And the Greatest of These is Love.



This post is an excerpt from my book, Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West.
 To purchase, click here.


The Power of Love.

On the spiritual path, we will fall short many times. It is easy to become impatient, frustrated, and overwhelmed. That is why love is so important.
Love sees life in everything. It recognizes the life that abides within every creature. This recognition begets respect. Love is patient, kind, and endures all things, as anyone who has attended a wedding knows. Our knowledge, plans, and strategies will reach their wit’s end, but love never tires.
One day, while watching my favorite television show, “The Office,” I heard those famous words of St. Paul’s yet again but this time with new ears because I was holding my newborn son. As I looked at him and heard, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love,” I understood. For the first time, I understood.
In that moment, I knew: I knew that I could read every book in the world and make plans from now until the end of time, but my knowledge would be exhausted and my plans would fall short. No strategy and no amount of preparation could ever get me to the finish line. The only thing that remained was love.
Only my love for him can bear the hardships and difficulties that our relationship will bring to the surface. Only my love for him can overcome my impatience and arrogance. Only my love for him can guide him without trying to bend him to my will. Only love is humble enough to teach him how to think without teaching him what to think. For only the eye of love sees him as his own person and only love is selfless enough to grant him the space he needs to grow into that person. Love is the only voice within me honest enough to admit that he does not belong to me.  
Truthfully, it is not “my” love and it is not “for him.” Love is the defining characteristic of the Kingdom. I do not create love. I receive it. Love is a gift.

And as children of God, we resemble God. Love is our birthmark. When freedom from self is realized, the likeness of God is reflected in our actions. The cataracts of fear and expectation are removed and we can see the world as-it-is. When we recover the freedom to see people as they are, we see the life that dwells and sings within them, and love is our natural response.

Love is wild. It has no manners.

It comforts the afflicted, and afflicts the comfortable. Love often defies logic. It would have us embrace our enemies and be uncomfortably honest with our friends. This cannot be taught. Love does not come with a manual. It is the spontaneous expression of our True Nature.

Unconditional Love

As I said before, love is complete freedom—the freedom of God to love friend and foe as our Self. Love is complete and total freedom because it is selfless. Selfless awareness is wide open, agapic awareness. This is the all-embracing quality of Undifferentiated Awareness that recognizes and embraces everything that is real and true, regardless of whether it is comfortable or not.
Self-centeredness is the worst kind of prison. It keeps us chained and shackled to our fears and illusions, reserved to making decisions that serve our own narrow-minded agenda. Love doesn’t see the world or the people in it through the knowledge of good and bad. Love does not see what we stand to lose or gain. It sees things-as-they-are. And when you see things-as-they-are, you see the spark of divinity that lives within all things.

Gratitude

In the embrace of unconditional love, it feels like we are loved into Being. This awareness brings about a phase change. It transmutes the energy of unconditional love into gratitude. Dominion is not control, but responsibility. Gratitude accepts this responsibility. When you are grateful for something, you “tend to it.” When God told Adam to tend to the Garden, he meant love it—love the body, your fellow man, and the earth.
Gratitude is an action, not an idea. It is the act of caring for that which we are grateful. Gratitude doesn’t hang out in the oceanic presence of unconditional love. It reaches out to the world from the deep space of love. It invests, not only in the maintenance of our Self, but through likeness recognizes and welcomes the True Self in others. Likeness is a quality of Basic Sanity. It looks beyond race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and social status to find its kind in others. In this way, likeness gives rise to kindness, which is the foundation of relationship. Having established relationship, love goes through yet another conversion.

Creative Love

At this stagegratitude and kindness give way to the creative power of love. The principle of Eros or erotic love isn’t limited to “sexual desire.” It refers to the creativity of love. Therefore, sexual union is both an example of Eros and a most useful symbol for its creative nature. We are born out of love and therefore born to love. Love is the Alpha and Omega.
Eros is the desire to make love. It is the creative force that seeks to express love through relationship, art, poetry, music, prayers of devotion, and songs of worshipful silence. Eros articulates love. In fact, creative love is art—it is the aspect of love that lends shape to the unformed inspiration of our inner life. Eros is love Incarnate.
While creative love is the principle that underlies the great works of art, it is not limited to painting, music, or theater any more than it is to the bedroom. In fact, creative love is most active in our daily life. It is the aspect of love that expands the field of practice. It brings our spiritual practice out of our home and into our day.

Love in Daily Life

The Upanishads say, “And then He realized that he was this creation, as it had poured forth from Himself. In this way, He became this creation. Therefore, he who realizes this becomes, in this creation, a creator.” To become a creator is to bring the divine image to fruition. Having discovered an untapped inner wealth, we are no longer dominated by our poverty mentality. We are full. We seek to give back, to create.
Eros transforms our life into an art form. It is the art of living. When we consent to the power of love, it shapes our life in the same way Michelangelo chiseled his sculpture of David from raw stone. This happens in relationship. We cannot wall ourselves off from the world and call it spirituality. Without relationship our practice is incomplete. Commitment connects the responsibilities and obligations of our daily life to the indwelling reality of our True Self.
Committed relationships are difficult because they demand that we give of our Self. This is hard because the false-self is selfish. It wants to avoid discomfort and clings to immediate gratification. Creative love matures us by reminding us that we cannot hope to grow into our True Self without something demanding our false-self in return.

