Love is the root of my practice. My life is my practice.
My life has been rather mundane if seen on paper. No great war nor genocide survived, nor terminal disease, nor horrific abuses, nor famine, nor earthquake. These grand traumas may have explained or justified the closed state of my heart which I first noticed in my early teens. But the fact is less clearly and more invidiously rooted, it turned out.
I remember starting a self-reflection practice at day’s end when I was 11 years old. At that tender age, the reflection was rather innocently on what I’d said in the day that may have hurt another, or ways in which I had crossed various lines of external control in my life, with the ensuing fervent declaration that tomorrow ‘I’d be better’. It was another four years before I lay one night in the stillness and determined something more profound: that my heart was stone. Full stop.
This was on account of a sense of not being able to offer a consistent, unconditional love and, that though I witnessed those around acting in loving ways, it did not penetrate beyond an intellectual recognition. This was a devastating realisation, because love is quite a high priority for any teenager yearning for romantic connection of the Rupert Holmes ‘pina colada’ kind, let alone a child whose internal narrative should include the sense of family being a nest of warm acceptance and nurture. I was too young to understand about projection, attachment theory and other complicated psycho-spiritual concepts, but it was clear that by that stage in my life, the problem was in me, mine and only mine to rectify. And so began a decades-long journey.
In my forties, something significant happened amid the general chaos my stone-heart had predictably created. I was sitting in a deeply quiet state while co-facilitating a neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), intensive practitioners training. Daily meditation was at that point well-established, and though I no longer participated in the conventions and traditions of Christian spirituality which I’d been raised in, the catechisms, sermons and personal Bible study had grounded a handful of significant phrases in me.
‘God is Love’. This one.
‘Man is created in the image of God’. This one.
And then, the various inexplicable and unforgettable states, either spontaneously gifted or meditation-induced, where I was held fixed, in a beam of Love-infused Light from above, unable to move or think, until eventually they passed. These too.
And so, though unbidden, an unconscious extrapolation of the above arose in that NLP training session: the thought, “I am Love”. It came with a sense of unarguable knowing that left the words echoing in the quiet.
I sat in bewilderment for a while, not able to get any kind of grasp on what they meant.
My trusty intellect quickly stepped in to deal with the Great Threat of Confusion, by asking a few curious questions:
- If I am Love, not the one loving nor being loved, what does that mean?
- Who am I when I am Love? In everyday life; each role, each function…?
- What do I think when I am Love?
- What do I say when I am Love? And of course, how do I behave, when I am Love?
- What must change if I am to live the Love I am? And so on.
It had all been easy before when Love was a verb or a state. But when Love is my identity? It was an unfathomable concept. Yet it would not depart.
The significance of these questions in the NLP context is that NLP proposes a model of hierarchical thinking which we are all subject to; a way our brains and neurology organise incoming information to determine the best way to navigate life. One’s identity is at the higher end of this hierarchy and all our most recognisable actions in the world arise from it and its progeny, which are: beliefs and values, competencies/skills, behaviour and even the environments we choose to position ourselves in. It is a big deal who you think you are. It is in fact a major determinant of where you end up in life, what you prioritise, your pervasive states, capabilities, and growth.
I had patently not held a very high view of myself when casting an eye across the plains and prairies of my life.
It was soon after that another recognition arose: that the person I (and everyone else) thinks they are, is only an operating system ~ a set of habituated thoughts about self; ideas and concepts that have been planted into the incessant internal narrative, by self and others. This leads to actions that are high-speed reactive programmes and words that arise from fleeting emotions and not wisdom; actions and thoughts that are more repetitive, predictable – and destructive – than anyone might like to admit.
It followed that how much I chose to focus on only that identity, would be the extent to which I would be limited in every area of life. It may sound self-evident in this age of consciousness exploration. But then, it was revelatory. To me anyway.
The musings continued: what if I changed the focus of identity to any one of the higher order possibilities, like “I am Love”, “I am Peace”, “I am that I Am”. It was clear I would become aligned with a set of laws and possibilities the old, limited identity could never access. These laws and possibilities are whispered through all mystical texts across all religions. But it was clear the moon could not be scooped from the lake of those texts.
