Theme:
Conscious Love

Conscious Love

Summary: Sunday, June 16—Friday, June 21, 2019

In and with God, I can love everything and everyone—even my enemies. Alone and by myself, willpower and intellect will seldom be able to love in difficult situations over time. (Sunday)

Conscious love is “love in the service of inner transformation”—or if you prefer, “inner transformation in the service of love.” Either way, this is exactly what Jesus was about. —Cynthia Bourgeault (Monday)

Love calls forth the reality of the beloved, and the act of loving calls forth our own most authentic and dynamic center. The result is a mutual thrust deeper and deeper into becoming, the unfolding of the wonder of each person. —Cynthia Bourgeault (Tuesday)

Utterly free and gratuitous love is the only love that validates, transforms, and changes us at the deepest levels of consciousness. It is what we all desire and what we were created for. (Wednesday)

Our transformed consciousness sees another person as another self, as one who is also loved by Christ with me, and not as an object separate from myself on which I generously bestow my favor. (Thursday)

In its final outreach, conscious love leads two lovers beyond themselves toward a greater connectedness with the whole of life. —John Welwood (Friday)

 

Practice: Loving Kindness 

Buddhism identifies Four Limitless Qualities: loving kindness (maitri), compassion, joy, and equanimity. Loving kindness and compassion may appear to be the same, but there are subtle differences. In Buddhism, compassion includes a willingness to identify so fully with someone that you would be willing to carry a little of their suffering. Equanimity may be close to what Christians mean by peace. These four qualities are limitless in that they increase with practice and use. If you don’t choose daily and deliberately to practice loving kindness, it is unlikely that a year from now you will be any more loving. The qualities are also limitless because they are already within you—which beautifully parallels the Christian theology of the Holy Spirit. There is a place in you that is already kind, compassionate, joyful, and equanimous.

Paraphrasing Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön, here is a practice for growing loving kindness. I invite you to set aside a quiet period to go through these simple steps with intention and openness.

  1. Recognize the place of loving kindness inside yourself. It is there. Honor it, awaken it, and actively draw upon it.
  2. Drawing upon the source of loving kindness within, bring to mind someone for whom you feel sincere goodwill and tenderness, someone you love very much. From your source, send loving kindness toward this person and bless them.
  3. Awaken loving kindness for someone who is a casual friend or associate—someone not in your inner circle, but a bit further removed, someone you admire or appreciate. Send love to that individual.
  4. Now send loving kindness to someone about whom you feel neutral or indifferent—for example, a waiter who served you dinner. Send your blessing to this person.
  5. Think of someone who has hurt you, who has talked evil of you, whom you find it difficult to like or you don’t enjoy being around. Bless them; send this would-be enemy your love.
  6. Bring all of the first five individuals into the stream of flowing love, including yourself. Hold them here for a few moments.
  7. Finally, extend this love to embrace all beings in the universe. It is one piece of love, one love toward all, regardless of religion, race, culture, or likability.

This practice can help you know—in your mind, heart, and body—that love is not determined by the worthiness of the object. Love is determined by the giver of the love. These steps can be repeated for the other three limitless qualities. Remember, spiritual gifts increase with use. Love, compassion, joy, and equanimity will grow as you let them flow. You are simply an instrument, a conduit for the inflow and outflow of the gifts of the Spirit. You are “inter-being.”

For Further Study:
Cynthia Bourgeault, Love Is Stronger than Death: The Mystical Union of Two Souls (Monkfish Book Publishing: 1997, 2014)

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala: 2010)

Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018)

Richard Rohr, God as Us: The Sacred Feminine and the Sacred Masculine (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2011), CD, DVD, MP3 download

John Welwood, Journey of the Heart: The Path of Conscious Love (HarperPerennial: 1990)

John Welwood, Love and Awakening: Discovering the Sacred Path of Intimate Relationship (HarperPerennial: 1996)

Image credit: The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix) (detail), Vincent Van Gogh, 1890. Kröller-Müller Museum, Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo in the Netherlands.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we’re conscious, we will always do the loving thing, the connecting thing, the intimate thing, the communion thing, the aware thing. —Richard Rohr
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Conscious Love

The Heart of the Universe
Friday, June 21, 2019
Summer Solstice

John Welwood (1943–2019) was an American clinical psychologist known for integrating Eastern and Western psychology and spirituality. In his books Love and Awakening and Journey of the Heart, he wrote about the lifelong challenge and gift of conscious, committed love, drawing insights from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955):

