Nothing Between You and I

There is nothing between you and I. My heart is tenderized to the extent that when your pain rises, I feel it in my chest, and there’s simply this love that doesn’t have a two. Because that extra one, that ‘me’ and ‘mine’, is over, it went when the will was broken by life’s refusal to do it ‘my’ way. So there’s no longer anything between us.

In that, this love rises that knows the beauty and the heartbreak of our shared humanness, the heights we can soar to, the depths we can sink to, the heartbreak that we must bear because we often cannot embody what our hearts wish to embody in all its beauty and perfection, the love that we are and have the potential to express. We long to be love in every cell and we fail so miserably, and it hurts us to the core. We’re so beautiful, and so brave, and so screwed. We can’t get away from the unconscious aspects of ourselves and we can’t commit ourselves entirely to the dungeon. We are all crucified on that cross of humanness.

And for this there is such a rising of compassion and mercy in the empty heart that has taken that crucifixion to the end, such a sweetness and a desire to give whatever kindness or assistance one can to these brave and beautiful creatures – you as a servant are born. And then God moves us deeply to see that everyone is not only Her creation for me to give myself to, everyone is actually Her. The feeling rises that says anything I have I will give you, oh brave children of God, oh sweet faces of Her.

I could never repay the debt I have to the Beloved for the gift of being allowed to see Her face, to see that everyone has always been Her, and that I’ve spent years treating them and myself, which is Her, as objects or enemies, or merely walked by so many in need or failed to look upon Her face with the love that is so obviously due Her. What was I doing? What was I thinking? As Donovan sang in Brother Sun, Sister Moon, ‘preoccupied with selfish misery’. That’s what I was doing.

And an awareness of every moment of this selfish obliviousness is there, alongside the clear sight that all are so worthy of our love and kindness. We know there just aren’t enough years to praise Her name, to love Her tender face in the faces of our brothers and sisters. There is no bad guy! There is only the embodiment of Her, on the cross of heaven and earth, angel and creature, struggling to live up to Her heavenly gift under the weight of this unconscious conflict and self-hate. There is nothing so compelling as that and to offer whatever we have to that.

This is something that rises when you get broken. There’s this wealth of gratitude, this feeling that the debt can never be repaid for the beauty of Her in every being. I couldn’t possibly give any of you enough to serve the liberation of the love that is hidden in your heart. Ammachi says I want to die comforting someone – she’s hugging herself to death and it’s her joy, because everything in her says I am here to be given to You who I am as well. That is the feeling when we’re emptied out. It’s what we are underneath the conflict.

And it keeps getting deeper. We keep getting more sensitive, more transparent. Pretty soon we might as well sit inside everybody’s pants, it’s so intimate. You have a feeling across the room and I feel you. And it’s my joy to have you guys fill my body with your angst. I’m dying to help you with that. I’ll meet anything you have. You have a cold? Give it to me. I can’t even imagine the joy Christ must have felt to die for his God in the form of his brothers and sisters. What else can I give? All I’ve got is my life, sure. What a joy it is to love you, to be this love, to know you as love, to break the bread of love with each other, to give you, my most precious, whatever it is I have to give, which is never enough to glorify your beauty and Her name, and to liberate the dove of gorgeous tender love that lives in your heart.

And guess what? All the while She is loving Herself through you. THROUGH you. So you get loved as it moves through your body. Your entire body is radiated by God’s love as you apparently love. There’s only Her radiant love.

So, yes, that’s the only thing worth longing for. If you have the longing for this love, yeah! Stoke that fire, burn in that place where you want it so bad. Don’t calm that down! It’s worth it.

The Offered Heart

I invite you to close your eyes and imagine that the quiet and sweet darkness you sit in is the cave of your own sacred heart. Let your attention drop into the feel and texture of your heart area, letting it rest about two inches deep inside. Notice the feel, keep your attention there, as though there is a small object about the size of a quarter that are you are focusing on. And imagine the dark cave all around you, a cave whose air is alive with breath and life and energy. Turn away from the external world and the world of the mind and take sweet shelter in your own heart, with the reverence that you would treat any temple, mosque, church, hogan, or zendo. There you sit in the center of your innermost being sanctuary. Precious chalice of the Holy. Simplicity. Quiet. Ground. Breath.

