Saturday, February 14, 2015

Love: Fifty Shades of Red

It has been well said that "love makes the world go round." More accurate to say, attraction, and its corollary, repulsion, makes the world go round: and literally, at that. Right now, outside my window, two squirrels are playing on the tree, playmates, I suppose.

Today is the day Americans call Valentine's Day: a celebration of romantic love. Our language, and I think many other languages, also, use this word love but it has many shades of red and ultimately describes the attraction one feels towards something or someone else. The shades of red are virtually limitless in human relations. Some might say "pure" love is but platonic (not physical) and exists, assuming it is mutual, only in the heart and mind of the lovers. That sounds wonderful from a spiritual perspective but I can think of adolescent love being platonic but very, very unreal and but a fantasy. So, even here, at the more extreme edge of this amazing thing called human love, we find shades of red. Love is not love that doesn't draw fire: meaning that doesn't draw two people closer together in meaningful relationship, whether constructive or otherwise.

In the metaphysical terms that are part and parcel of my daily life as a meditator and a nondualist (a Vedantan), love is dual. We can speak of Bliss as the nature of God and the essence of pure consciousness but we cannot speak of love in terms of Oneness: only You-ness!

And yet the power of love, when reciprocated, draws the two in the direction of becoming One! Thus, love seeks fulfillment in the bliss of the union of two into one! Our wedding rings are a circle because the circle suggests infinity and oneness.

It is only in our relationship with the One, that is to say, God, that this impulse finds fulfillment. Lord Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita, when asked whether we should relate to God as absolute and nondual or whether we should love God in the I-Thou form, replied that for embodied souls (that's you and me), the I-Thou relationship is more helpful and practical. "Arduous," Krishna warns, is the way to the absolute. Our very separateness from God who is all Love and all that is ("I AM that I AM") means that our starting point necessitates a movement and distance. And yet, it is also true that in God we are One and Eternal and have always been so. As Jesus said of himself, "Before Abraham was, I AM."

On the human level, however, there's an intrinsic limit: an unscalable wall. Drawn as we are to another person, we can never become one with another human because it's our very differences, our separateness, that generates the attraction even as it necessarily and simultaneously prevents our union. Our desire to be united has the darker potential of smothering one another! We humans, you see, are trapped in this thing called love. It is one of life's greatest paradoxes.

Human love, to exist and be maintained and appreciated, must operate in a precarious and fragile magnetic zone. Think of the earth and the sun. Each are held in their respective orbits by the opposite forces of gravity and the centrifugal force of their respective orbits.

As an experiment, try holding two strong magnets apart (the one positive, the other negative) at just the exact distance needed to feel the attraction but prevent their crashing together. Human love will always be one or more steps short of satisfaction because we must keep the beloved at arms length in order to see and appreciate her! Just as the atomic structure of our bodies prevents them from merging, so to the electromagnetic forces of our psyche do the same. Strange, isn't it?

Those, who like Icarus, fly too close to the sun of human love, will crash and burn. When couples seek, through lust or friendship, to come and remain too close, strange distortions occur, like the gravitational force of a black hole that bends light rays into itself, absorbing the light. Dominance, submission, loss of respect, boredom, moodiness, or the familiarity that breeds only contempt: these are the fruit of being too much attached to one another. (The same is true for friends, parents, or children.)

Two people simply cannot literally become one. The very power to become attracted to another has its roots in the power which creates and maintains our separateness. Thus on a level of magnetism, when we attempt to merge, there are sparks: heat and light, and a mixture of both, much like the effect of a "short circuit."

Sometimes it is difficult even to know the difference between pleasure and pain. (Like scratching a mosquito bite.) No two people can be everything needed to another. No two people could live solely in isolation with each other, locked in perpetual love. It simply cannot and does not happen, though this doesn't prevent endless numbers of couples from trying.

It is not only for the protection of children and perpetuation of the human species that societies put boundaries around this thing called love. It is a force which is powerful but which must be subject to restraints, lest it turn destructive. The just released movie, "Fifty Shades of Grey" demonstrates by its popularity that eroticism has a primal power to attract. But like an rogue wave in the wide expanse of the ocean of human consciousness, its power must dissipate. As it does, it drowns those who try to stay on top of it hoping that the excitement and stimulation will not cease. And, when it does, we are not thereby returned to our self so easily. We are stained, lessened by our intense but false effort to lose ourselves in the outward experience. Even the story line, itself, is but a fiction. Such activities can only end in boredom and self-loathing, if not violence or exploitation.

A person desperate for human love tends to magnetically repulse potential worthy suitors because human love, being so constrained by its own terms, can only thrive to the extent each person is strong in himself (herself). One who desires to be worshiped is one who desires to dominate. One who desires to worship another is one destined to be dominated. Both will lose self-respect and will ultimately suffer. The best marriage is between two persons who, while they share an affinity and appreciate and respect one another, are centered in themselves. Better yet: centered in love for God.

