The Spirit of Love

The Spirit of Love

From Chicken Soup for the Soul 20th Anniversary Edition

The Spirit of Love

Everything in the universe is within you. Ask all from yourself.

~Rumi

In the West what we generally call love is mostly a feeling, not a power. This feeling can be delicious, even ecstatic, but there are many things love is meant to do that feelings cannot.

When love and spirit are brought together, their power can accomplish anything. Then love, power, and spirit are one.

There has never been a spiritual master — not Buddha, Krishna, Christ, or Mohammed — who wasn’t a messenger of love, and the power of the message has always been awesome: it has changed the world. Perhaps the very immensity of such teachers has made the rest of us reticent. We do not accept the power love can create inside us, and therefore we turn our backs on our divine status.

Love is spirit. Spirit is the Self.

Self and spirit are the same. Asking “What is spirit?” is just a way of asking “Who am I?” There isn’t spirit outside you; you are It. Why aren’t you aware of it? You are, but only in a limited way, like someone who has seen a glass of water but not the ocean. Your eyes see because in spirit you are the witness to everything. You have thoughts because in spirit you know all. You feel love toward another person because in spirit you are infinite love.

Restoring the spiritual dimension to love means abandoning the notion of a limited self with its limited ability to love and regaining the Self with its unbounded ability to love. The “I” that is truly you is made of pure awareness, pure creativity, pure spirit. Its version of love is free from all memories or images from the past. Beyond all illusion is the source of love, a field of pure potential.

That potential is you.

What is the Path?

The most valuable thing you can bring into any relationship is your spiritual potential. This is what you have to offer when you begin to live your love story at the deepest level. Like the seed needed to start the life of a tree, your spiritual potential is the seed for your growth in love. Nothing is more precious. Seeing yourself with the eyes of love makes it natural to see others that way too. You will be able to say of your beloved, as the poet Rumi does:

You are the secret of God’s secret.

You are the mirror of divine beauty.

The path to love is something you consciously choose to follow, and everyone who has ever fallen in love is shown the first step on that path. The unfolding of spiritual potential has been the chief concern of all the great seers, saints, prophets, masters, and sages in human history. Theirs was a carefully charted quest for the Self, a far cry from our notion of love as a messy, emotional affair.

In India, the spiritual path is called Sadhana, and although a tiny minority of people give up normal life to wander the world as seekers of enlightenment (these are monks, or sadhus), everyone, from those in the most ancient civilization of Vedic India until today, considers their life to be Sadhana, a path to the Self. Although the Self seems separated from us, it is actually intertwined in everything a person thinks, feels, or does. The fact that you do not intimately know your

Self is amazing, if you come to think about it. Looking for your Self, the Vedic sages declared, is like a thirsty fish looking for water. But as long as the Self has yet to be found, sadhana exists.

The goal of the path is to transform your awareness from separation to unity. In unity we perceive only love, express only love, are only love.

While the inner transformation is taking place, every path must have some outer form to sustain it. In India a person’s nature leads him to the style of path appropriate to reaching fulfillment. Some people are naturally intellectual and are therefore suited to the path of knowledge, or Gyana. Some are more devotional and are suited to the path of worship, or Bhakti. Some are more outwardly motivated and are suited to the path of action, or Karma.

The three are not mutually exclusive; ideally, one would include in one’s lifestyle daily periods of study, worship, and service. All three approaches would then be integrated into a single path. It is, however, entirely possible to be so taken with a single approach that your whole existence may be centered on reading the scriptures, contemplation, and scholarly debate — the life of Gyana. Or you may spend your time meditating, chanting, and participating in temple rituals — the life of bhakti. Or you could do social work, apply yourself to mental and physical purification, and do God’s bidding in daily activity — the life of karma. Even in the most traditional sectors of India today, these paths have broken down, giving way to modern lifestyles in which study and work have little or nothing to do with spiritual aspirations.

What does this mean for a Westerner who has never been exposed to sadhana? I propose that being on the spiritual path is such a natural and powerful urge that everyone’s life, regardless of culture, obeys it. A path is just a way to open yourself to spirit, to God, to love. These are aims we all may cherish, but our culture has given us no established, organized way to reach them. Indeed, never in history has a seeker been confronted with such a disorganized and chaotic spiritual scene.

What we are left with is relationships. The desire to love and be loved is too powerful ever to be extinguished, and fortunately a spiritual path exists based upon this unquenchable longing. The expression path to love is not simply a metaphor; it reappears throughout spiritual history in many guises. The most ancient version is the bhakti or devotional tradition from Vedic India, in which all forms of love ultimately serve the search for God. The Sufis of Islam have their own devotional lineage. Rumi, who I quote so often, was more than a poet; he was a great teacher of this path. To him God was the sweetest, most desirable lover, whose touch he could feel against the skin:

When it’s cold and raining,

You are more beautiful.

And the snow brings me

even closer to Your Lips.

The Inner Secret, that which was never born,

You are that freshness, and I am with You now.

Christ initiated another version of the path in his supreme teaching, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Jesus always spoke of God as a loving father. The Christian version of the path is therefore a relationship not so much between lovers as between parent and child or a shepherd and his flock (we shouldn’t forget, though, the image of Christ as bridegroom and the worshiper’s soul as the bride).

So it isn’t the tradition that is lacking. One might more fairly say that in most religions the teaching of love, as originally presented, seems to have faded, to become more an ideal than a practical reality. But amidst all the confusion and breakdown of traditional teaching, there is still the spark of love that brings two people together, and out of that a path can be made.

Like the tiny spark of fire that consumes a forest, the spark of love is all you need to experience love in its full power and glory, in all its aspects, earthly and divine. Love is spirit, and all experiences of love, however insignificant they seem, are actually invitations to the cosmic dance. Within every love story hides the wooing of the gods and goddesses.

In a different age the most fleeting of infatuations had spiritual meaning; the nearness of God in the beloved was taken seriously. Since the advent of Freud, however, psychologists have assured us that falling in love is illusory; the sense of ecstasy that is part of falling in love is illusory; the sense of ecstasy that is part of falling in love isn’t realistic. We must learn to accept the temporary nature of romance and disregard the “projected fantasy” that we might be as immortal and invulnerable as passionate lovers feel. We would therefore have to be skeptical of Walt Whitman when he rapturously declares,

I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself, (They do not know how immortal, but I know.)

~Deepak Chopra, MD

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