In the quiet, listen to the wordless call of your own heart, the sweet innocence that only wants to find a way to flower in this world, sharing Love, expressing its essence, finding a way for all of the human capacities to grow strong enough to support it and be its worthy servants. Be with its desire to live here on the basis of this sacredness and Love. Stay here as long as you like – breathing, feeling, softening.

Then open your eyes and let the texture and the incredible tenderness of your heart look out. This is a great feat, as this world is not particularly kind to the tender sensitivity of the heart. Thus it is vital to find those sanctuary spaces, whether alone or with others, in silence, where you can remember your heart, sit as your heart, unperturbed, and let it grow fat and strong. Let it grow legs. Let it grow words. We so easily give up on the heart because for many of us, our human capacities haven’t grown strong enough to not be flattened out there in the world. No one showed us how. So in the quiet you can make a vow with your own beloved heart, which is simply “Yes.” Yes, I am this. This is my heart. This is my life. All the other things I layer on top of it to protect it, to feel safe and to get somewhere are not the heart of me. This is the heart of me, no matter how deeply aching, no matter how well I am able to manifest living as it.

There is no life truly worth living besides the life of the heart. Everything that doesn’t have heart in it is a waste.

The places where we are defeated again and again, the places where we’re tired, the places where the heart is hungry or feels wounded, get to rest in the quiet where no one will be saying “buck up,” where no one will be blaming us for our failures. Rest in mercy for the challenges of being a human heart in a harsh world.

With your attention in the felt experience of flesh, breathe the sweetness of your tender heart into every cell of your body, softening, until you are one hundred percent bunny. Let the body notice no harm is coming to you. We have to bring the body along. Body is where fear rises and clench rises and defense comes to protect what’s precious. So it’s really vital to let yourself, in a cellular way, notice and bring home the harmlessness of this moment, especially if the body has been harmed. Notice the quiet, the soft light, the presence. Rest and be gentled in it.

There is a pace that is drenched in being, that is slow and conscious, like breath. We are trained to take our attention off of this vibrating embodied Love affair called “now” and be hypnotized by conceptual thought. The garden of our creature body goes untended, the riches of the moment slip out of our sight, we are left sad and hard. We forget the feast of being, of being together, the preciousness of life, of breath, of the Holy. So in the quiet, fall into the heart, into the quiet, into the felt texture of the moment, so that your heart garden can be watered by the Holy, the creature gentled and soothed by its waters.

When something crosses our path and wakes the heart from its slumber and calls it out of hiding, saying: “Heart, I see you. You’re everything. Don’t give up. Heart, it’s possible to live in this world. It’s a new day. It’s a new life,” we go from sadly trudging to perking up. We have waited all of our lives to hear this clarion call. We may not have even known that our sad walk had anything to do with our heart, but it’s a different world when we start to realize that the heart isn’t our wound, isn’t something to be pathologized or gotten over. This tender heart that aches isn’t a sign that something is wrong with us, but is in fact the center of our beauty as a human being. And we’ve been waiting all our lives to have that reflected.

Your whole life changes then. Then it becomes: how do I wed the Beloved in every moment? How do I turn toward this enough that it takes over my life, my days, my words, my relationships, my work? And for those of us who are bent this way, we’d almost rather not be alive than not live this heart. Oh Heaven! Oh Earth! What I can imagine! And what I can actually do! Oh the pain of that gulf! The human heart breaks at the crossroads of its sweet imaginings and the challenges of walking here on this earth. Oh heart!

The heart needs feeding. The heart needs pausing and sinking, praying and singing and loving. It needs exercise. It needs a place to express itself, whether it’s with the kitties at the Humane Society or strangers in line at the bank. Sometimes it’s nice to start with creatures because they are simple. They don’t get confused when we hand them our hearts. As we exercise the heart, we grow to realize that expressing it is the only reason to be here. What else is there? Everything can become an offering of the heart.