Human love, therefore, can help us to become strong if we honor its paradoxical constraints: holding our heart's magnetic attraction close, but not too close, to its desired object. To do so takes creative commitment and mindfulness. A few of the qualities of true human love include mutual respect and mutual service; self-giving; forgiving; caring; wisdom; calmness; and, appreciation.No wonder there are so few truly blessed partnerships!

In the Ananda communities (nine, worldwide), couples have the opportunity to place their human love in relation to divine love and divine service to others. By emphasizing our souls and not just gender differences and personalities, we find our natural love becomes expansive. We can grow beyond the self-limiting boundaries of "us four and no more." We have friends of like-mind who share our ideals and way of life.

This new model reflects the emerging trend of spirituality in this new age. Ego transcendence becomes a tool that re-directs our attention toward the bliss of soul-consciousness. It reduces the competition between the sexes which is born of the emphasis upon our differences. We focus, instead, on cooperation, simplicity and moderation so that our higher nature can emerge and be made manifest. Thus can be found a satisfaction and harmony in relationship that is not commonly found.

Yogananda's param-guru, Lahiri Mahasaya, by living in the world as a householder with children and a career, established the model of an ideal life in the world but not 'of' the world. He demonstrated how we might find freedom in God through meditation (kriya yoga) while fulfilling our natural, human responsibilities without attachment or ego-identification.

Our hearts, born of and reflecting the infinite love of God, can never be fully satisfied by the oscillating magnetism of even faithful and true human love. Worse than this is the fact that such friendships are relatively rare. So how much less satisfying therefore are the more fickle, insecure, and co-dependent relationships that pass for human love on the broad expanse of human lives?

This does not mean our relationships have no spiritual value, however. Just as Krishna prescribes the I-Thou relationship to God, so too the divine purpose of human love is to help us refine our love to become steady, true, and harmonious. Those who do not bother or care to love others in a self-giving way, cannot attract the love of God, Paramhansa Yogananda warned. Human love is a stepping stone to perfect, divine love.

The fastest way to purify and clarify our heart's natural love is to follow the two great commandments of the Bible (Old and New Testaments): love God with heart, mind, soul and strength and love others as your very Self. Put in another way, don't think that you have to get it just right in human love before you can even think about loving God. That doesn't work because the attractions of human love are infinite. And, while we have infinity to find God, who would wisely want an infinity of disappointment, disillusionment and suffering? Only a fool!

If we must, therefore, celebrate Valentine's Day, let us celebrate it as a reminder that human love offers to us of the perfect love of God. Let us see in our partner, whether real, merely desired or viewed at a distance, the living presence of God as Divine Mother or the Heavenly Father. God comes to us in the human forms of one another. The human qualities which we find so compellingly attractive, such as strength, wisdom, beauty, and kindness, and which we see or imagine in others, are there to remind us that all goodness comes from God-ness. ("Go-od-ness" is dual; God-ness is One.) As Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, (to paraphrase), all admirable traits are rays of God's Light reflected in the consciousness of human beings.

So every time a handsome or beautiful face strikes your fancy, or you are tempted to admire another person for their wisdom, talent, or gentleness, train your mind to think of God as the Doer behind all appearances. Mentally bow to God in that form. Never think that any trait of attractiveness is unique to that one person.

Furthermore, any such trait to which you are attracted should be a trait that you begin to develop within yourself. Perhaps you need to be more beauty-oriented in your life: not for vanity's sake, but perhaps you can more consciously combine pleasing colors in your wardrobe, in your home and your surroundings. Beauty derives from harmony. Think, harmony in thought, feelings, actions and surroundings.

Perhaps you need to develop your strength: physical or mental; or, wisdom by study and association with the wise; or, kindness in thought and (random) acts; or, gentleness in your words and empathy. It is in ourselves, which is to say, in our souls, that these traits, though appearing to our view outwardly, are calling us to develop in ourselves.

The purpose of the attraction between men and women, finally, has for its purpose the soul's call to become One within ourselves: to bring wisdom and love, reason and feeling, into harmony, united in self-giving, in devotion, and in seeking God alone.

"May Thy love shine forever, on the sanctuary of my devotion" (a prayer by Paramhansa Yogananda, author of "Autobiography of a Yogi" and the preceptor of the kriya yoga work of Ananda worldwide.)


Swami Hrimananda! ("Joy through devotion")

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Practical and Inspired Meditation Suggestions for the Busy Householder Yogi!

I'd like to share with you a blogpost on meditation written by my daughter, Gita. Gita lives at Ananda Village, CA, with her husband and fellow meditation/yoga teacher, Badri, and their Facebook famous daughter (our granddaughter), Tulsi!



Nayaswami Hriman

Friday, February 6, 2015

Congressional Gridlock: Is there no solution?

