Being in Love

An open heart. For me, this was a long time coming. For me, this is an active, continuing endeavor. A grail long sought has begun to show me its shining presence. I am awed by the power that beats in the heart of love.

I know people who love me but whose hearts are well defended. Perhaps the love is no less, but without vulnerability, its power to transform is diminished. I did not see this as a lack until I began to open my heart. In truth, I instinctively valued the shallow plane of exchange we allotted each other, those of us who were afraid of opening more. But now I am finding new ways to love, stepping gingerly outside my fortress walls while honoring others’ need for remaining within.

When I want to conjure the power and vulnerability of love, I see my children. My love for them is fierce, though it has often reached them imperfectly, twisting past my fortress walls. Even when this mother love remained stuck within me, I still felt its vulnerability keenly. The possibility of grief yawns beneath the joy of sharing our lives together. Yet I had learned well the lessons of my culture and my childhood—better not go into that vulnerable place. Don’t borrow trouble.

How do we resolve this instinct for self-protection with our desire to open to love? Not just in our personal lives but especially when considering subtle activism in this world of increasing hatred, violence, and natural disasters? Years ago, I learned a subtle healing technique from my shaman teacher. I found it difficult and have not practiced it often so I may not relate the steps accurately. It involves journeying to your allies, perhaps to a special ally who partners with you in healing endeavors. You request this ally’s protection and assistance. You fill yourself up with love and light and you journey shamanically to the site of a disaster to offer this light to the victims. You are to see the light pouring from portals in your wrists and hands. Those in need will come to you and feed on the light. The idea is to channel this love and light with the assistance of your ally, not to provide it from your own self, for the demand will deplete you.

I performed this exercise right after Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans. Tuning in, I saw a grey swath swirling over the surface of the water-logged land, filled with hundreds of suddenly dead people. I reached out my arms and invited them to come feed on me. Shocked, bereft, or aggrieved, they swarmed toward me. A number of them filled up and were released. But eventually, I needed to end my journey. I left reluctantly--I saw so many more not yet tended to. Of course, they would not remain untended; angels and helpers were probably on hand to help these souls transition. What struck me most after completing this practice was the way it aroused my own fear of loss and death. Not a place of strength from which to act! Maybe this approach should be labeled “Expert practitioners only. Do not do this at home.” I did not venture to do this again.

Years later, Incarnational Spirituality strengthened my sense of sovereignty and gave me new tools for subtle activism. A first step in subtle activism—or actually in any attempt to connect with subtle beings and energies—is to place myself in the state I wish to share. Love is a great starting point. And so I imagine the love I have for my children. And I begin to sense how this love grows and stretches beyond to all sorts of connections. A deeper vein of this love calls to me now. It is the unwalled courageous heart that carries a full sense of vulnerability.

If we read about the victims of mass shootings, if we imagine the pain and fear of the migrant children separated from those they love and on whom they’ve depended for survival and support, the well-trained culturally approved reaction is to allow ourselves a brief moment of feeling that pain and horror. Maybe we can hurl our anger at those responsible, but then we must retreat into learned helplessness. A better option is to surge into political action. Another is to connect with our allies, generate love and healing, and in whatever fashion move that loving energy out to those who need it. Doing this, we never know rationally to what extent we’ve been helpful. And the danger, as I see it, is in a new kind of complacency. Because we’ve performed subtle activism, we can put the horror of the situation aside and go about our lives.

It gets tricky putting things like this into words. Of course, there is value in going about our lives since every act performed with love generates more good than we can imagine. But maybe we can deepen our subtle work by holding the pain and horror in love, without glossing over it, without sinking into it?

Here’s a story that may seem like a sidetrack. Once I was vacuuming the rug in the living room of the off-campus apartment I shared with fellow students. The old Hoover began to groan and whir, so I tipped it sideways to see what was stuck. With all the impracticality of my youth, I foolishly stuck my finger into the vacuum hole without turning it off and was struck by some kind of rotating beaters lurking just inside. My finger was smashed and badly cut; the pain almost caused me to faint. Again the foolish youth, I ran to my roommate’s liquor stash and swallowed a shot of peach brandy, thinking that would dull the pain. It did not. I went to lie on my bed and as it was hopeless to ignore the pain, I went into it. My awareness moved into the shrieking finger, I merged with the intense pain, and suddenly I felt an intense love for life. Like the continuum between hot and cold, how something can be so hot that it feels like freezing, I could no longer tell what was pain and what was the intense joy of being alive, my deep and wild love of life. I told an acquaintance about this later. I did not know how to put it into words so I simply said I’d hurt so much that I’d seen God. He replied, “oh boy, you must be a real masochist.” He did not get it. It was not about enjoying pain. I had been mystically transported to the place where pain and love are one. Vacuum cleaners, peach brandy and transcendence, who knew?

Seriously though, this is a clue to my new direction in subtle work. It’s about not walling yourself off from the pain. It looks like this. First, I partner with my allies and step fully into the intense joy of love. I feel it shining through my little toes, shooting out every strand of hair on my head. I feel it sifting into the air about me, washing over and through my environment. And I feel all the grace and support of the beings in my physical environment stepping up to assist me. Then I imagine the circumstances of the violence or tragedy I wish to attend to. As best I can, I touch into the horror, intense anger, grief, or fear of the people I hope to help. I mustn’t shy away from the emotions and shift to a ‘higher’ plane but feel them simultaneously with that intense love I’ve conjured. That love is capable of infinite consolation, of tender protection, and soul-and-body-satisfying nurturance. And that love can hold those qualities while also letting in the pain. I can shed tears and know joy at the same time. I imagine the pain and sorrow, all the horror and rage, stepping into the shelter of this great Love’s cloak.

As with manifestation, this healing for others works to the extent that I embody it in myself. If I do this well, I know fear but also know that I am safe within that cloak of love. I mirror what I am offering to others. I become vulnerable in my heart while holding fast to an invincible love. I become the cauldron that does not shrink from pain. And amazingly, that great love we all can access holds me safe as I hold, acknowledge, and honor all the feelings. Those suffering pain and loss are not denied their feelings but are invited into the safe holding of love. They can know themselves because they are seen for who they are, in all their suffering and longing.

So many things deconstruct the fortress around our hearts: self love, trust, gratitude, beauty, a child’s gleeful laugh, the awareness of the tender vulnerability of others. What blasts the walls down, for me, is being in love enough to feel it all. When I am in love, I no longer need to shy away from the dark.