Four months ago I fell off the edge of an identity called Lori Ann, into a sweet free-fall where each unfolding moment reveals itself as my lover. Sometimes this lover is rough, riding me hard, bitch slapping me with chaos and change. Other times my beloved kisses me tenderly with the beauty of what is here, from a deliciously full moon to a sleepy puppy sprawled on my bed.
Today my pediatrician friend volunteering in Africa sent a photo of a boy he’d treated at a home for handicapped children. One look at this boy’s face and my lover was there, opening me to myself, in the form of this other halfway around the world. This heart melted—not in pity but in adoration—at the stunning beauty of this boy’s deformity in contrast to the doe-like, delicate light in his eyes. This is the heart of god, this truth of weeping at the perfection of what is, with no need to change anything.
I’m not saying humanitarian action is not perfect too. What I am pointing at is this human tendency to label what arises in each moment (as good or bad) has left my world. What remains is a deep acceptance of all of it, of every expression, here in this play of god.
I invite you to look again at this child’s face. As you look, notice what thoughts and feelings come up. Now notice: Are you okay with your own response? In your world is anger is allowed as much as happiness, and sadness along with delight? My experience has been, in waking up, that when perception of right and wrong drops away peace and causeless joy arise. This along with stillness is our true nature. All else is a case of mistaken identity arising from the illusion of individual selfhood.
This lover-god who seduced me from the dream of self (I am Lori Ann’s thoughts, feelings and beliefs) is sometimes called by Zen types the no self. Yet this label misses the completeness of true nature which others have named Awareness, Presence, Consciousness or Source. In fact, for days now I’ve been looking for a way to express this sense that the no-self picture is like a cartoon drawing instead of a realistic oil portrait. Or, perhaps it’s like a head without a heart, this no self on its own. As Advaita master Ramesh Balsekar writes, “The final truth cannot be accepted unless the mind is empty of the ‘me’ and the heart is full of love.”
Last night I stumbled on my battered copy of “Autobiography of a Yogi,” a book I first read more than 25 years ago. And there, underlined in black ink, was the quote that haunted me then, and still now. In the midst of self-realization Paramahansa Yogananda hears these words: “The relativities of life and death belong to the cosmic dream. Behold your dreamless being, awake, my child, awake!”
As I read this I tried mentally substituting “behold your dreamless no-self.” Call me picky, but as a directive that wording has so much less potency than “behold your dreamless being.” The whole no-self movement loves to speak in negation–no one here, nothingness, not this, not that. I am never sure if they’ve misplaced their everyday “I” (like under the sofa cushion) and have yet to realize the vastness of true self. Or if they really are having a delightful time in the vastness, and just naming it the somewhat sterile “no-self.”
You see, in this Paramahansa quote what also stands out is the full heart Ramesh mentions as essential, evident in the affectionate “my child” reference. Poet-mystics like Rumi, Hafiz, Mira and more, all gush a heartfelt love for a divine Beloved who loves back with fierce tenderness. This God/Source/One that we all truly are has a cherishing quality that the empty “no-self” doesn’t quite capture. When the paradox of a God-Self both empty and full is not embraced, is a complete realization of self possible?
It can be argued that by claiming to be a vast-boundless-loving Self called Awareness the egoic mind has staked a foothold as a new and improved me. But it can also be argued that the “I am No-Self” crowd is up to the same game. If there is a litmus test for authentic self-realization, it might be that no matter in which camp you pitch your enlightenment tent, you live from a place of unconditional acceptance. This acceptance includes the okay-ness of every other tent in the spiritual campground, and even the acceptance of your annoyance at the tent of strident no-selves next door.
What I am pointing at here are the two sides of the same coin. On the one face is the path of wisdom/head (Jnana) and on the other the path of devotion/heart (Bhakti). Even as there are two sides, the coin itself is still One. The mind empty of “me” is inextricably bound to the heart full of love, and both are aspects of the ineffable Great Whatever.
So I suppose if I look closely, perfect acceptance is here of this two-faced lover–a god who demonstrates through radical understanding that I am nothing and with pure devotion reveals I am all that is.
Awareness Is Here! (and nobody is home)
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