Dear Still Water Friends
Twenty years ago, at a week-long Zen intensive retreat, the guiding teacher asked me how my sitting was going. I said “Pretty well, I’m settling in. However I am a bit distracted by some issues with my wife. I think the distractions will end soon and I’ll be able to settle.” The teacher gave a little laugh and said, “Mitchell, don’t push those issues away. What you think are distractions are the face of the Buddha.”
The incident came to mind this week reading Stephen and Ondrea Levine’s Embracing the Beloved: Relationship as a Path of Awakening. At its core the book is a manual on how to experience the Beloved in our beloved ones.
The Beloved is the context into which the wounded and dismayed may enter, as the ever-injured and uninjurable vastness embraces their pain and transmutes it to mercy. But to all who seek their own true self, whether Sufi or Buddhist, Christian or Jew, Jain, Native American, or agnostic, the Beloved is the ever-experienceable vastness of our true heart, our original nature. And for all it is the possibility of freedom, the divine capacity to transform our pool of tears into the Ocean of Compassion.
The Beloved is neither a person nor a place. It is an experience of deeper and deeper levels of being, and eventually of beingness itself—the boundarylessness of your own great nature expressed in its rapture and absolute vastness by the word “love.” It is not for the concept, but for the experience, that we use the term “the Beloved.” The experience of this enormity we falteringly label “divine” is unconditioned love. Absolute openness, unbounded mercy and compassion. We use this concept, not to name the unnameable vastness of being—our greatest joy—but to acknowledge and claim as our birthright the wonders and healings within.
The Levines developed their understanding through years of focusing with laser-like concentration on what kept them separate from each other, the world, and the Beloved:
Exploring the charnel ground of relationships we felt did not “work,” we awaken as if from a recurrent dream, and relationship becomes what Buddha referred to as “the work to be done.”
It means letting go at our edge. Moving out of safe territory into the unexplored and often deeply resisted. It means making a love greater than even our fear of revealing ourselves as unloved and unlovely. A love greater than our fear of pain.
When one commits to practices that clear the mind and expose the heart—such as mindfulness, forgiveness and loving kindness— what once seemed unworkable may well become the very center of the relationship. In those moments when the least movement is possible, the least resolution of our grief, the most minuscule movement is rewarded for its enormous effort. Our intention itself has considerable healing potential. The very willingness not to suffer or cause pain to another becomes the expanse in which healing and peace occur. The open space into which our loved one may let go. Making room in our heart for our own pain, we make room in our heart for theirs.
… The distance from your pain, your grief, your unattended wounds, is the distance from your partner. And the distance from your partner is your distance from the living truth, your own great nature. Whatever maintains that distance, that separation from ourselves and our beloveds, must be investigated with mercy and awareness. This distance is not overcome by one “giving up their space” to another, but by both partners entering together the unknown between them. The mind creates the abyss but the heart crosses it.
This Thursday evening after meditation period, we will recite together the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus our discussion on the Third Training, True Love. We will begin our Dharma Sharing with the questions: What is our highest aspiration for our close relationships? Can we envision our relationships as a driving force of our spiritual awakening?
You are invited to join us.
Below is the text of the Third Training and a story by Stephen and Ondrea Levine about “putting on the hat of truth.”
Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society.
Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy. I will cultivate loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness which are the four basic elements of true love for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.
Putting On The Hat Of Truth
from Stephen and Ondrea Levine’s Embracing the Beloved: Relationship as a Path of Awakening
In some ways, this living with the enormous potentials and difficult healings of the deeper levels of a conscious loving is not unlike what we have come to call “wearing the psychic hat.” In workshops we ask the participants, if we had a hat which projected your thoughts to everyone within three hundred feet, who would be the first to volunteer to put on that hat? No one ever raises their hand. But committed relationship is just such an invitation. How long are we going to resist putting on the hat of truth? How long can we stand feeling so unsafe just to maintain the illusion of safety —the smallest of small mind?
And we ask you each, as gently as possible, what keeps you from wearing that hat? Are you afraid someone will overhear your insecurities, your sexual fantasies, your angry commentary, your frightened prayers? How much of our life do we feel we need to submerge in order to stay alive? How little mercy has touched this secret pain and longing?
This commitment to the deepest levels of relationship, this openness to wear “the psychic hat,” is perhaps personified in the story of a friend traveling in India. During a hiatus between meditation retreats our nearly penniless friend was walking the streets of Benares when he was approached by a beggar who said quite insistently, “Give me money!” To which our friend replied, “I would if I could, but I have none, dear friend.” Bowing slightly, he continued on his way. But the beggar would not let him take more than a step before he pulled again on his sleeve demanding once more, “Give me money! Give me money!” To which our friend replied, looking softly into the beggar’s eyes, “I would give if I could, but I have no money,” and shook an empty pocket to display his sincerity. As he continued slowly on his way, the beggar reappeared in front of him and insisted once more, “Give me money!” To which our friend, soft of belly and open of heart, gently replied that it would give him great pleasure to share what he had, but all he had left after six months of meditating in India was his heart. And that he wished greatly for this man’s well-being. The beggar, silent for a moment, looked deeply into his eyes, relaxed his hold on his sleeve, smiled and whispered softly to him, “When you see God in everyone, everyone will see God in you,” and disappeared into the crowd. Nothing that came out of this stranger, neither aggression nor anger nor even his obvious need, closed our friend’s heart to the moment they were sharing. He was simply present. So, when we see othérs as the Beloved, that is what they will see in us. When someone reaches out to you, no matter how awkwardly, and you respond with mercy, even when there is nothing you feel you can do—when not even helplessness obstructs your love or your sense of connectedness—you become the beloved of the Beloved. You become love itself, the mystery.