If the bad news is that we can know another, and be known, only as deeply as we know ourselves—and coming to know ourselves can be a long and arduous journey—the good news is that love helps and inspires us to develop this deeper self-knowledge. . . . For this reason, relationships can help us face and understand ourselves more rapidly and profoundly than any other aspect of worldly life. Seen in this light, love becomes a path of awakening—rousing us from the sleep of old, unconscious patterns into the freshness and immediacy of living more fully in the present, in accord with who we really are. This is the source of a deeper kind of happiness, which goes far beyond pleasure and comfort, and the only real basis for healthy and satisfying relationships. [1]

In its final outreach, conscious love leads two lovers beyond themselves toward a greater connectedness with the whole of life. Indeed, two people’s love will have no room to grow unless it develops this larger focus beyond themselves. The larger arc of a couple’s love reaches out toward a feeling of kinship with all of life, what Teilhard de Chardin calls “a love of the universe.” Only in this way can love, as he puts it, “develop in boundless light and power.” [2]

So the path of love expands in ever-widening circles. It begins at home—by first finding our seat, making friends with ourselves, and discovering the intrinsic richness of our being, underneath all our ego-centered confusion and delusion. As we come to appreciate this basic wholesomeness within us, we find that we have more to give to an intimate partner.

Further, as a [couple] become[s] devoted to the growth of awareness and spirit in each other, they will naturally want to share their love with others. The new qualities they give birth to—generosity, courage, compassion, wisdom—can extend beyond the circle of their own relationship. These qualities are a couple’s “spiritual child”—what their coming together gives to the world. . . .

From there, a couple’s love can expand still further, as Teilhard suggests. The more deeply and passionately two people love each other, the more concern they will feel for the state of the world in which they live. They will feel their connection with the earth and a dedication to care for this world. . . . Radiating out to the whole of creation is the farthest reach of love and its fullest expression, which grounds and enriches the life of the couple. This is the great love and the great way, which leads to the heart of the universe. [3]

References:
[1] John Welwood, Love and Awakening: Discovering the Sacred Path of Intimate Relationship (HarperPerennial: 1996), xiii-xiv.

[2] Teilhard de Chardin, Human Energy, trans. J. M. Cohen (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1969), 84.

[3] Welwood, Journey of the Heart: The Path of Conscious Love (HarperPerennial: 1990), 206-207.

Image credit: The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix) (detail), Vincent Van Gogh, 1890. Kröller-Müller Museum, Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo in the Netherlands.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we’re conscious, we will always do the loving thing, the connecting thing, the intimate thing, the communion thing, the aware thing. —Richard Rohr
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Conscious Love

Love Is a Mirror
Thursday, June 20, 2019

For true love is given to mirror and manifest God on earth, and not for self-realization and personal happiness. With the acceptance of those terms, the path comes into being. —Cynthia Bourgeault [1]

Love is the ultimate reality. We can probably see this only through the inner dialogue we call prayer. For love is first of all hidden. We don’t see it unless we learn how to see more deeply, unless we clean the lens. The Zen masters call it wiping the mirror. In a clear mirror, we can see exactly what’s there without distortion—not what we’re afraid of or wish were there. Wiping the mirror is the inner discipline of constantly observing my own patterns, what I pay attention to and what I don’t pay attention to, in order to get my own ego out of the way, until I can be held by a foundational goodness and acceptance.

St. Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) admonished: “For the most part all [our] trials and disturbances come from our not understanding ourselves.” [2] This is also the way St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873–1897) practiced her “science of love.” She was always aware of how her own thoughts and feelings could get in the way of her “vocation” of love. We must learn to observe our own stream of consciousness and see how it blocks the natural response of love.

Actually, one could say that love is like a mirror. According to Zen masters, the mirror is without ego and mind. If a face comes in front of it, it reflects a face. If a table comes by, it reflects a table. It shows a crooked object to be crooked and a straight object to be straight. Everything is revealed as it really is, without self-consciousness on the part of the mirror. If something comes, the mirror reflects it; if the object moves on, the mirror lets it move on. The mirror is always empty of itself and therefore able to receive the other. The mirror has no preconditions for entry, no preconditions for acceptance. It receives and reflects back what is there, nothing more and nothing less. The mirror is the perfect lover and contemplative. It sees as God sees.

