Where does love fit (… eventually)?

Before looking at this we need to inquire more closely into the nature of love. To a large extent the answer will depend on what we believe love to be. But before we do that why don’t we spend a moment looking at belief. It might seem like a bit of a side track but it’s a worthwhile one. Let’s start with the obvious question: should you believe what’s written here? Should you believe one word of it?

It’s an interesting process isn’t it? We read the words, we take in the information, we might pause to consider; to ask the question again to ourselves. Then, if it seems straightforward enough, we might formulate some sort of answer. It works step by step. Of course when we take a step we’re off balance aren’t we?

When we move forward and raise one foot we put ourselves in a condition of unbalance that only rectifies itself when the step is complete. If you try to do it very slowly you’ll notice it more clearly. At the point of being off balance we’re in a bit of an uncomfortable state. It feels much better when we have both feet firmly on the ground. When we know where we stand, so to speak.

Asking a question is like this. We create an unresolved story in thought when a question is asked. At that point there’s a mental imbalance, one might say. One side of the equation has been written but what does it equal? How do we resolve it? It’s much more comfortable when we have an answer. Is it this way or that way? Is it tall or short? Is it green or blue? We all have questions at times, and some of us enjoy questioning. But like any journey, the path a question takes us on only feels complete when it’s concluded; when we have a nice clear answer we can hang our hat on.

That works well in everyday life, it works well for most things, but it doesn’t work with non-dual inquiry. More’s the pity; if it did perhaps we could find the answer in some book, or even in a blog. But we can’t. You won’t.

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You won’t because the passing on of information that is required to facilitate the asking and answering of questions only really works within the frame of shared experiences or mental constructs. The realisation of non-duality lies outside of both, and so while a description of it might be offered, that description won’t enable the listener to have the realisation for themselves.

Let’s take an example, one I’ve used before if it sounds familiar. Suppose I go to an island few have ever visited. On the island is a tree upon which grows a very tasty, very unusual fruit. Tasting the fruit is one of the highlights of my holiday, but the fruit is sadly short lived and the tree only grows in this one place so I bring back with me nothing but the memory of the experience of eating it. Now we meet, you and I and I tell you about my holiday and of the marvelous fruit.

Now ask yourself this: no matter how hard or try or the words I use can you ever know the taste of the fruit? You might get the gist of it, it’s bit citrus, a little sweet, the texture isn’t too smooth, it’s quite juicy and so on. You might get an idea based on fruits you’ve eaten, but can you ever know the taste of this fruit? Can you really know it?

Because the fruit isn’t a shared experience you can only know it if you go to the island and try it yourself, right? And it doesn’t matter how many words we use or what words we use that will always be the case. Because not everything can be communicated in words. Until we realise this limitation we can spend a lot of time looking for the answer to non-duality and spiritual awakening in book after book, retreat after retreat. You can sit at the feet of one teacher after another and hear the words over and over again, but the words will never be the experience.

So the question then is, how do we get to this island? How do we find this fruit?

Back in the day, way back, people used to use the term, ‘expanding your consciousness’. Perhaps because it’s in our nature to look for short cuts and quick paths it soon became conflated with the drug culture; there were any amount of drugs that purported to expand one’s consciousness. The term came to be regarded as a bit ‘hippy’, perhaps best left back in the sixties with the culture that popularised it.

So indulge me a little if we look at it again here, because I think it has some value. Mindfulness has gone from being perhaps the foremost element in Buddhist practice to a popular therapy within modern mental health. Unfortunately this transition has left mindfulness somewhat downgraded to simply being more aware of the world around us.

Not that that isn’t part of it, but when we look more closely at what are termed the four pillars of mindfulness, we can see that it also encompasses our emotional reactions in the moment, our underlying mind states and the thoughts and feelings that arise for us. Mindfulness is ultimately the synthesis of these four elements (form/senses; reactions; mind states; mind objects) in our attention within the moment.

For most of us, we’re aware of what’s going on outside, to a degree, but often we get lost within our thoughts, reliving past memories or imagining possible futures. When awareness swims around dully within these spheres of perception, then we’re in a fairly unawakened state.

When our mindfulness develops, as it does with practice, as well as noticing our surroundings in detail through the senses, we are also aware of the mind states and the movements of thought and feeling that arise. We see all of it. This attentiveness does not judge, but it sees judging arise; it is the seeing of these things without being them. It is not identified with that which arises, but neither does it exclude it.

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As far as I’m aware, that’s the only expansion of consciousness we can ever experience. Whilst chemicals might alter the way our senses or thinking processes work for a time, only the practice of mindfulness leads to the brightening or broadening of awareness that allows it to receive and embrace the full gamut of this human experience. It’s a practice that leads on and on, I don’t want to create the false impression that I’ve reached the end of it or even that I’m very good at it, I doubt I am compared to some, but after years of practice I’m a lot better than I was.

So what does that have to do with non-duality? Well, I would like to suggest that it’s this practice that is really our path, or at least the most accessible path for most people. It’s not that we shouldn’t read books or listen to teachers. Go on retreat whenever you like, that’s fine. But unless you begin to really look, to really bring attention to the moment, not just to what arises in the senses but to what’s going on ‘within’, you won’t move very far forward.

So why is mindfulness the path (and we can include meditation here as it is, in a sense, a prolonged period of mindfulness)? Because the corollary of mindfulness is the seeing of all arisings from a place of non-identification. When we’re no longer energising our thought stories with emotive belief, when attention rests in the spacious seeing of these stories, we are at the same time weakening the sense of self and its attendant position of subject and object duality.

But isn’t this mindful attentiveness really just another form of duality? Yes, it appears that way and when we describe it it can look that way. But the nature of this attentiveness is non-identified. It is not ‘taking a position’, is not ‘for or against’, it does not manifest as a ‘me’ seeing ‘this’, it is simply the experiencing of. And that’s the final stage of this process, when it is realised that that which sees is not a thing. There is nothing that sees, there’s just seeing happening. That’s the resolution of this apparent duality that leads to the dissolution of the sense of self.

So should you believe a single word of this? Belief is over-rated. When it comes down to it there is only one important belief; that awakening, nibbana, moksha, non-duality, or whatever you want to call it is possible. It’s what the Buddhists term Right View. If you have that as your compass point, and you set off in that direction (Right Intention) then you can figure the rest out for yourself. A little advice along the way won’t hurt, but each step is yours and only yours.

Okay, final thing. What about love, the titular subject of this post? Well love, from one perspective, and please look and judge for yourself, is the experience whereby subject and object merge; where the sense of separation to some degree dissolves. It is experienced though the heart when the heart is open and more than any words can help us to see the oneness of all.

The heart naturally opens when we move in the direction of oneness, when we act in a less self-ish way. When we give our time, our attention, our care or our resources, when we see that which unites rather than focussing on that which divides. When we refrain from judgment. When we show gratitude, kindness and compassion; when we experience sympathetic joy at another’s achievements or good fortune; when we don’t allow the events of the moment to push us back into the position of defending a ‘me’ but can maintain our equanimity outside of that sticky story.

All these things are expressions of love and come from a position of recognising the oneness of all, which is the true nature of all. If we ignore love, if we undertake this as an intellectual pursuit, then it will take much, much longer, if we get there at all. I should probably say something more about the heart, about its nature and its importance but I think we’ve used enough words already. It’s actually much simpler than all of these words, it’s about being fully present and seeing clearly the arisings of the moment, openly, lovingly, attentively.

Over time the experience of non-duality evolves into one of love, a peaceful open loving without object. That in itself might serve to answer the question, ‘Is it worth it?’

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