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“Not to love is not to live, or it is to live a living death. The life that goes out in love to all is the life that is full, and rich, and continually expanding in beauty and in power.”  R W Trine

The real journey in life, the real quest to find identity, belonging and meaning in our lives finds its fullest expression in love – there is no other way. In its purist form it’s the unifying source that makes us grow, that enlarges and enriches us beyond measure. It’s a connectedness that bonds us to others, that makes us feel part of something deeply special, an wholeness that is both nourishing and nurturing. Love, in all its manifest forms is all around us although we may not always be awake to its presence. It’s available to everyone, with no exceptions, if only we can open ourselves up to receive its gift. But what exactly is this love that we seek and how can we bring it more fully into our lives?  Firstly, there is love that flourishes in relationships ( notably with parents, partners, children, siblings, relatives, friends ) and hopefully we will all recognize and accept this as it does conform to widespread norms. But there also exists a much ‘ bigger ‘ love that which the ancient Greeks called agape. A divine, self- sacrificing, deeply thoughtful and reflective love that takes us beyond ourselves, and our immediate bonds, into a sacred space of universal connectedness and harmony  with humanity. What C S Lewis believed was the highest point of love that we could possibly attain – a giving, open hearted love that is focused, unselfishly, on the welfare of others. Many theologians have interpreted agape even more widely than this, for them it embraces a fully spiritual dimension that ultimately unites us with God.

Love, in all its infinite glory, is not really something we can go searching for, seeking out, hunting down as if on a chase .It is not so one-dimensional as this, for in reality all we can do is create the open and receptive conditions within our hearts and minds so that it can surface –  emerge deep from within us. Further, love cannot be contained, tied down within set, laid down limits because such confinement and restriction will stifle and diminish it. Love, a full-hearted, deeply nourishing love eventually expands and overflows to bless everyone. It has no choice – it’s that powerful. We are often told that in order to love others we must first love ourselves but this is not so simple as it seems. We must first ask ourselves are we living the life that is worthy of love?  Unfortunately not everyone behaves honorably, some may have been misguided and pursued unskillful lives that have hurt others, so perhaps this should be a time not to rush off and make premature demands but rather a time of reflection, of self examination which can offer up insights on new ways of being in this world thus putting aside previous inappropriate behaviours. This coming closer to the self, the real self, which may have been buried from view for a long time is truly a liberating experience that we should never, ever underestimate. And in this process redemption is never that far away. An healing which will eventually, in a genuine and authentic way, open up the channels of a fully awakened love.

There is no other journey, no other path to pursue. An all embracing love will give us all that we need in life to make us fulfilled and whole. Spiritually, it is totally inclusive and completes us like nothing else can. But paradoxically it can only be increased  if we can give it away, and the more we give it away the more we will receive it back ….. A spiritual truth of such profound significance that it quite takes the breath away. A sacred truth that defies our materialistic, reasoning minds. And if love is of such magnitude, such power can we, in all honesty, sacrifice our lives for anything less?

 by Michael Lewin

by Father Peter Bowes

Having a spiritual community accelerates your personal growth in ways you cannot imagine. The idea of being with spiritually-minded people who care about the same things and are dedicated to deepening their relationship to God is exciting for some and possibly scary for others. It can be exhilarating and inspiring because it increases the chances that you will see reflected in the eyes of others the real impact of your feelings, motives and intentions. It is almost impossible to not be noticed when people are dedicated to being real and honest in relationship. Your actions and feelings are registered by others and known in ways you may not be used to in other group situations. People dedicated to grow and learn spiritually are intent on awareness, consciousness and responsible interactions so they are not inclined to be fake or phony. Fakeness is typical in most non-spiritual communities since easy cordialities are the norm while deep, meaningful interchanges are rare and may be even feared. Some people can be frightened when anyone probes deeply into what they are feeling or thinking. Most people live in such isolated recesses that friendly interest is seen as an unwelcome intrusion into the substantially imagined privacy of their inner world.