Yes, when we are tender and we offer the heart, it can sting when someone recoils or strikes at us out of fear. If we are going to be here as heart, we have to hurt. There’s no way around it. There’s no end run. The heart is calcified by refusing to hurt because somebody told us it was a sign of not being a proper soldier. But is this who we want to be? Every single time you hold your heart out and you’re disappointed, let yourself hurt. Let it be there. Let it burn off until there is only shining left. The one we’re holding our heart out to is not visible. The one we’re holding our heart out to is the Holy and we hold our heart out as a way to say “This is what I am. This is who I am in You. This is how I love You. This is how I worship You. I stand in this.”

There is a tendency for our attention to go beyond the felt enjoyment of our offering out to see how it went, if it was approved of, if it was liked, if it had an effect. The 23rd Psalm (Bobby McFerrin’s version) says “She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes.” That table that the Holy sets for you is the felt experience and appreciation of your own heart held in an open hand, and the utter open leaning into that offering as your worship of the Holy. Whoever else might benefit or curse it is secondary to this. When we forget the world and turn inward to our offered heart and our Beloved, there is only the feasting at Her table.
When attention stays home in the taste and feel of your own offered heart, you feel the sweet, tender beauty of being raw and open. When you offer your heart, stay there. Stay there drinking your own fountain. It might still sting and hurt when people are funny with you, but keep your attention on your heart’s offering, not out on the report card.

When I was very young, I was part of a theater for kids and there were all these big kids I didn’t know. One of them had some balloons they were selling for a quarter and I had a quarter that was burning a hole in my pocket. I wanted one of those balloons! I wanted to spend my quarter! So I bought a balloon and was very excited to have it. Then one of the older kids said “Oh, you can get those at the corner store for 5 cents.” Here’s the lover, the lover of the balloon, the lover of wanting to give my quarter, and she’s being called a fool because she didn’t wait to get one later for 5 cents instead of 25. I summoned up my best 7-year-old priestess self and said with passion and secrecy, “I have something very special I can do with this balloon.” It made no head sense at all but in that moment I stood for the integrity of the heart.

Heart makes no sense. Everyone will ridicule it. They’ll say “Why didn’t you go get 5 at the corner store?” But in the moment when it wants to exchange, it’s just itself and it’s “just because.” On the ground of the everyday mind, it can be ridiculed every time. But if our ground is the heart, there is a simple in-love-ness with the feel of our own offering. And it grows strong when we drink from that, when we stand in that. It is weakened by our attention going out to the report card, up into the head, out into the world dominated by left-brained accounting. It’s strengthened by its offering of simplicity and in staying home with that. How beautiful! I offered you tenderness. You laughed at me. I offered you tenderness. Stay there. It feels like this.

There’s a way that when the heart takes the life, the heart becomes everything. The heart feeds you. The heart creates ground under your feet. It creates a softness in your voice and it creates a kind of an energetic field whose center is the chest, that moves out from your body. It grows strong like a sun and the tweaks people have with that grow weaker in your eyes until they are inconsequential, burning and dissolving like piece of a rocket re-entering earth’s atmosphere. Grow fat and strong on the atmosphere of your own offered heart. Return again and again to the heart, exercise the heart, bring your attention to and drink the feel of your heart. Strengthen that field for the good of you, the worship of the Holy and the well-being of the whole.
Through our pain where we feel young we see other beings who are in pain as our scary oppressors, not as scared people hurting. The young part of us feels little and sees them as big and somehow keeping us down. Nothing can keep the heart down. Not even death can keep the heart down when the heart is strengthened. We are not little any more and we have come with a gift to give, and we can grow strong enough to give it.
Extend your hand in a gesture of offering, and keep your attention in the feel of your own offering. Let yourself notice how beautifully offered you are and don’t put attention outside or in the head at all, but in your felt experience of this offering gesture. Fall in love with your own worship. I want to invite you when you’re in a public place on a bench where nobody can really notice you, to sit with that internal attitude as people walk by. Taste yourself. Grow fat on your own sweetness. You’ll fall so deeply in love with your own offering, you’ll not care what the other people are doing. And then when it does hurt because you are human, cry your eyes out and do it some more.