Love alone is sufficient unto itself. It is its own end, its own merit, its own satisfaction. It seeks no cause beyond itself and needs no fruit outside of itself. Its fruit is its use. I love simply because I am love. That is my deepest identity and what I am created in and for. To love someone “in God” is to love them for their own sake and not for what they do for me or because I am psychologically healed and capable.

Our transformed consciousness sees another person as another self, as one who is also loved by Christ with me, and not as an object separate from myself on which I generously bestow my favor. If I have not yet loved or if love wears me out, is it partly because other people are seen as tasks or threats instead of as extensions of my own suffering and loneliness? Are they not in truth extensions of the suffering and loneliness of God? And really of the whole world. There is only one love and only one suffering, as so many of the saints say. We are all participants, willingly or unwillingly.

References:
[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, Love Is Stronger than Death: The Mystical Union of Two Souls (Monkfish Book Publishing: 1997, 2014), 125.

[2] Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle, The Fourth Dwelling Places, chap. 1, section 9. See translation by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (Paulist Press: 1979), 71.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 134-135, 138, 189.

Image credit: The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix) (detail), Vincent Van Gogh, 1890. Kröller-Müller Museum, Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo in the Netherlands.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we’re conscious, we will always do the loving thing, the connecting thing, the intimate thing, the communion thing, the aware thing. —Richard Rohr
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Conscious Love

Love the Contradictions
Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Struggling with one’s own shadow self, facing interior conflicts and moral failures, undergoing rejection and abandonment, all daily humiliations, experiencing any kind of abuse or form of limitation, can be gateways into deeper consciousness and the flowering of the soul—if we allow them to be. These experiences give us a window into our naked nowness, because very real contradictions are always staring us in the face. Except for God, nothing is perfectly anything. Even as we set necessary and healthy boundaries, we are also invited to forgive what is, to weep over and accept our own interior poverty.

In facing the contradictions that we ourselves are, we become living icons of both/and. Once you can accept mercy, it is almost natural to hand it on to others (see the story of the unforgiving debtor in Matthew 18:23-35). You become a conduit of what you yourself have received. If you have never needed mercy and do not face your own inherent contradictions, you can go from youth to old age dualistically locked inside a mechanistic universe. That, in my opinion, is the “sin against the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 23:31-32). It cannot be forgiven because there is a refusal to recognize that you even need mercy or forgiveness. You have blocked the conduit that you are.

John of the Cross (1542–1591) consistently wrote of divine love as the template and model for all human love, and human love as the necessary school and preparation for any transcendent encounter. If you have never experienced human love, it will be very hard for you to access God as Love. If you have never let God love you, you will not know how to love humanly in the deepest way. Of course, grace can overcome both of these limitations.

To put it another way, what I let God see and accept in me also becomes what I can see and accept in myself. And, even more, it becomes that whereby I see everything else. This is “radical grace.” This is why it is crucial to allow God and at least one other person to see us in our imperfection and even in our nakedness, as we are—rather than as we ideally wish to be. It is also why we must give others this same experience of being looked upon tenderly in their imperfection; otherwise people on either side will never know divine love. I pray there is at least one person before whom you can be imperfect. I have several in my life, and they are such a relief and joy to be around.

Such utterly free and gratuitous love is the only love that validates, transforms, and changes us at the deepest levels of consciousness. It is what we all desire and what we were created for. Once you allow it for yourself, you will almost naturally become a conduit of the same for others.

Can you let God “look upon you in your lowliness,” as Mary put it (Luke 1:48), without waiting for some future moment when you believe you are worthy? Consider these words inspired by John of the Cross: “Love what God sees in you.” [1]

References:
[1] John of the Cross, Spiritual Canticle: Songs between the soul and the Bridegroom, stanza 32 (My paraphrase). See The Collected Works of John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (ICS Publications: 2017; ©1991), 79.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 151-152, 162-163.

