I went to some friend’s wedding recently. As is true for most weddings, it was a blessed occasion, as well as the social highlight of the summer for me. I imagine this to be true for the bride and groom as well. They both beamed, emitting rays of tenderness and affection for one another. Being a ‘May—December’ affair, the wedding was the second marriage for each of them, a glorious promise of ongoing love.
The church was decorated simply, including a few voluptuous floral arrangements and an array of finely dressed friends and family. The music was stunning, the pianist stroking the keys with breathtaking precision and feeling. As usual, the soloist led us in song at appropriate places befitting a catholic ceremony, along with gifting us by singing two luminous solos.
As a member of this church myself, this soprano grabs me where-I-live, what with her perfect-pitch voice that carries all the naturalness and subtlety of a song bird on one hand and the immense, thunderous crescendo of a wave dropping dramatically on the other. She always ‘has me at the first note,’ immersing me in a pool of beauty. After her first solo at the wedding, a stray thought occurred: I could hire her to sing Ave Maria just for me, some other time in this acoustically perfect sanctuary. I could lose myself in that sound, transported during the translation of that elegant energy that passes through her mouth.
And then, of course, a few minutes later she sang it. With a small catch in my throat, I had to stop myself from weeping. A kind of pressure occurred in an effort to prevent the tears from flowing so publicly upon hearing Shubert’s masterpiece rendered so lavishly.
Then there was the couple! They were so very endearing, she in her 50’s and he in his 70’s: The bride so beautiful and light, the groom so gentle and self-assured. As they knelt, the priest said he would ‘be brief’ with his comments because, after all, the wedding couple had older knees. One can’t ask old knees to stay in that locked position for too long and expect to get up. And at that we all laughed recognizing the truth of it. Throughout the ceremony, the priest seemed demonstrably tender with the bride and groom, extending great delicacy and care. Having known the near-blind bride for years and the widowed groom for decades, he clearly celebrated their having found such a sublime love for one another, one that was not just gentle but sturdy as well.
Now, weddings are usually joyous affairs and catholic weddings typically display no small amount of additional reverence for God, being one of the holy sacraments. But I was particularly struck by the priest’s devotion during the blessing of the host as he prepared to share the Eucharist with the couple, as well as the rest of us in attendance. It seemed obvious and palpable that he loved God, correction, loves God. While communion might be his version of the soprano’s crescendo, it is sourced from the same place and he is in recognition of that fact.
It also felt like he was inclusive, conscious of the community before him, even beyond his role as priest. His actions were not rote like some priests, not a habit from years in the priesthood. Rather, the love emanating from him was genuine, palpable, a visible stream originating from something greater than himself. It was beatific, lovely and, dare I say, knowable. What’s more, that love felt energetic. It didn’t need to exert itself, it just ‘was’ as if powered by an underground spring. At some point, it seemed to me he delivered that love, priest-as-conduit for all of us to partake, above and beyond the sacrament.
And in a flash I was reminded of the most beautiful description of love shared by a man and a woman which is this: “The love we have for each other is not different from the love we have for God,” (Dr. David R. Hawkins and Susan Hawkins.) It is breathtaking to me that God’s love can be expressed beyond personalities, beyond any role of priest or soprano, beyond but including the union of a couple, incorporating the whole of humanity. All are equally sourced from the same spring.
And so I left the church that day feeling buoyed, enlivened, and blessed to be both witness and participant to this touching and beautiful wedding between two people who deeply love one another; to be blessed to hear the soprano’s powerful trilling; to be bathed in one priest’s transmission of the Divine. I was also buoyed by the promise, no, the knowledge that this love is unstoppable, pervading every atom, every cell, every droplet in the spring, every wave in the ocean, and all of life. For Divine Love is both eminent and transcendent, everywhere at once, animating all that is both in the now and in the ever after.
Whether they are positive or negative, the energy of emotions can seem staggering at times. This is particularly true when there is an aggregate of negative emotion swamping the system, pressing downward on the self. Example: guilt accompanied by anger accompanied by sorrow accompanied by shame, or vice versa. The negative emotions have always been more difficult for me to deal with. Should I suppress or express them? If suppressing, what price will I ultimately pay; ditto, to expressing them? It seems I move lightening fast into some presumed protection mode, frozen in habit, worried about injury to myself or others.