Yes. Yes to my heart. Feed the heart because out in the world, especially now, everything is saying: Humans have no hearts. Humans are violent. Humans need to be afraid of each other. Humans are just animals, selfish animals that will take and take. Any many beings are operating out of a deep belief in that. Most humans in our culture are operating to some degree out of a deep separation, that there’s somebody who’s going to get me and I have to get mine first. It’s contagious. But so is Love. Love is the answer. Love is not silly.

Feed the heart. Sit with yourself. Offer yourself to the Holy and notice, drink your direct experience of your own beauty. That can look like Sufi dancing. That can look like prayer. That can look like getting up at dawn and offering some corn pollen. That can look like meditation. We have this valuable capacity to build sanctuary for ourselves in ourselves, in our homes, and to drink and be strengthened by the Holy and it must be intentional. Because we are taught to go to sleep at the wheel and let our patterning buffet us around with the conditioned mindset du jour, which is really quite sad, pitiful, and poverty-stricken. There is something available here, now. Directly available. We have to turn toward it.

The four year old girl who swung on her swingset with her sister singing “I love mommy. I love daddy. I love you” is the same one that’s sitting here right now. The love is no different. And when all of the human capacities grow up around it, go ahead and try to humiliate it. Go ahead and try and chase it to its room. Before Love, the scary are unmasked as scared. Apparent oppressors are shown to be frightened, Love-starved babies. That’s why Love is so powerful and so threatening to some. It unmasks us and takes us back to babyhood to grow up again. It lifts our sophisticated, coping adult strategies off and reveals a big, fat, shiny golden baby and says “Now figure out how to live here as that.” And we can.

The heart hasn’t been glorified, but instead treated like a stupid little girl that should go hide itself and stop making things so troublesome for all the big people who are very happily in their heads, in their tracks, and don’t want the mess of being cracked open. We forget that Love is not just a fond feeling or some sign of immaturity. Love is the greatest force in the universe. It is Love that is singing everything into form and then back out again. Love is an incinerator that burns up everything false. Love removes masks. Love brings the powerful to their knees. Love is all there is and all any of us want. When it’s been demoted by a fear-based yin-hating culture to a stupid thing that little girls do, how better to keep its power from erupting and to condition whole generations of people that there’s nothing there?

So let them run in fear. Let them strike in aversion. They are sad. They are afraid. They are deeply lonely and feel powerless. They’ve lost their way. They look like they’re wearing the crown of power. They’re wearing no crown. Come back to Love. Love what you Love. This heart exists here, but it exists in another realm, and when you turn fully toward the heart, you live in another realm and only appear here. But we have to take our attention off of the mind’s idea of here to enter this eternal, timeless wormhole to the Beloved. You’re not alone. The saints throughout time stand with you, and the Holy funds your heart.

Sweep Out the Chamber of Your Heart

chamberofheart

Go sweep out the chamber of your heart.
Make it ready to be the dwelling place of the Beloved.
— Mahmud Shabistari, 13th-century Sufi

When I was 10, I was in love with Miss Walker. After a series of wrinkly and stern grandma types who had been teaching for decades, in fourth grade there was twenty-something Miss Walker. Miss Walker at the chalkboard. Miss Walker in short skirts that showed her beautiful legs, Miss Walker with her electric-curler-created brown curls bouncing as she walked briskly down the hall. I would sign her name as if it was mine: Miss Nancy J. Walker. It was the first year I got straight As, and that was out of my deep adoration which demanded expression — I wanted to give something to she who seemed to lack nothing.

According to the dictionary, to adore is to “worship as God or a god” from the Latin adorare, which means “to pray to.” It is a deep, often rapturous regard that pours from the heart without concern for social custom or convention and, in its pure form, looks for nothing for itself but to love and pay homage to the beloved.

