I think the most important question facing humanity is, ‘Is the universe a friendly place?’ This is the first and most basic question all people must answer for themselves. — Albert Einstein
This quote is part of one of the assignments in the Yearlong Retreat. While processing the exercise on a morning radio show, a caller reported their experience of the universe as neutral, simply there, neither friendly nor unfriendly, but completely receptive to friendliness being projected onto it. I was nodding in agreement as I listened to the caller. If consciousness is beyond the world of duality and opposites, what better word could be used to describe its nature than neutral?
The Guide’s response to the caller, not surprisingly, elevated the discussion to a whole new level. Is Life really neutral? What is the nature of experience before ego takes hold of it? How do joy, bliss, and happiness figure into the equation? What are the sages pointing to in their songs and poems? Doesn’t mystical experience suggest that Love is the nature of True Nature?
This month’s Musings is a response to the invitation to look further.
Part of what restricts us seeing things is that we have an expectation about what we will see, and we are actually perceptually restricted by that expectation.
-- Alexandra Horowitz
Neutral suggests not taking sides, a lack of investment in a position, detachment, non-engagement, though not necessarily ignorance; the absence of a charge in physics, a lack of gender in biology, the non-existence of certain properties in chemistry. A disinterested, attribute-less Universe, devoid of the sparkle of vitality that is a felt sense of being alive, belies our direct experience of existing. Perhaps a neutral universe is not the whole picture.
In holding the Guide’s questions as a koan, it dropped in that were I to label Life as neutral it would still imply identification with a dualistic orientation. To say that Life is unfriendly or friendly, neutral or engaged, indifferent or invested, “I” had to be looking at it. If one is looking at something, can one also be it? This seems to be the crux of the confusion. The intuitive sense labeled “neutral” is pointing not to an absence of attribute, but an absence of objectification. The experience of being is not an absence of; it is the experience of the Presence of. It is not identification with what is being looked at or looked through but identification with what IS looking.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
To set up what you like against what you dislike
is the disease of the mind.
-- Hsin Hsin Min
Love as we’re conditioned to experience it requires an object and an attendant emotion. We tend to say,
“I love you.”
“I love practice.”
“I love my morning coffee.”
These statements reference a feeling that qualifies the experience as “love.” Unless we’re paying close attention, when asked to look at whether Life is Love, attention automatically references feelings to get the answer. The subject/object orientation is inserted by default. Do I feel loved by Life? If I do feel loved, I might conclude Life is Love. However, looking to “what I feel” makes love a state of mind, not a state of being.
It’s not surprising we cannot unequivocally state that Life is Love if we’re looking to the mind for the answer. The mind, as we well know, is a hell pit of thoughts, only a fraction of which could be labeled as “loving.” If we are to experience Life, we must cease referencing the mind. As long as we reference the mind, we will confuse the nature of the mind with the Nature of Life.
The Friend and I have become
Like two giant fat people
Living in a tiny boat.
Bumping into each other
If we look at mystical poetry, love is evidently being expressed, but there is still an object even if the object is Divinity itself. God, the Friend, the Beloved is being related to as other than “I.” The separation appears to persist. But for Hafiz, is the Beloved really seen as other?
We might have a taste of Hafiz’s experience if we Record and Listen. The Mentor is a friend, Wisdom, Love and Compassion, a constant loving companion, available at all times. This “presence” feels “other” only in the sense that it’s not what “I” habitually identify as “me.” But it is. It’s my voice on the recorder. If we pause and consider, we sense intuitively that “it” is “all of me.”
Recording and Listening replaces the cruel, critical, punishing, self-hating chatter of the mind, offering awareness of something other than the mind, delivering an experience of Unconditional Love. As Ramana Maharshi says, “The individual is not separate from God. Hence to love God means to Love one’s own Self.” Self-hate makes it impossible to experience “love of one’s own Self.” Mystics and R/L offer a path, a process of transforming self-hate into “love of one’s own Self” through an alchemy of attention on the Love that is us.
Whatever you do, make it an offering to me—the food you eat, the sacrifices you make, the help you give, even your suffering. In this way you will be freed from the bondage of karma, and from its results both pleasant and painful. Then, with your heart free, you will come to me.
-- Bhagvad Gita
Unless one is “lucky,” direct apprehension of Life without the interference of the mind is not easily accessible and requires persistent effort. Since we cannot experience Love and ego simultaneously, loving is one of the best practices to dissolve the ego! Whatever is available to us—a task we do, an object we care for, a form of Love personified as a pet, a child, a parent, a spouse, even Divinity—are good places to begin a practice of Love. We’re told by scriptures and saints of all traditions that, ultimately, Loving will require the surrender of ego. We’ll be required to encounter and transcend the personal for the universal, my will for thy will, until the separation between self and Self dissolves.
Until we realize with Rumi…
As sunlight is attributed to the moon,
so is the Beloved's form ascribed to the lover;
but in truth
each image painted
on the canvas of existence
is the form
of the artist.
spews forth new waves.
"Waves" we call them;
but there is only the Sea.
…why not just love?