The following article first appeared on FuturEdition, the free, bi-monthly e-newsletter of The Arlington Institute.
Our literature, both popular and sacred, is laced with categorical statements about the essence of love. Love is all there is; Love, which created me, is what I am; God is love, etc. In the things I have been reading for the past few years there is a common thread that suggests that these adages are true. We're not necessarily talking here about valentines and stuff like that -- romantic love -- but about a transcendent feeling of gratitude and appreciation for things that are bigger than just "us". If you walk outside on a crisp spring night and look at the majesty of the cosmos painted across the sky and feel a transcendent sense of awe and gratitude then you probably have tapped into this field of love that we're discussing here.
A scientist friend says it this way: "When one realizes that in the entangled quantum universe one is literally not just metaphorically, 'in touch' with the entire rest of the universe, the experience of it can only be expressed as a sensation of Cosmic Love."
Many years ago this same quantum physicist friend confided that he felt that the most essential energy field -- at the bottom of all physical reality -- is really love. Actual love. He thought that if and when we get to the place where we have generators that can access and concentrate this energy such that it can be converted into heat or electricity, that process of concentration will set up local energetic fields around the equipment that will give off a feeling of love that will be obvious to anyone who walks near it.
Interesting idea: make them small enough so that everyone is carrying one and big enough that every building has one and now, there is a broad-based "field of love" that pervades everything, everywhere. Has the potential of changing basic human relations, I'd say.
But, what is this love energy that we're talking about? What is this stuff? Where does it come from? The metaphysical and esoteric folks say the biblical pronouncement is literally true: God is love. They say that God is all there is. (Insert any alternative word for the originator of all reality here that you'd like, if "God" doesn't feel right to you.) We're certainly not talking about some old man-type figure "out there" who is messing with us all and telling us what not to do. We're trying to be a bit more sophisticated than that here.
There are bundles of sources, both religious, metaphysical, and in some cases scientific that explain our reality experience as being that of individual consciousnesses that are an integral part of the whole, cosmic consciousness which creates or manifests this extraordinary exercise that we are a part of.
Albert Einstein said: "A human being is a part of the whole, called by us a universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest....a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
You can think of it as a subroutine in a very complex computer program. The routine operates "independently" but is an integral component of the larger program, is connected directly and indirectly to all of the other subroutines, and only has meaning in the context of the larger program. . . . or something like that.
The explanations suggest that "God", which is "everything" wanted to have as many experiences as possible and so partitioned itself up into derivative (but integral) consciousnesses, and in our case, at least, provided those consciousnesses a degree of free will to do what they want. As each and all of the consciousnesses do and experience things, those rich, evolving experiences produce a net, increasingly interesting, experience for the creator of all of this. Got that? We are a piece of God. When we have an experience, IT has an experience, and IT likes that. (This, of course, is not the explanation that I got as a youth in church, but it works for me these days.)
As you might imagine, there are some unconventional implications to this paradigm. First of all, if we are each a piece of God, then "IT" doesn't need itself to worship itself. That's a little problematic for many who come from fundamental perspectives. The defining issue is perspective. Some religions see God as external to "us". IT's out there somewhere, overseeing all that we are doing, etc. If that was true, then it would be logical to have a certain degree of reverence (and worship even) for an outsider who has great control over you. That's how we think of bosses and presidents and kings.
But if IT is not separate from us and rather, we are a part of IT, then the whole perspective changes. Everything's One and there is only One. We can't make God angry, because we are God (a piece of God, anyway). We can get angry, and that is part of IT's experience, but IT being angry at us would be like you and me really being upset at our finger or knee. My knee is me - how can I be mad at my knee?
This approach also means that everyone (and everything) is connected to everyone else. To use the bodily metaphor again, my nose and arm are both parts of me and if all of the component parts of my body are not healthy and in balance then all are negatively affected. If you bloody my nose, it will certainly have a direct effect on how my arm reacts and how the whole organism feels.
If we humans could get to the place where we really believed that we were all connected to each other, particularly in nonphysical -- but very real -- ways, then it would change everything. We would look at other individuals differently, knowing that through our current physical eyes we certainly seem separate but we are otherwise very much connected, and injuring someone else always produces self-inflicted problems.
By the way, this is obviously an evolutionary, learning, process that takes time to assimilate. The events across the Arab world these days are pretty convincing that there are benefits to be had from using violence to change some governments. One could argue, though, that in general, much of the developed world has now learned (domestically, at least) that it is much better to affect change in governments, work situations and families without resorting to violence.
This "oneness" perspective also fundamentally informs how we see ourselves and points to the big question about how we should live. Apparently this whole human experience is about moving inexorably (albeit seemingly slowly) toward directly experiencing the essence of "God". It seems to me that if there is a common thread to the evolutionary development of humanity then it is about an increasing embrace of the notion of universal love. Before you get all excited, let me explain.
We seem to slowly be treating each other better. For example, in the U.S. every citizen has the right to vote and we don't lynch anyone. Women and others oppressed groups have made extraordinary advances within just my lifetime. There's a lot that still needs to be done, of course, but with women and minorities running some of the largest and most important businesses and government agencies, it's clear that we are making some progress.