In spiritual community, individuals are welcomed to share their true feelings in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding. Patience is the overriding norm where people are given the freedom to grow and change without feeling pressured or forced to conform to other people’s concepts of how they are to be. The focus of spiritual community is centeredness on God, the Divine Source, and peaceful relationship with sisters and brothers. The most important feature of spiritual community is honesty. Honesty about one’s feelings and motives is essential to the health of the community. Honesty means you tell it like it is without being mean to yourself or others. Honesty with oneself involves speaking openly about your feelings and having the courage to accept the feedback from members of the community in return. Honesty means you are saying how it is for you at the moment and not glossing things over to make them look better or tearing things down to get sympathy from other people. Since everyone is dedicated to being genuine and honest, there is no backstabbing or power trips displayed for or against members of the community. Only in an atmosphere of honesty and mutual respect can real spiritual community thrive. The spiritual communities that seem most successful are those where there is a central, defining leadership with clear expectations of boundaries and spiritual aspirations. Spiritual community is not for the weak or unstable as they will make other members into their parents or demonize those who are confident. People who have not worked through the basics of how to take care of themselves and be responsible are actually not ready for a real spiritual community. For those who are ready, it can be tremendously life-changing and transformative.

For information about Father Peter Bowes, visit 

www.fatherpeter.centersoflight.org

by Michael Lewin

“Let the disciples cultivate love without measure towards all beings.  Let them cultivate towards the whole world, above, below and around a heart of love unstinted…. For in all the world this state of heart is the best”

The Buddha

Many years ago I was watching a TV discussion programme with great interest. Its focus was on crime and the street gangs of America. On the stage was a young girl who was unashamedly speaking, in detail, about her criminal activities within the context of a New York gang. When she finished speaking a woman rose from her seat, at the back of the studio audience and said: “ Honey, you’re looking for love in all the wrong places, ” then promptly sat down again. I remember vividly how this statement affected me. It carried so much weight and clarity I couldn’t help but share it with friends afterwards. I think the insight gained from this simple message is very profound. The young girl was indeed in the wrong place, seeking recognition and acceptance from the wrong people – violent gang members. She felt a part of something bigger than herself – the collective group and in this she could get lost along with her responsibilities to behave in a positive way.

She sought affirmation and validation from others who accepted the role of hurting people. What the woman in the studio audience said, in a very succinct and clear way, is we all need love and we should all be looking for that love in the right places. Not side tracked for misplaced acceptance, not selling out for peer group approval, not allowing ourselves to grab at imitations, but going after the real thing – a love that embraces and unifies every living soul. All that we engage with in life ( our thoughts, actions and communication ) is either an expression of love or a cry for help ( which is also an expression of love ). Anger, rage, hostility and resentment are, at a deeper level, all wanting acknowledgement and attention – they are all pleas to be understood. All bad behaviour can be seen as an ineffective response to unmet, often deep-seated psychological needs and at the very core of this ‘ acting out ‘  is the desire for love.

THE LOVE OF POWER OR THE POWER OF LOVE?

The mythical dwarf Alberich, in Wagner’s Das Rheingold, abandons the quest for love in favour of power. He seeks out the forces of control and darkness ( the love of power )  to that of union and light ( the power of love ). Our young, female gang member made similar choices. She had discarded a life of positive self expression, that could have helped people, to adopt behaviour that hurt them.       

But in a turbulent, unsettling world where we struggle to find meaning, where we can be emotionally stripped bare to expose our raw vulnerabilities, would we always make the right choices?  If we are made to tremble before our own projected, negative feelings of low self esteem and unworthiness, would we necessarily make the right decisions?

A true, authentic spiritual life must recognize and acknowledge that something outside of ourselves needs to be served. It must call us to embrace the diversity of humanity, with all its shortcomings and faults, in a universal fellowship of love and compassion. There is no other way. It is the very life where we must surrender ourselves, our judgements and opinions, in order to be made ready for greater understanding, empathy and sympathy. Thus the mind that cannot expand to hold these greater qualities, to grow within their light, is the mind that is still separated and divided.

LOVE IS POTENTIALLY EVERYWHERE      

Love lays waiting ready to be awakened, broken open in every moment, in every human encounter, in every human heart.  It comes from a higher, spiritual realm, beyond our narrow selves, and speaks to us all in a collective voice of mutual sharing and bonding. It is a gift to others and very much a gift to ourselves. That is the reward, because the more we give love away the more we will receive it back – a spiritual reality of such magnitude and profundity that it can quite take our breath away….

It’s easy for us to love the loveable ( our family and friends ) but the real challenge, and the greatest rewards come from loving the un-loveable. The people who have lost their way in life and who find it difficult to act in positive ways, these are the people that need our love and we must love them until they start to love themselves…..

“ Love is the law of life. All love is expansion, all selfishness is contraction. Love is the only law of life…… Therefore, love for love’s sake, because it is the law of life, just as you breathe to live.”

 Swami Vivekanada

Copyright Michael Lewin.  www.michaellewin.org

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Paradigm Shift Magazine - Issue 52

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