I learned something this year I thought might be worth writing about. Especially since it's a huge reason I'm taking this leap.
Lately I have been practicing being in a state of love. I have found I like myself much better when I am in love. So full of joy that it spills over. Exuberant, but gentle. By truly paying attention and practicing being in love with everyone I encounter, it does not inflict itself on others with cloying indecency- rather, someone deeply and safely in a state of love simply brightens a room while normal interactions go on. I'm sure you've all seen this before, it's just new to me.
I noticed that after the initial millisecond of a chemical reaction, being in love has little to do with anyone besides myself. The opening, the clarity, and the newly accessible energy all come from inside me. And they stay, long after the person is far out of reach.
I noticed that I am able to re-evoke a feeling I have explored and encouraged the growth of, regardless of someone else's behavior that may have started it off...
A person can be an safe anchor, a trigger, a catalyst, but another person could never be the source of my love.
(ok ok, metaphysically, yes, we're all one. those of you that are enlightened already can roll your eyes at this post as usual... :) )
So why do I call this a practice? Well, I've found that the moment I allow my desire for a specific outcome to become solid, to become a condition for my happiness, to become an expectation, I am no longer in an open state of love. At that point I have narrowed the possibilities available, I have tried to imagine that I am a better judge of what I want than the universe. I am in expectation. And scheduling disappointment for myself. Life can never go as expected. So there seems to be a need to continually remind myself to return to nurturing behaviors that are more skillful and positive: to practice.
Over the years I have learned ways to refocus if I find my mind latching on to longing or yearning or disappointment or despair: Schedule time with loved ones. Get the feelings down on paper because self-induced melodrama makes for potentially interesting word salads. Exercise. Help someone else.
But the best way didn't come from my mind at all. I remember I said to my catalyst at one point: this is my practice. And I didn't even know how very deeply true that was at the time, but my heart did, and my heart spoke directly through my mouth for the first time in my life.
And so, I found my practice- being in a state of love. Years of meditation finally allowed me to recognize love when it arose for the millionth time... and by finally becoming aware of it, I began to actively practice to help it grow.
There have been moments wherein my BEing in love was also what I was DOing, without expectation, without needs, with desires that didn't need to be fulfilled in any particular way for me to feel complete. This is what meditation has taught me to recognize. To notice these fleeting moments when I am actually aware of the unity within myself. Because this experience is a tiny fractal of what is possible with the entire universe- but for me, a small frail little human, it starts with this little piece of consciousness that I label 'me.'
So this practice is to be in love, to fill with it and do it, to remain filled and grounded in love as often as possible. The more one practices, the more skillful one becomes. I practice with close friends, with family, with acquaintances with expectations of me, with friends that want more, with friends that want less, with patients that are suffering, with students and children with minds like innocent sponges, with the ocean, with my favorite checker at my local health food store, with the cat from next door, with my future dog, with the whales in the channel, with the writer I'll likely never meet whose posts on elephant journal cause me to seriously consider kidnapping him for coffee one day...
And this doesn't mean in any way that I have evolved to a point of boundary-less-ness and oneness. I'm not a buddha, at least, I haven't recognized my own buddha nature to the point where I am one (ahhhhh devolving into philosophy again, whoops)... And since this catalyzing shapeshifting has started I've had plenty of ups and downs and unskillful behavior. But I've finally discovered, with a totally non-intellectual understanding, that the way I behave, the way I think, and the way I feel, are all generated from inside myself. I have choices every time something arises- do I act on it at all and if so, how far do I roll with it? I am lucky enough to be able to practice when I'm not good at something. The teachers in my life have fortunately been myriad and angelic, and my best teacher is always my own commitment to pay attention and learn, to use each miserable failure as a valuable lesson.
So how do I practice? When I realize I've slipped away from love, I return to my intention to understand, to maintain curiosity, to stay open, and to be committed to absolute honesty no matter what. Just like in meditation. Just keep practicing. I practice with myself first, meditating twice daily, and during the day whenever I manage to remember.
The act of loving, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, is to intend to understand. Compassion is "feeling with," and means that I want to understand first my own experience, to build compassion inside myself. I can then maybe be more skillful at trying to understand someone else's experience, to feel what they feel. I might even be able to lighten their burden of suffering by caring, by trying to understand, by asking how I can help.
And this all means I am finally learning how to be in love with myself, so now I have enough to share...
Which is the beginning of a much truer journey, beyond this physical travel plan that is developing as I go... learning how to love, and to love well, is more important to me than anything else.
And I will keep practicing, and failing, and practicing.
Everything is my teacher.