The resurrection of our True Life is proportionate to the death of our inauthentic life.

The false-self is incapable of accepting this truth. It is bound to itself. Love is free to accept this maxim. This is the power of love to endure all things: marriage, divorce, success, failure, friendship, rivalries, heartache, and death. The freedom of love enables us to adapt to life’s changing circumstances. From the point of view of creative love, there are no problems, only opportunities. If the problem can be solved, it is not a problem, just something for you to work with; if it can’t be solved, it is not a problem, just something to accept and move on. Creative love sees everything as workable.


Without struggle there is no growth which is why Shantideva writes, “All enemies are helpers in my spiritual work and therefore they should be a joy to me.” Where there is an enemy, a shortcoming, or an obstacle, creative love sees a gateway. When we are angry, afraid, jealous, depressed, or obsessed, love knows there is an underdeveloped aspect of our Self struggling to be born into the world. Love seeks to cultivate it. It loves our devils into the present moment; it does not reject them. We may be intellectually sympathetic to this idea, but only the power of love recognizes this on a practical level.
What we call spiritual principles live within us as potentialities embedded within the structure of Being, but just as the capacity to walk is a potentiality that has to be exercised by toddlers, these potentialities have to be actualized through the struggle of daily life. In this way, God is born into the world.
Spirituality is about accepting our obstacles as the path, not avoiding them. Only love is capable of seeing the relationships and tasks that present us with difficulty as the plots of land that we must cultivate. In short, what we call obstacles, love calls the path, and all paths intersect.
If we look closely, we will see an intricate web of interdependence emerging. It may appear that we are attracted to this person or that job for one reason or the other, but if we look closer—beyond the veil of the false-self—we will see that the power of love has brought us into this relationship. “Driven by the forces of love, the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come to being,” writes Teilhard de Chardin, the brilliant Catholic theologian.
It is as if the universe is working as a midwife, assisting in the birth of our Self. But love is never a one-sided situation. The forces of love are at work in the other person as well. The universe is using us to assist in their birth. There is something deep in the other that yearns to be realized, and it has identified a relationship with us as part of its path. We are there to aid in their birth, just as they are there to aid in ours.
While love may bring us together, it does not chain us to one another. It binds us to the truth in our hearts. So in love, there is solitude. “For the pillars of the temple stand apart,” writes Kahlil Gibran, “and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” Selfish love—which is no love at all—sees the other as an object to be exploited or a hostage to be taken; authentic love recognizes the symbiotic structure of the relationship. A healthy relationship moves back and forth between solitude and communion. It sees both interdependence and independence.

* This is article is excerpted from Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West by    Benjamin RiggsTo purchase, click here.


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Eros recognizes disappointment as part of our path. It doesn’t see tribulation as something to be avoided. The Dalai Lama once said that we cannot view a beggar as an obstacle, if we hope to grow in generosity. This axiom can be applied to all other virtues as well. Patience is an indispensable spiritual principle, but when given the opportunity to grow in patience, many of us reject it. We rail against the person trying our nerves. We label those who try our patience as “assholes,” but without an obstruction or an “adversary” there is no growth. Creative love knows that we cannot grow in patience without an asshole in our lives and binds our actions to this principle.

A Guide to Arguing the Second Amendment

There can be no inalienable right to a gun because the vast majority of earth's inhabitants predate the existence of firearms by thousands of years. The inalienable right is to defend one's life and property, and to this end, assault rifles and high capacity clips are not required.


The Second Amendment is not explicitly about defending oneself against a tyrannical government, as many gun advocates argue. This is an element of the Second Amendment, but an element that is no longer relevant. It has expired. It's not that our government is now incapable of becoming tyrannical, but because the capacities of the military so far exceed those of the citizenry, it's a moot point. If you plan to take on a drone, F-22, or Abrams tank with an AR-15, you will need "thoughts and prayers." The National Guard satisfies this demand of the Second Amendment.

When the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written we did not have a standing army. Enter the Second Amendment: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." National security is the import of the Second Amendment. We needed a militia, or a military raised from our citizenry, in order to defend ourselves against foreign invaders. Now that we have a standing army, we no longer need a citizen militia, and therefore this facet of the Second Amendment is also outdated.

Implied in the Second Amendment's explicit meaning, the right to defend country and countrymen, is the right to defend oneself and one's property. This aspect of the Second Amendment is not outdated. The government has to guarantee an individual's access to weapons that fulfill this right. However, that guarantee is not contingent upon access to assault weapons.

Access to (most) shotguns and handguns is guaranteed by the second amendment because both are common and effective means of self-defense. The AR-15 is not. It is an assault weapon, which means it is inherently offensive.