Imagine a group of people gathered together to deal with an important task but who could not decisively agree on any action. What would they do? Assuming going home is not an option, you might say, "Intelligent people compromise." And you would be right, BUT........that's not the reality in the U.S. Congress (or, for that matter, around the world in numerous conflicts).

In the west when faced with decisions we think: "Either-or." In the east, where ratiocination is more intuitive, they are more likely to think: "Both-AND."

On a political decision, one might say, "We must live within our budget and we must leave people to be free to help themselves." Another might counter, "But we must share what we have and help those in need."

Either-or thinking makes no solution possible. Both-and thinking admits that each has a valid point of view and therefore, how can we find a middle path?

If the middle is compromise, well, never mind because it's obvious our Congress isn't inclined to be either rational or open to different points of view.

Is there an ALTERNATIVE? I think so.

What if the both-and (right brain) members of Congress proposed something like: "Let's each try our approach and see how they actually work." "Huh? How?" you ask.

We have what we call "red" and "blue" states, don't we? We also have a long-held premise that grants to the individual states a degree of autonomy and independence. We see that the federal government administers certain laws or policies such as in areas of health and education by parsing out to the states a degree of latitude of implementation, often on a sharing or matching basis (for funds). Well, let's take that a few steps further and have a win-win!

Let's take one extremely controversial and important issue in our country: health care. It's a complicated issue, too, isn't it? What if Congress passed only broad-reaching goals and policies, leaving the red and blue states to experiment with different forms of health care for an experimental window of time (5 to 10 years?). Wouldn't the results of each's approach(es) speak for themselves? It could even just stay that way, assuming it works to the satisfaction of both sides. Simple, well, no, but what is there about health care in this country, including Obamacare, that is simple?

We need creative solutions to major problems. By breaking it down and giving latitude to simultaneously work out independent and locally sensitive solutions, we could all gain by one another's experience.

Our pluralistic society seems to guarantee there's little meaning to the term "majority." Sure, right now the Republicans "control" Congress. But by how much of a margin of percent? A president can, I believe, even win the election with less than the popular majority vote. In any case the margin of winning is almost numerically insignificant in major races and votes. It is most certainly an insignificant reflection of the "will of the people," for the people are clearly divided on most every important matter! Worse still, this is not likely to change in hundred years. Only in the unfortunate event of a major war or other disaster are we likely to have a sufficiently united sentiment on anything nationally.

We must therefore find new ways to accommodate our plurality. We already have long established, at least in principle, and largely in practice, the ability for people and groups of a wide variety of lifestyles and beliefs to accept one another and leave one another in peace. Let's, therefore, extend our cultural gains further. It requires no changes in law; just a change in attitude as to what's possible and good!

Though with less confidence (and less knowledge of the facts), I can at least imagine that even immigration policies could reflect the legitimate needs of individual states. I know that sounds outrageous, but think it through. Why couldn't INS work cooperatively with various states to implement certain policies in a way that takes into account the needs and attitude of a given state and its residents? I think this could be implemented, even if to a limited degree, for the benefit and harmony of all.

At the risk of digressing, consider this: the giant Soviet empire broke apart into smaller units. This trend of fragmentation of the bigger into the smaller is happening all over the world. People want; nay, demand freedom. And this trend is only just beginning. And we started it all!

We certainly don't want another civil war or to divide our nation but we are the world's authority (imperfect as we are) on co-existence, tolerance, respect and compromise. (Sure we have a long way to go, but, heavens, look around at other nations.)

Our strength has been, in part, the recognition by the Founding Fathers of the need for check and balance, and specifically, for the federal government to be held in check by the states. The states have certainly taken a back seat during the 20th century and that was fine, then. But now, the pendulum is swinging back the other way. With the internet, travel, and general other freedoms, we want to do it "our way." We want to "occupy" our space. Yet, our problems are so large, we can't do it only alone. No one state or nation, e.g., can mitigate globe warming, what to mention national issues such as health care, immigration, infrastructure or education.

But if we cooperate, we can do anything! And by cooperation I don't mean "one size fits all." Rather, we need "co-processing power": working together yet also independently. Both-And is NOT the same as compromise. Compromise leaves no one satisfied, often offering pale, limpid solutions instead of bold and creative ones. Rather, both-and says "Let's each be given some latitude to try out our ideas."

In fact, what's staring us in the face, causing some to drool, is the ability of an authoritarian state (yes, China) to get things done! Is THAT what we want? I don't think so.

To preserve our freedom, I would say we have no real choice. Everyone could be a winner and a player with a vested interest in positive outcomes. Most leaders, yes, even in Congress, are sincere but they are deeply divided and benefit from do-nothingness. Pluralism must therefore extend to governance. It's really that simple.

A tall order? No, not really. I think Americans might even be ready for a shift in consciousness in this direction.

Well, a bit far from the subject of meditation and "living yoga," but there you have it. A soap box.

Nayaswami Hriman