For the 13th-century mystic and poet Rumi, the adoration of his beloved teacher Shams of Tabriz led him into the wilderness of his heart, taking him through the depths of its dark pockets of longing and pain, and ultimately opening into the wide vista of his love for God and for all that is. The human heart, hung heavy with disappointments and sorrows, complete with sealed-off passages and hidden lonely caverns, longs to be known, to express itself fully in this world. It desires to bring the love that we are, beneath our accumulated pain and confusion, to this earthly plane through our eyes and our hands. For some, the yearning to live as love is so acute that there is no other choice but to travel this seemingly dangerous road of Rumi.

Traveling this road may mean wholeheartedly devoting one’s life to knowing the oneness of God. For others, it may mean a simple practice of allowing what we feel to be experienced and touched, without distraction or minimization so that we may come to know the depths of who we are. The shining truth and beauty of our hearts leaping at the sights or sounds that touch us can act as a tractor beam, drawing us onward as we explore and touch every desolate corner that stands between us and our inner beloved, and therefore also between us and all of creation.

In India, ashrams exist where a pilgrim can fall completely in love with an embodiment of God and seek shelter and solace in the haven of regular food, regular lodging and regular contact with the beloved while undertaking the heart’s journey. Given that the teacher is one of integrity and clarity, he/she can hold a space for temporarily allowing the devotee to see the teacher as God on the way to knowing him- or herself as God. The guru holds the space for the exploration of the longing, desperation, self-loathing, doubt and sorrow that come from living a human life. This way is revered in India, so a God-crazed love dog is generally treated by others within and without the ashram with tenderness and understanding.

The following poem by Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks, sheds light on the idea of a love dog:

Love Dogs

One night a man was crying,
Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said,
”So! I have heard you
calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?”
The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of the souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
”Why did you stop praising?”
”Because I never heard anything back.”
”This longing you express is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of the dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.
Give your life
to be one of them.

In our country, it is rare to find a circle where this tenderness and understanding are extended to one who deeply hungers for God and expresses it through great devotion, nor are there many socially accepted containers for traveling the path of adoration all the way to its end. We Americans tend to sexualize all adoration (that is, assume that it must be sexual), becoming suspicious of the man who adores the girl, the woman who adores the woman, the man who adores the man, etc. Gurus are widely suspected, seen as megalomaniacs or manipulators, and their followers are viewed as naive sheep. (This is not to say that there aren’t examples of men who adore girls that we should be suspicious of or gurus who are megalomaniacs.) The only widely accepted forms for expressing adoration are within a heterosexual couple or between parents/grandparents and children. The therapist/client relationship can also be an accepted container for this adoration to flourish and find its true home in the client’s own heart.

I remember the first teacher I met who allowed others to praise him and it felt clean. He came from a tradition in India, though he was American, and devotees were encouraged to write him poetry, to extol his virtues, and as far as I could tell, he was simply standing in for the Holy while we sang the reverence that was in our hearts. How wonderful to let loose the devotion I had felt for so many, but had held inside out of fear of being laughed at, rejected or rushed to bed, or used to fill someone else’s bottomless pit. For most, our egos are so hungry for validation that we can’t hold space for another to adore us — we are too interested in it, too starved for it ourselves to invite and hold space for its expression. We think it means something, and something about us, rather than seeing it as the natural expression of the holy through a human being.

The heart ideally needs a laboratory, in a sense, in its rocky course toward freedom, where many conditions are held consistent, such as (a) the adored and the one who is adoring are mutually aware of the holy context — in other words, that this is about God, and the adored holds that container if the adoring one gets confused; (b) the adored is willing to stay with the process (as opposed to lovers who sometimes leave); (c) the adored does not contaminate the container with his or her own personal needs; (d) the adoration doesn’t lead to anything concrete happening in the everyday world (such as dating, marriage, etc.); and (e) the adored is able (because he/she knows the territory) and willing (because he/she loves attending the birth of light) to witness and offer company through the gnarly parts of the journey without freaking out. Then the longing heart is free to adore, drool, blither, blather, be foolish; try its hand at poetry, at praising, at singing; descend into deep sorrow, feel jealous, try its wings.