Mysticism is not logical nor entertains a delineated path, process and outcome that can be articulated, let alone controlled, sequenced, or measured. Rather it consistently asks of one to trust, to surrender, to open, to receive, to live without clarity and to instead know through experience, not anticipation and meaning. There are indeed processes, techniques, and technologies passed down through the eons to facilitate such experience, but they are often not presented with a clear outcome nor purpose and their coherence, efficacy and safety have often not been established. It’s a wild ride into the unknown of one’s own Mind and Heart, far beyond the bounds of what is spoken of in common society; far beyond the common understanding of what a human life is all about.
Why would I even consider pursuing this? It was clear that my life was no evidence of living it well. And I wasn’t seeing too much evidence around me of the kind of successful living I sensed was possible. All the advice seemed more of the rinse and repeat formulae every generation had followed. And, what’s more, the intensity of love I had felt when emotionally and psychologically suffering, terribly alone, and in a profoundly open and relational state with God, En Sof, All that is More than Me, was totally compelling even though I had no understanding of what it inferred.
How to embark on this, when my operating system was clearly guarded, defensive, mistrustful, strategizing, and controlling ~ and all of these were upheld as wise and intelligent.
There needed to be three things:
- A complete break from the taught logic of how to be in the world.
- Radical courage to go against the conventional, habituated ‘wisdom’ of society (the word ‘courage’ I had already learned has as its root in the French word ‘coeur’ – heart)
- A recognition that as Einstein said: this problem was not going to be solved with the same mind that created it. It could not be solved at all, it turned out, with my resourceful and competent, analytical mind.
I reinforced my commitment to the Indian meditation technology I had been given in my mid-thirties, spending two or more hours a day on the practice, while the rest of each day included ‘watching my mind’, rerouting it, and trying to embed the persistently mysterious identity “I am Love”. Error was followed by try-again. On and on. My life was still spinning in self-generated chaos but amid it all there were ‘miracles’. Moments of immense Grace, unfathomable, just as miracles should be! And so I continued.
The meditation technology I was using worked with my deep, core, energetic structures, which by their nature influence every level of our internal life (our mind, our heart, our body, our ‘soul’) but provided little to no information about how to recognise nor correct mental obstacles to progress. It also did not address the stone heart issue. The practice obliquely addressed it, without doubt. But there was no information around the huge cost to life itself, now and far into the future, of mental and emotional addictions, identifications, and a world view rooted in the need for attack and defend. And for one who had deified the intellect, information was going to be necessary for any further progress. The analytical mind wasn’t going to let go even a bit, without compelling reasons. And what’s more, there was no clear structure provided in the context of this technology, for sifting out what reference content in my mind was serving me and what was sabotaging every forward step. It was increasingly like souping up an engine in a car without a competent or seeing driver. In many respects, I was driving blind.
Nonetheless, in an imperceptible way, relational Love (aka between me and others, whether human or not) increasingly changed into something independent of moods or reactive inclinations to pick n choose when and whom to direct it toward. I could no longer describe it qualitatively nor quantitatively. I certainly did not find myself in some rainbow space of effulgent bliss. Instead, it became a kind of flat land of steady emotion in all relationships. Neither specifically high nor low. I don’t think this is any achievement. It is just where I am now. I can say for certain that the old co-dependent, roller coaster form of love is largely unravelled. But that is not my endpoint. My heart may not be stone now, but it isn’t fully open.
In my early fifties, that technology I had faithfully applied with unrelenting discipline for nearly two decades waned in compulsion. Two days of no practice eventually stretched to a week and there seemed to be a growing vacuum in my Life cultivation. REN XUE and the Yuan Gong teachings arrived on the shores of my lake at that time and there was no hesitation in jumping onto the refined, masterfully designed boat. I had been longing for the clear guidance it offered. For the simplicity that never compromised profundity. I soaked up the wisdom teachings distilled and presented by Yuan Tze, its founder. Answers to many years of questions helped make sense of past experiences. The teachings provided clear guidelines for what to pay attention to and what to ignore, and a trustworthy, credible process with a clear outcome, closely aligned with my own.
And the structure of identity ~ essentially what I choose to identify with both internally and externally ~ was unpacked in such a way that “I am Love” can now increasingly exist rationally and congruently with my worldly name, roles, and functions. There is less bewilderment and a growing clarity that every day this statement of fact needs to be nourished, practiced. For it is this no-mind, but rather heart practice, which will help to shift the likelihood of living a meaningless merry-go-round Life/Lives of desperate iteration.