Image credit: The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix) (detail), Vincent Van Gogh, 1890. Kröller-Müller Museum, Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo in the Netherlands.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we’re conscious, we will always do the loving thing, the connecting thing, the intimate thing, the communion thing, the aware thing. —Richard Rohr
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Conscious Love

Laying Down Our Life
Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Cynthia Bourgeault continues reflecting on authentic love, distinguishing it from infatuation or romance. She begins by sharing insights from Scottish psychiatrist Maurice Nicoll (1884–1953), offering a basis for understanding union within the Gospel framework. Nicoll suggests that laying down one’s soul for our neighbor “is the supreme definition of conscious love.” Cynthia explains:

That is to say, through a life of conscious love—the persistent practice of laying down one’s life for the other, of the merging or union of wills in the effort to put the other first—the conditions will gradually come about for the creation of one soul. As long as the life goes on, in a renewed union of wills, one may speak of one soul, “for the soul is the image of the life.” [1]

This union of souls cannot be done out of sheer romanticism, that initial rush of erotic attraction that is all most of us ever know of love. It is not a product of attraction, but rather of purification: the commitment with which the partners adopt the spiritual practice of laying down their lives for each other—facing their shadows, relinquishing old patterns and agendas, allowing all self-justification to be seen, brought to the light, and released. In other words, without a mutual and conscious commitment to bring one’s human love into sympathetic vibration with the sacrificial and giving love that is the font of all creation, there is no union of wills or souls. The willingness to die, on whatever level, for the other’s becoming is the practice that gradually transmutes erotic attraction into a force of holy fusion. . . .

Love calls forth the reality of the beloved, and the act of loving calls forth our own most authentic and dynamic center. The result is a mutual thrust deeper and deeper into becoming, the unfolding of the wonder of each person. . . .

If there is a secret to love’s transforming power, surely it must lie in its uncanny ability to call forth who we truly are. “Love always seeks the ultimately real,” says [Beatrice] Bruteau [2]; it has an infallible knack for pushing though dim outer shells and inner dark places and bringing the essence of who we are into the light. Love always brings an increase in being, and it does so by giving us the courage and power to live out who we truly are. . . . Love actualizes essence.

One fact that contemporary psychology has made eminently clear to us is that wholeness can come about only if we embrace the whole of ourselves—not only what is highest in us, but the shadow as well. For majesty to grow in us, all must come to the light, both the dark parts of oneself that need healing and the light parts that need birthing. [3]

References:
[1] Maurice Nicoll, The New Man (Penguin Books: 1981), 78.

[2] Beatrice Bruteau, “Persons in Love,” The Roll (March 1996), 9-10. Quarterly newsletter of the Schola Contemplationis, 3425 Forest Lane, Pfafftown, NC.

[3] Majesty has to do with the power of actualization: the conscious shaping of the vessel that bears the light of Christ.

Cynthia Bourgeault, Love Is Stronger than Death: The Mystical Union of Two Souls (Monkfish Book Publishing: 1997, 2014), 19, 25, 115, 116, 117.

Image credit: The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix) (detail), Vincent Van Gogh, 1890. Kröller-Müller Museum, Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo in the Netherlands.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we’re conscious, we will always do the loving thing, the connecting thing, the intimate thing, the communion thing, the aware thing. —Richard Rohr
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Conscious Love

Love in Service of Transformation
Monday, June 17, 2019

Cynthia Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest and one of the Center’s core faculty members, calls Jesus’ teaching and way of life “the path of conscious love.” She writes:

“Conscious love” . . . emphasizes the life-affirming and implicitly relational nature of the path, and the word “conscious” makes clear that the touchstone here is transformation, not simply romance. Conscious love is “love in the service of inner transformation”—or if you prefer, “inner transformation in the service of love.” Either way, this is exactly what Jesus was about. [1]

The words “conscious love” ring true for me (Richard) as a definition for our life’s purpose and the goal of all spirituality. When we’re conscious, we will always do the loving thing, the connecting thing, the intimate thing, the communion thing, the aware thing. To do the unloving thing is always to somehow be unconscious at that moment. Cynthia describes what this means:

The first requirement of conscious love is, of course, that it has to be conscious—or in other words, anchored in a quality of our presence deeper than simply egoic selfhood. Nowadays we would identify this quality of consciousness as unitive, or nondual, awareness. . . .

For Jesus as for all teachers of conscious transformation . . . the work with a partner is in service of this goal. It is not intended simply to fulfill physical or emotional needs, but to accelerate the process of awakening. [2]

The Buddhist psychologist John Welwood (1943–2019) wrote:

Instead of looking to a relationship for shelter, we could welcome its power to wake us up in areas of life where we are asleep and where we avoid naked, direct contact with life. This approach puts us on a path. It commits us to movement and change, providing forward direction by showing us exactly where we most need to grow. Embracing relationship as a path also gives us a practice: learning to use each difficulty along the way as an opportunity to go further, to connect more deeply, not just with our partner, but with our own aliveness as well.