Most of us know what it’s like to adore the average human and how much space he or she has for all of this. We have a certain amount of adoration we can tolerate before our “stuff” comes up, and we want to shoo the loving fan away, make fun of them, be mean to them, assume they are lying, assume they don’t know us, assume it’s all about us, assume perhaps the person is not “right” for us, etc. The task requires someone who has carved out her/his own heart to have space for another to play, and for that someone to create and maintain a clear laboratory for the exploration to proceed untainted.

Though we may not be aware of it at the time, when we are adoring another human being we are seeing God reflected in an earthly face, and our hearts call to plumb their depths. What we adore is the reflection of our own divine inner beauty — in a landscape, a flower, a serene face, a gentle manner. When we allow ourselves to adore, we become acquainted with the depths of our own hearts, allow ourselves to approach the grandeur within our own selves, and realize ourselves as love. When our hearts are still cluttered with old pain and fear, love moves only where it seems safe to move, only under certain conditions. The swept-clean heart is an indiscriminate lover: its nature is to love. It loves in every direction; it is love. It knows itself as love, and its joy is to love. It no longer is seeking fulfillment from the outside, looking with hungry eyes toward the false gods through which it was promised fulfillment. Instead, it has burrowed down through the rubble to the fresh wellspring of the Source and drinks there, overflowing outward.

What if we let ourselves love what we love? What if, at least within the privacy of our own solitude, we let ourselves notice what we adore? We have deadened ourselves out of not knowing what to do with the wealth of feelings inside. I recently met with a man in my travels who realized he unconsciously had stopped noticing that half the human race was made up of women. For him, acknowledging the presence of females almost always had ended in disappointment, discouragement, desperation and longing, and so on a subconscious level he had given it up. No wonder so many men gaze at images of women in the privacy of their own solitude: exposing that vulnerability to another human being even in the best of conditions can feel daunting, never mind the possibility of freshly eliciting scorn, fear or the unloading of years of a woman’s pain.

The simple invitation I gave this man was to walk around and notice that some people are women and to feel whatever was there. The point was not for him to get a woman, which is what men are taught will bring them salvation. The point was for him to reclaim the wilds of his own heart, to touch and explore them, and to return to a place where no woman could rival the internal love affair between him and his Source. Then we drink from our own inner spring, and relationship becomes a celebration of that rather than yet another attempt to squeeze a drop of love out of an external source that never will satisfy like the inner one.

When we adore, we tend to measure ourselves against our projected deity and we come up short. We are human, wanting, full of flaws, life-size, and the adored one seems larger than life. If we take the whole journey to reclaim our divinity, this is a temporary condition: painting our own holiness on another. Often, instead of honoring this opportunity to feel reverence and experience what is touched in our hearts, many of us use this flooding of insecurity to flee. Until the last decade, if I was attracted to someone, my strategy was to look at that person as little as possible and bury any sign of my attraction. What if the intensity of my adoration was seen, and right alongside, the squirming and writhing intensity of my self-loathing? What if the person decided it was something in particular — sexual attraction or an interest in dating or a supply to fill the black hole within — before I myself had the opportunity and space to explore it? It was better to stay safe and below the radar, doing damage control on those feelings, right?

Yet the key to plumbing the whole depth of the heart is precisely to dare to walk through this uncharted territory of squirmy things that rise when our hearts are drawn out beyond where we can maintain our cool. For many of us, that territory is gnarly enough to hobble us to the point of hiding forever, resulting in crowds of people walking around trying not to notice the beauty of their neighbors — throngs of hearts in hiding. However, the journey through this wild land is precisely what lets our hearts sing on this sweet Earth.

We can notice where we are drawn, where we love, consenting to have whatever feelings that come with it flood our bodies as we sit with them and let them sift and work themselves out. This willingness washes our hearts little by little until the full blaze that knows no fear is reclaimed, and we walk this Earth as love instead of looking for it. As Hafiz (translated by Daniel Ladinsky) writes, “Why not become the one who lives with a full moon in each eye that is always saying, with that sweet moon language, what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?”

——–

(c) Copyright 2007, Jeannie Zandi, all rights reserved.
Originally published in The Eldorado Sun, November, 2007.