When I lived in a radical religious commune in New York State, the nature of love was our koan. It seemed important. The overarching mantras in the air were God is Love, God is One, Love is All. Somehow the nitty gritty of good and evil, the daily in your face of what to do when a rat breached the flour bins, was ignored. Was the rat a “not God”? Were we supposed to set up a separate feeder for the rat to show OUR love? Well, we were pretty bananas, but not that bananas.
It was further complicated by the language issue. The “old family,” mostly young Jews from NYC with advanced degrees who had been with the leader since he sat in silence in Central Park, spoke in sign language, lyrical hand and arm movements original to the group. (I refuse to say “cult.”)
Not only were we a quiet people but we were an earnest people wishing full immersion in the Love that is God that is One that is All. As such, negative forms of speech were frowned upon. Spoken language could get quite contorted if you felt someone was slacking off in the kitchen or garden or on a building project – and sign language only allowed for beauty. “No” did not exist.
I never learned more than a few sign words, having arrived late and leaving after a half year, but I, too, longed for full immersion. My previous experiences placed me immediately in a certain category of seeker. I arrived older than most and jump-started.
No drugs were allowed, sex was discouraged, and couples frowned up (though there were several). Besides manual labor, we sang, danced, and meditated – those words are not adequate! – and I learned unanticipated skills such as how to walk through woods in blanketed darkness, how to sleep on snow at -30 degrees to escape singing and dancing, and how to give gifts fully and without attachment. The last has stood me in good stead.
I also had (albeit concise) conversations with Hindu gurus who visited me in dream states and who had, well, died decades before. I’d never heard of them and they came without summons, and it was intense, and sometimes amusing. But that’s a different blog, and it would make most readers think I was a nutcase, and it doesn’t really matter because what matters is: do you love well?
Loving well is the life lesson, the work that separates wannabes from pilgrims.
Love, like light, is both substance and wave.
Love is the substance of action. It is getting off your bum and making someone’s life better.
Love is the wave of essence. You were born out of this essence. It is your true home and self.
And THERE’S the rub. In our physical bodies and unique minds we seldom experience the pure essence of love, let alone Love as All. In linear time and space, we strive nonstop to position ourselves anew in a world of clash and clang and rivalry and fear and striving to be something more, or larger, or stronger, or safer, or more attractive.
I don’t know that there is a way around this, at least not an easy one. God may be All, but our daily “all” is fractured and sieved and chopped and filtered. We perceive and navigate an infinite number of tidbits, thinking if we reassemble them and ourselves, life will be better. And if we rearrange well, it is usually true. Good housekeeping has value. “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” and all that. Such work allows for progress in the conditions of life on this earth. It is where the dynamic between good and evil is defined and enacted. It is, at its best, Love as action, Love in action.
At the commune the numbers soared when the temperatures rose. The summer I was there one visitor was an astrophysicist who never looked at the stars.
Let me back up. That summer the family was in a sort of peril as the leader renounced a decade of Hindu “God is All” for Born Again Christianity with its split world of good and evil. It turned out that someone had given the leader (well, “Freedom” was his name and he wasn’t actually “worshipped” in case you are worried) a transistor radio. Alone in his yurt, he listened to Christian radio. My guess is he was vulnerable from living off canned white asparagus for several years.
On re-entry from a decade in the stratosphere of “Love is All” he split into three personalities – God, Freedom, and the insurance salesman he had been earlier. They had different voices and talked to each other. One night at meditation, listening to their dialogue – monologue? – we started giggling. I would say the “game was up” but it wasn’t remotely like that. We provided a safe place over the next months while he reconstituted. For the most part, love prevailed, including his leaving the land, and the commune becoming a Zen center.
But before he left, Freedom asked the astrophysicist if he ever looked at the stars, and he had to say “no.” It was not where he was looking for truth.
What are twinkly lights compared with abstract mathematical theory? What gets us to essence beyond definition, form, and formula? Can we open to answers in the silence instead of the clang and clatter? What is the role of awe?
If we cannot comprehend the universe, is it no wonder we cannot comprehend the immensity of Love with our limited minds, our containerizing minds, our judgmental minds?
Can we lay down the reins and, like an old horse, find our way back home?