occupying my heart
For the past week or so, every now and again – and completely without warning – I’ve found tears pooling at the corners of my eyes and sliding down my cheeks. Sometimes I’ve been unaware of them until cool air, or the taste of salt, or a slightly quizzical look brings my attention to the sensation. The tears are sometimes the prelude to something else … at times, a deep laughter rolls its way up from my belly … at others, I am racked with silent sobs … sometimes the tears simply vanish as quietly as they arose and yet at all times there is a deep and abiding stillness that underscores it all.
It’s not that there is any real lightness or heaviness, nor even any identifiable sense of emotion; in general it would seem fair to say that I am overwhelmed with gratitude. To say for what seems purposeless …
gratitude doesn’t really require an object as, in all truthfulness, neither does love.
So here I am at Hub Melbourne, the lyrics of Gorecki echoing in the silence and I feel a tickling at the corners of my eyes again …
I’ve just emerged from a week-long retreat with my good friends Isaac and Meike and about sixty other like-hearted folks in the bush outside Perth in Western Australia.
I first met Isaac in 1996 at what proved to be the end of a seven-year journey in search of my Self. In that first meeting I had a transpersonal experience (for lack of a better way of describing it) that changed everything … not through the agency of a self-congratulatory, self-styled, self-interested guru, but through direct self-enquiry encapsulated in one simple question:
‘Who am I?’
Keep asking the question and, to be perfectly honest, you’ll pretty much experience the inevitable hilarity that comes when you’re forced to write out ‘I will not steal all the chalk from all of the classrooms in school’ ten thousand times (as if it wasn’t already funny enough); in short, the question is, in my experience, the ultimate koan.
Advaita (Isaac was a ‘student of Papaji, who in turn was a student of Ramana – both considered to be great masters of non-dual philosophy) is my kind of trip … it’s nothing if not rational .. no circular, self-perpetuating logic … no seeming-endless sequence of arcane postures, mantras or donations … no drinking of blood, urine or other bodily secretions … no need for intercession from beings who, if they existed, would surely have more interesting things to do than worry about what an insignificant being on an insignificant planet in an insignificant galaxy in a perpetually expanding multiverse is banging on about … (if it were me, I’m sure I’d be off doing the Superman thing like Neo in The Matrix … take the red pill and fly)
Words, at the best of times, are a clumsy and imprecise tool for articulating experience … never more true than here … so rather than say ‘it would be foolish to try’ and go on to prove myself a fool, I’ll just leave it at that.
After a week of sleeping, eating, hours-long sunrise walks in the bush and sitting with others in a genuine enquiry into what it is to be authentically human i find myself returning to the world with better-than-a-fresh-perspective … i find myself coming to this work, once more, with no perspective at all …
Fifteen years of working for the common good had taken their toll … rather than feeling alive in my work, I was undeniably feeling myself burdened by the seeming-importance of all the seeming-change that seemingly needed to happen … nothing like a quiet week of self-enquiry to upset the apple-cart of my own circular logic.
I ‘retired’ from offering self-enquiry my self (!!) some years back, because, at the time (as I explained it to a room full of people) it had become clear to me that asking ‘who’s suffering?’ of a woman in the Sudan with a starving baby on her breast would be the kind of rampant pseudo-spiritual stupidity that gives genuine mysticism a bad name. Maslow figured this out long before me, of course, but youthful enthusiasm coupled with a firm belief that true freedom was to be found in the absolute prevented me from recognising the myriad ways in which awareness can be used as both a weapon and a crutch and interfere with the richness available to us in being absolutely available to the experience of others.
Changemaking is a curious phenomenon – it presumes universal imperfection and is coupled with the grand hubris that we can both comprehend the vastness of creation and architect comprehensive strategies that can adequately address the infinite variables at play. Beyond that, however, and perhaps more importantly, it seems so frequently driven by some sense of imbalance, by the belief in universalities of rightness and wrongness when, in my experience, it’s also frequently motivated by a discomfort in our own selves that we simply lack the capacity to identify, or make peace with if we can.
It’s been fascinating to watch the occupy movement and to see the broad distinctions between those who are seeking change because love pulls them to it, and those who are seeking change through the agency of righteousness. This is in no way a commentary on passion (call it anger if you wish) other than to say that intelligent propositions delivered with great energy are far more effective than either in isolation.
When I see faces contorted in rage, however, whether cloaked in the garments of state-sanctioned authority, or gathered beneath a banner that includes most but not all, I feel a scream for love that is echoed throughout the human condition.
Isn’t this, at the end of the day, the only problem we’re trying to solve?
I am certain that change happens. I am not certain that it’s possible to be prescriptive and say that some change is more important than others. I’m certain that the work we are variously doing in this field is of value because I see first hand the benefits to individuals, organisations and communities that arise from the work we are collectively engaged with.
Beyond all this, however, I am also certain that we believe so very strongly in the importance of our own existence that, no matter who we are, we are frequently more interested in self-immolation than we are in peace in our own hearts and, by extension, with the hearts of others.
Whatever you might say, I remain heartily unconvinced that there is a single idea worth dying for; of course, it’s a little unfair that those who might successfully argue this belief, no longer can.
So there’s no new commitment here; no decision to be made, or action to be taken, simply the simmering awareness that when I’m engaged with whatever it is that love pulls me to, my world – and, it seems, the worlds of those around me – is gentler, easier and far, far more impactful.
It’s a joy to wake in the morning with the knowing that I am 100% … and that this is no more, nor less, than I’ve ever been.
For this I most heartily give thanks.
we found that spending more of one’s income on others predicted greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative survey study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending). Finally, participants who were randomly assigned to spend money on others experienced greater happiness than those assigned to spend money on themselves.