Over the last year I have become aware of said aggregate above when taking on writing jobs that I don’t really want. This also occurs in other circumstances as well. The first emotion to appear has been fear followed by anger followed by rage, ultimately erupting into a Vesuvius from within. While I have wanted to direct the emotion outwards at a manufactured perpetrator, more often than not, the finger gets turned inward towards my small, meager self, wondering why I continue saying ‘yes’ to things I want to say ‘no’ to. “You fool,” I think.
In the case of hired-gun writing, the rationale has almost always been to pay the bills. Sometimes I warp it into some misplaced sense of duty, responsibility, commitment to both self and another, which would not be so wrong if it were not for the fact that I have kept the pattern of agreeing to things that, in my heart, I want to say a resounding NO to. Once this awareness arrives, I feel stupid, ashamed, grief-stricken. Then what happens? I squelch it, pushing it downward, ever deeper, until I recognize a tightly wound knot of negative emotion far worse than the original feelings I suppressed. What’s worse is, in a split second I decide to not feel them. But, of course, they return with a vengeance.
Yet, there is good news here. Once I am in enough pain, I begin correcting things that have contributed to my self-inflicted misery, examining the why’s and wherefores, habits and payoffs (yes, payoffs) I get out of my behavioral conditioning and vow to challenge and change them. Remarkably, at such a turning point, relief begins to surface. It begins subtly. This process allows me to behave differently, to be different. While all of this is glacially slow initially, it builds. With increasing momentum, I become aware of how the positive emotions have far more power, individually and as a collective, to sustain and carry me forward. I even begin to recognize a kind of courage. Upon reaching some critical mass, my heart and mind bursts open, obliterating anything previously perceived as negative.
The Anatomy of Positive Emotions
There is nothing like hope. And hope is followed by joy, which is followed by understanding not only is there choice on how to be; what to say ‘yes’ to and what to say ‘no’ to, I am the only one to make it. For me, this generates a sense of liberation from mental-emotional programs that were set up long ago in the ego-mind.
Once I begin to feel hope, a panoply of lightness spreads. I take enormous comfort in knowing that peace, joy, and love are emerging. I see them not with eyes but with the heart. What’s more, this feels natural, a nature that is sturdy and true. The quality of me is not experienced differently exactly; rather, it is experienced—and witnessed—as a quality that is greater than what I have previously perceived of as a ‘me.’
How do I know this? I recognize it as a state of being. What is first labeled in my mind as a positive emotion is rapidly transformed into the awareness that of my own small self, I cannot create this feeling of freedom and joy, this state of peace. Instead, I am acutely aware that itcomes from that which animates me. Call it what you will. What I know is that it comes from something larger, immense and infinite.
I cannot force this state into being either. My role is to seek conditions that will facilitate it. I cannot force myself to be joyful. I can, however, say ‘yes’ to some invisible yearning and allow it in. I can encourage and bring into play those things that have helped joy arrive from previous experiences. Breathtaking music can trigger such a state. Writing my heart out can trigger such a state. Beauty as expressed from a shard of light reflecting off a mountain, an elegant stand of birch trees, the glistening of a child’s eyes in wonder, or the astonishing fragrance of a stargazer lily, and many more things that move the truest part of me can trigger it.
Ever expanding, when this state arrives, however sudden or slow, stillness ensues. I become aware of yet another quality. Language in the form of thinking slows and sometimes even stops, however briefly. Breathing seems to stop or, at minimum, I am unaware of it. It seems that the ‘me’ that is in this state recognizes breathing is not required. The state includes but is not dependent on it, precluding it instead. This state is a quality of that which creates all life having nothing to do with time, yet experienced in it. This expansive state is buoyant, maintained by an infinite lightness. It feels like an unstoppable Love, simply unstoppable. Unstoppable that is, until the state is interrupted. Some other part of me, some manufactured ego-mind ‘me’ stumbles back, inserting itself somehow.
