the majority of one's actions, seemingly loving on the surface, are motivated from internal pain and a nagging sense of a lack of love.
that was a huge wake-up call for me, in my mid-twenties, that left me reeling. having identified that overwhelming tendency in myself, it was almost too painful to examine, to look at clearly, to admit -- and yet, having seen it, I couldn't then un-know it.
I think many people -- not all -- come to spirituality and seek a spiritual path out of that desire to love and be loved. something is missing in their lives, in their experience of living and interacting with others -- something just under the surface facade of daily life is disappointed or yearning for love.
looking back, I'm convinced this was a primary motivation for me to (reluctantly) seek a spiritual life. I had survived my youth and upbringing, and my turbulent, dramatic twenties -- and I was more interested in finding out what thriving, rather than just surviving, might feel like.
fast forward to now, in my early forties, having spent so many years on an intense spiritual path, living a good portion of the last decade in South India (at an ashram), and I realize that the constancy of that yearning for love and understanding has pretty much dissolved. it is no longer an urgent longing, a theme in my daily life and interactions, like is was before: "oh, but you're not UNDERSTANDING me!" "but I just want to be LOVED!!! why is that so difficult?"
and my insight today (certainly not a new idea, the Sufi poets have talked more eloquently than I on the subject) is this: it's like a fish in the water.
the desire for love in our lives, although natural, means that we're not perceiving how much we are loved by the divine (in, through, and around us).
the fish in the water doesn't identify how wet the water is, he's simply in it. (the Sufi saying is "the fish in the ocean's not thirsty.")
similarly, we're surrounded constantly by divine love but don't feel it, mostly, as such -- we feel the illusion of separation from it. and then yearn for that love, and spend our lives pursuing it -- but it's already with us! has always been with us! can never NOT be with us, except in our perception of it not being there.
a few years ago, when I was in and out of this awareness, sometimes swinging into those moments of forgetting, and thinking, "oh, but I just wanna be LOVED!" inevitably St. Francis of Assisi's famous prayer would come into my mind as if written in neon lights:
"O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love."
Francis' statement is so bold, so courageous -- grant that I can love more than I am, myself, loved.
to take those words seriously and try to live to them is creating a kind of revolution, on a fundamental level, in terms of how we perceive ourselves, truly, and perceive our interactions/relationships with others -- and how, finally, we perceive our connection with god.
if we truly see/feel/perceive/recognize how deeply the divine is with us, in every moment, in every circumstance, in every breath, in every molecule in our make-up, in every waking or sleeping state -- then we are experiencing the depth of god's love constantly.
and god's love isn't selfish, god isn't sitting there mourning a lack of love -- god IS love. as children of god, ourselves, we are endowed with the identical capacity of love: boundless, flowing, unconditional, pure love in all directions, at all times.
the trick is, how to ask, like St. Francis, not so much to be loved, but to love. Francis is essentially asking to become like god is: purely loving.
it sounds so easy but the leap of faith required, the leap of surety in god's love -- it can take a lifetime to make that jump. it seems like having to leap over a whole life's worth of suffering, of selfishness, of a chasm of belief systems and limitations that simply aren't working any more but are too familiar to just jump over. it's like jumping over a gaping canyon of our fears. and it is, initially, frightening to survey that chasm and even consider a leap like that.
spiritual work, it seems to me, constant practice and sadhana and meditation and sacrifice and honesty about our limitations and service to others -- is preparing us, systematically, to make that leap into unconditional love.
by the time we've done so much work, over time, with faith and patience being tried to the extreme -- that leap isn't monumental at all, over a giant gaping chasm of self-doubt and yearning for love, but it's like making a peaceful, natural step up into the front door of god's home (where god has been waiting, just waiting, to welcome us, all along).
because that doorway into god's home? it's the doorway into our own home, our own divine heart.