So, what is that progress about? It's about inclusiveness. It's about seeing others with more equality. It's about "loving" others more. We obviously don't love everybody already, but one could clearly argue that the increasing inclusivity and equality that we feel toward each other certainly isn't hate. It represents increasing degrees of love.
Why is this happening? If the sages are to be believed, the relationship is somewhat simple. The essence of "God" is love and the ultimate human objective is to be increasingly transparent to that love. As Erich Fromm eloquently expressed it, "Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence."
In the western world, at least, the process of human enlightenment, regardless of whether you see it in economic, political, social or spiritual terms, is about a decreasing of the influence on ourselves and our organizations of historic human values such separateness, competition and violence, and increasing the "God-like" notions of love which manifest themselves as inclusivity, equality, cooperation, et. al. That's not all of it, of course, but in behavioral terms, it starts to look like that from the outside.
Isn't that what's going on? The European nations were all fighting among themselves for many hundreds of years. Now they're not. Major corporations that used to exclusively compete are now both competing and cooperating -- they call it coopetition. Enabled by the Internet, thousands of individuals located in far corners of the world from dramatically different cultures are working together . . . to bring down oppressive governments and institutions. Family members use the Web to stay in touch far more so then was possible in the past. That's all love-like.
Let's say this interests you, and you're wondering how, in practical terms, this might translate into something that you could hang your hat on every day. I alluded to an answer up above when I mentioned decreasing the influence of historic human values and transparency. I think of it in terms of this "God-love" being the lowest, most basic level of a stack of contributing factors that result in "what we do" and how we see ourselves.
Borrowing from Robert Pirsig, on top of that most basic source, we begin to overlay what we think we know about how things work in scientific terms, for example, that become assumptions that shape and constrain the way we interpret things and limit what we think is possible. These rules and principles are the things we think we "know". They have a sense of universality.
One layer up are all the social ideas and laws that we have ginned up, depending upon where we live, what we have experienced, been taught, and how we were raised. This is the layer of religions, governments, and social and family rules. They are all subjective. They change from country to country and culture to culture. They are most likely different on different sides of town. The most barbaric and dysfunctional behavior in humans comes from this layer. Most likely you have changed your mind about some of your notions about what is "right" within your life. You've changed, society changes, the priorities change. But all of us use our set of these conventions to determine what is acceptable and what is not. These ideas come from the social system, from authorities. This is the layer of things we "believe".
The frosting or top on this layer cake is where we "explore" -- where we leave the comfort of the familiar and gather up the guts to strike out on our own. Here is where original ideas reside -- where things that make intuitive sense live. We decide for ourselves. This is the land of joy and progress, where early independent thinking, not based necessarily on any previous rules or conventions, is nurtured. This layer is one of confidence and engagement. Enlightenment is not possible without some commitment to exploration that eschews the conventional and is independent from institutionally engendered beliefs.
Ideally, the characteristics of the love that underpins everything would illuminate the middle layers and inform the top layer. There would be unimpeded transparency from the bottom of the stack to the top.
For most of us, that is not the case. The two middle layers of "knowledge" and "beliefs" obscure and hinder the essence of love showing up in our life and therefore moving us forward into new space. Think of it as a stage light that has many gels and filters fixed on the front that guarantee that the light that illuminates the actor has significantly less intensity and a different color from that of the light itself. The filters that we add are reasons, almost all based upon fear, that tell us why we can't or shouldn't do anything other than what authorities and society -- others -- say is acceptable.
It is hard to overstate the significance of this. From the time that we are born throughout all of our education, employment and partnering, a full-up set of social conventions are driven into our minds. Authorities and important people in our lives reinforce a core set of rules and guidelines and we observe what society does to those who don't conform. We call them quirky, crazy, unreliable, immoral, and insane. The system expects that you will live in fear of the social implications that will result if you don't follow the "rules", either explicit or implicit.
Those rules -- and, with them, a social structure -- are what has given us the world we presently live in. It is axiomatic, therefore, that if you want to become enlightened or awake (or whatever you want to call your personal development) you will have to depart from the level of conventional beliefs and begin to think for yourself. If you don't, and instead keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you've been getting.
Here's the bottom-line presumption: the more love-light that illuminates your life, the better it will be. One way to state the purpose of life, then, is: to systematically eliminate the filters that hinder the ability of love to color all aspects of your life. Put another way: anything that hinders the proliferation of love must, by definition, be holding you back from what you can become.
There are two imperatives then, that must be put in place to become this new human: you must shed the conventional filters of fear-based rules that constrain the God-love light from fully illuminating all aspects of your life, and you must become an explorer, actively striking out into the relatively unfamiliar to find those new ideas and approaches that will allow you to become who you are next supposed to be.
"In the end
these things matter most:
How well did you love?
How fully did you live?
How deeply did you let go?"
- Siddhãrtha Gautama
This is not necessarily easy. It takes courage and resolution . . . and time and effort. But accomplishing anything significant requires all of that.
God is but love and therefore so am I.
"Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within." -- James Baldwin
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