When I come to, I recognize there is a destiny to fulfill, some purpose I am committed to even if I know not its details. You can call it the ‘soul’s business’, spiritual evolution, living out my days on the earth plane, whatever. All I know is that for some wild and wonderful reason, I am to continue in ordinary time until the state of unconditional Love transcends any small self I have previously been operating from. Creation has its own reasons for these earthly opportunities suspended in life form, only to be periodically transfixed by the invisible. I must be patient and am. Mostly! In any particular circumstance, the interruption of such bliss back to daily human affairs requires me to keep moving forward until the next state arrives, until the next piece of beauty renders me breathless, until the next reed of infinite Grace quiets my heart.
Not long ago while attending a book discussion group, a lovely bird and I sang a duet together, he with his song and I with my words. It was quite remarkable really. Our little group takes turns reading and I was up. No sooner had I started and the bird in question arrived in the chimney flu, launching into a loud melody of his own making. I mean he was loud! Not only that, he was delightfully melodic, communicating in his language and me in mine. It seemed the more I read, the more insistent he became and I quickly felt immersed in his rapture as he sang his heart out! It seemed our little duet transcended both of us, becoming a third thing born of sharing. Not only was I aware of this in the moment, the third thing obliterated any comprehension of the words I was reading, rendering instead a greater understanding found in being. I became both lost and found in the larger experience, feeling astonishingly uplifted, expanded somehow. I felt not only a smile on my face but one planted firmly in the heart, beating in syncopation with his.
To contend we are all in this life at Earth School together is a heady concept made headier by a knowing participation when subjectively experienced. I often feel this when out in nature, witnessing and involved with birds, trees, flowers, even pedestrian things like mud or decomposing leaves. The muskiness of a tree, the overwhelming fragrance of a Eucalyptus, even when a tiny gnat flies into my face as I walk, all evokes this sharing, this all-one-thingness that is transcendent, lifting me out of what I perceive as me. When I am blessed to reside in this space I feel fortunate indeed, enlivened by a force greater than any definition as writer, mother, friend; whatever.
I see this in other people and creatures as well, though they may not experience it in quite the same way. My old friend Bennet feeds peanuts to squirrels, throwing them in their shell on the ground outside his back door each morning. I’ve watched his face when he does this. I see his joining with each squirrel in some invisible force field as they scamper toward each nut, also entering a third thing, a space they intimately share for a moment before the spell is broken.
My hummingbirds also display this quality. Most of the time they function according to hummingbird rules, which is to say territorial, chasing each other away from the feeder in an attempt to be top bird. Yet there are times when they share. It is a joy to watch. Lately I have seen as many as three, four, sometimes five hummingbirds perched or hovering around my 3-hole feeder, waiting their turn to drink. It is just as if they silently agree to suspend their individual nature, relying instead on a collective One. On occasion, when the feeder has been drained dry a bird will even peer in my window as if to say “fill it up, creature!”
This hushed communication remains a mystery to me for how is it that form or the physical world can be so overcome with a force not of bird or animal making. Yet the songbird and my duet incline me to know it not only can be but is when desiring to do so, whether consciously or unconsciously. For the bird in the chimney kept up his warbling until I finished my paragraph, and even briefly thereafter, only ending his song when it was someone else’s turn to read. While others in the group noticed and even commented on the bird, I took such pleasure in having him accompany me and I him, not only witnessing but immersed in the One life we all share.
Venturing forth into the great unknown; it is so very overwhelming. I have a 90-year-old friend who is in the process of moving to her (likely) last physical location, a retirement facility. While she has moved many times throughout her life, often not of her own choosing, she has become skillful at it nonetheless. Still, this time is different for her intuition tells her it will be her last before the ultimate address change to the great beyond, the most massive unknown of all.
In a minor way I can relate to her trepidation as I get ready to collect social security, another milestone surely but likely not my last. While my ‘retirement’ poses a different kind of overwhelming quality, it cannot compare to my friend’s, although I will also be moving to downsize expenses. Yet, through my own confrontation of a shrinking time frame, surrendering to the inevitable earthly departure requires a different kind of living until the actual event occurs.