By contrast, dreaming that love will save us, solve all our problems or provide a steady state of bliss or security only keeps us stuck in wishful fantasy, undermining the real power of love—which is to transform us. For our relationships to flourish, we need to see them in a new way—as a series of opportunities for developing greater awareness, discovering deeper truth, and becoming more fully human. [3]

That’s why I believe deep friendships, family, sexual intimacy, marriage, and even celibacy are not given to us to solve our problem, but actually to reveal the problem. All of these life stances show us that we still don’t know how to love. At the same time, if we are conscious and aware, they give us the daily practice and opportunity to try one more time! [4]

In summary, Welwood wrote:

A conscious relationship is one that calls forth who you really are. . . . Regarding relationship as a vehicle or path that can help two people access the powerful qualities of their true nature provides the new vision our age so urgently needs. [5]

References:
[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala: 2010), 112.

[2] Ibid., 118.

[3] John Welwood, Journey of the Heart: The Path of Conscious Love (HarperPerennial: 1990), 13.

[4] Richard Rohr, God as Us: The Sacred Feminine and the Sacred Masculine, disc 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2011), CD, DVD, MP3 download.

[5] John Welwood, Love and Awakening: Discovering the Sacred Path of Intimate Relationship (HarperPerennial: 1996), 8.

Image credit: The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix) (detail), Vincent Van Gogh, 1890. Kröller-Müller Museum, Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo in the Netherlands.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we’re conscious, we will always do the loving thing, the connecting thing, the intimate thing, the communion thing, the aware thing. —Richard Rohr
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Conscious Love

How We Love
Sunday, June 16, 2019

How we relate to someone we love . . . provides an extremely clear and accurate mirror of how we relate to ourselves. —John Welwood [1]

Authentic love is of one piece. How you love anything is how you love everything. Jesus commands us to “Love our neighbors as we love ourselves,” and he connects the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbor, saying they are “like” one another (Matthew 22:39). So often, we think this means to love our neighbor with the same amount of love—as much as we love ourselves—when it really means that it is the same Source and the same Love that allows each of us to love ourself, others, and God at the same time! That is unfortunately not the way most people understand love, compassion, and forgiveness—yet it is the only way they ever work. How you love is how you have accessed Love.

We cannot sincerely love another or forgive offenses inside of dualistic consciousness. Try it, and you’ll see it can’t be done. Many pastors and priests have done the people of God a great disservice by preaching the Gospel to them but not giving them the tools whereby they can obey that Gospel. As Jesus put it, “cut off from the vine, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The “vine and the branches” offer one of the greatest Christian mystical images of the non-duality between God and the soul. In and with God, I can love everything and everyone—even my enemies. Alone and by myself, my willpower and intellect will seldom be able to love in difficult situations over time. Many folks try to love by willpower, with themselves as the only source. They try to obey the second commandment without the first. It usually does not work long-term, and there is no one more cynical about love than a disillusioned idealist. (This was my own youthful generation of the 1960s.)

Finally, of course, there is a straight line between love and suffering. If we love anyone or anything deeply and greatly, it is fairly certain we will soon suffer because we have given up control to another, and the price of self-extension will soon show itself. Undoubtedly, this is why we are told to be faithful in our loves, because such long-term loyalty and truly conscious love will always lead us to the necessary pruning (John 15:2) of the narcissistic self.

Until we love and until we suffer, we all try to figure out life and death with our minds; but afterward a Larger Source opens up within us and we “think” and feel quite differently: “until knowing the Love, which is beyond all knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). Thus, Jesus would naturally say something like, “This is my commandment: you must love one another!” (John 13:34). Authentic love (which is always more than a heart feeling) initially opens the door of awareness and aliveness, and then suffering for that love keeps that door open for mind, body, and will to enter. I suspect for most of us that is the work of a lifetime.

References:
[1] John Welwood, Love and Awakening: Discovering the Sacred Path of Intimate Relationship (HarperPerennial: 1996), xiii.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 206-207.

Image credit: The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix) (detail), Vincent Van Gogh, 1890. Kröller-Müller Museum, Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo in the Netherlands.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we’re conscious, we will always do the loving thing, the connecting thing, the intimate thing, the communion thing, the aware thing. —Richard Rohr
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