Taking stock and reviewing a life is not for the faint of heart. Naturally some of us cannot help but examine ourselves when confronting such pivot points. I hear in my friend’s voice her own examination although she rarely relates much detail. Mostly, she shares the fact that she is undergoing a process that is difficult. It requires courage and honesty, surely. There is an unmistakable whiff of both pain and even pleasure as she negotiates it all. Yet remarkably, there emanates a kind of gratitude and respect from her for the privilege of living through it all, regardless of sorrow and reget.
This entire examination process feels essential to any forward spiritual evolution of my own as well. And while I don’t know exactly how she views the process for herself, I sense her necessity in doing so just the same. It is inexplicable how the soul, a larger Self takes over at some point, almost demanding it be done, even if not continuous. While I have the freedom to say no to that Self, some quality deep down where I really live, cannot. After all, I have to take the long view of infinity and me in it, regardless of location, for I know beyond any reasonable doubt I am accountable for my choices.
Surrendering to this accountability is both painful and relieving. For example, I haven’t always been kind. I haven’t always been courageous. And I certainly haven’t always been generous or selfless. I haven’t even always been honest! The details of these broader acknowledgements have been acted out in daily living with family, friends, co-workers, even strangers. While I’m hardly alone in my transgressions, I’m still no less responsible for not just acknowledging them but ultimately transcending them in an effort to be free.
So I watch as my friend moves slowly through her ‘last change’ silently but communicating just the same, all the while feeling the parallel energy of my own. Even if our presumed timelines are different, traversing the spiritually examined landscape is recognizable and familiar. So much of the process between the two of us is unspoken yet felt; a quiet transmission that passes the baton from one to the other, a delicate yet sturdy sharing in some inexplicable way.
Everywhere I stand is Holy Ground. If only I could remember that, be truly conscious of it all the time, life would be a breeze. A sense of holiness does come to me in flashes. Yet too much of the time holiness seems to reside somewhere else. To view God as infinite, ever-present and omnipresent, by definition He must be everywhere always, including where I stand. Naturally, this includes not just a patch of physical geography, but also the territory inside the heart. And while I believe this conceptually, so much of the time it is not what I operate from.
Most of my life the ego has controlled my head, and therefore, my living, with the heart’s terrain relegated to a backup position. You know, like when you’re in trouble? How difficult it remains to consciously invoke that which created me and sustains me with real surrender. Instead, I plod along relying on that increasingly unreliable source: the ego. And while it has served me in helpful ways, it has frequently sabotaged my very happiness. For the ego long ago hijacked reason, focusing its business instead on the linear world which, in my advancing years, is not only pale by comparison, but has also contributed to misery and depletion. After all, reason and the intellect only take a person so far. Once you’re truly at life’s edges, it is the heart, that terrain where God resides, that is the springboard of faith. It is the heart that is the holy ground where Love resides.
And so it is that I have become desperate for God, even in the face of my ongoing resistance and lack of habit. This would strike me as funny if my spiritual state didn’t seem so serious! For I have become increasingly aware of an inability to live, let alone be happy, in a linear, worldly fashion, plotting and planning, organizing and mapping out my days. I have become bereft, it seems, unable to be ‘fed’ by anything the ego has to offer.
This inability, of course, requires a transcendence, a leap of faith that feels greater than my ability to exercise it. Yet exercise faith I must. Quite simply, there is no other way. Until such time as I reach some critical mass of lovingness, however, I often feel stuck, relegated instead to some no-man’s land practicing surrender, which does yield astounding outcomes at times, most visibly, peace; peace and an all-encompassing loving that is indescribable. Other times, however, practicing faith in God consciously, continuously, is no small feat. When struggling with it, I lapse automatically under the ego’s spell.
Yet the power of holiness, God’s infinite love planted in the heart, sits silent, waiting for my next acknowledgement. Miraculously, each time that acknowledgement occurs, faith is automatic, instantaneous, subtle, even if seemingly temporary. My charge now is to surrender more and more, with the faith that it will someday be the only thing from which I consciously operate. There simply is no other way. For in the end, the heart, which is to say God’s love, governs all things, however I may have previously viewed life through the ego’s lens. The heart is the seat of holy ground and it is everywhere, and the only thing I long for. Quite simply, it is the only thing that makes any sense at all.