The AR-15 was not designed for self-defense. Of course, it can be used to defend, but so can a shovel or an RPG, though neither are ideal. Likewise,  when defending oneself against a home invader or a carjacker, for example, the AR-15 is far less effective and therefore not commonly employed. For this reason, access to the AR-15 is not required for the government to guarantee its citizens Second Amendment rights. Handguns and shotguns monopolize self-defense because they are more effective instruments of self-defense.

Moreover, the government is well within their purview to regulate exceedingly dangerous weapons not commonly employed for lawful purposes, i.e. self-defense. The Ar-15's higher fire rate and shorter reload time (along with its machismo aura) make it a favorite of sociopaths who want to terrorize people, and therefore exceedingly dangerous with little-to-no redemptive self-defense value.

An assault weapons ban would, in my opinion, help to deter certain types of mass shootings, but would do little to curb gun violence in general. AR-15's are the weapon of choice in large-scale mass shooting that occur in highly populated areas like schools and movie theaters, but in run of the mill mass shootings (4+ victims) handguns out pace rifles two to one, and in standard gun deaths, it is not even close. And since handguns are a common and effective means of self-defense, they are protected by the Second Amendment (D.C. vs Heller) Therefore, the conversation regarding gun violence must include an assault weapons ban, but it cannot stop there.

Since handguns account for the vast majority of gun deaths, but are protected by the Second Amendment, measures other than bans must be considered. Congress should close private sell loopholes, expand background checks, include mental health components, impose waiting periods, and mandate gun safety classes for all prospective buyers.

I think the brightest glimmer of hope on the horizon is smart gun technology. If they are an effective means of self defense, but notably safer, the government may be able to ban all non-smart weapons and remain within the bounds of the Second Amendment. Smart weapons prevent accidental discharges and nullify unlawful transfers and theft, not to mention the conceivable advantages that are inevitable as the industry develops.

Additionally, taking steps to secure our schools would go a long way to preventing horrors like Sandy Hook and Parkland. Schools are soft targets that enable sociopaths to inflict the greatest amount of harm on society with the least amount of resistance. Make it more difficult for these people to get on campuses by installing card-key activated turnstiles, and designing single points of campus entry manned by guards, much like in gated communities and large factories. It is also hard to argue against the presence of armed police officers on campuses at all times, with their cars parked out front as a physical deterrent.

Finally, I'd suggest the media quit publishing the faces and names of shooters. Publish age, gender, race, and any other detail relevant, but not identifiers that grant them the infamy they crave. The First Amendment grants the press nearly illimitable freedom, so this is not a measure that can be legislated. The public must enforce this by choosing to read and share articles that abstain from publishing names and photos.

Nearly all of these measures enjoy historically high support, according to the latest Quinnipiac University National Poll: 66-31% are for stricter gun laws; 67-29% support a ban on the sale of assault weapons; 83 -14% want mandatory waiting periods for all gun purchases. At this moment, there it is possible to effect change. We shouldn't squander this opportunity running down rabbit holes the Supreme Court has already deemed unconstitutional.

We live in a country of laws and the Second Amendment is one of those laws. We cannot argue for repealing the Second Amendment. This is a straw man that plays right into the NRA's strategy. Banning assault weapons, high capacity magazines, and expanding background checks, as well as taking action to secure schools at state and local levels are all practical and effective steps to ending this epidemic.

Finding Our Political Voice: I or We?


Democracy is beholden to the will of the people, not truth.


It is up to the people to align their will with truth. But what standard of truth will be used? The Truth or a truth?

When we speak from the perspective of "I" we honor our truth. This subjective truth consists of our past experiences, and the thoughts and feelings authored by those experiences. The perspective of "I" is frequently at odds with that of "we," the objective, collective, aggregated, statistical, data driven domain of scientific truth. To which should we pledge our allegiance?

The grieving parent unwilling to accept nothing short of an assault weapons ban and the gun owner that believes more guns make us safer, both speak from the perspective of "I," and both find themselves at odds with scientific data. But that does that negate their thoughts and opinions?

An assault weapons ban would surely help curb the epidemic of mass shooting that plague our schools. But data shows that assault weapons account for less than half of all mass shootings and only a tiny fraction of overall gun deaths. Still, if you just lost your daughter to an AR-15, an assault weapons ban speaks wholly and completely to the one effect of mass shootings with which you are most concerned: the loss of your daughter. It eliminates the weapon that took her life, and in so doing, provides some assurance that it won't happen again, which lends purpose to the otherwise meaningless death of your daughter.

Similarly, data shows that homes with guns are significantly more prone to suicide, and to a lesser degree, homicide. But gun owners frequently claim having a gun makes you safer. After all, they own guns and have not been victimized by suicide or homicide. However, this confidence comes from the perspective of "I." The data does not show that owning a gun guarantees homicide or suicide; the statistical perspective of "we" only says it makes it more likely, thereby, on average, not safer. If these studies were controlled by variables like mental health, proper training, and safe storage, then I am sure the numbers would lean more toward safer, which is a solid justification for stricter gun laws. Naturally, we all want to think we belong to the responsible group, and we might; but few people buy guns thinking, "This will make me more prone to suicide and homicide." Gun owners purchased guns thinking it would make them safer, not increase their risk of homicide or suicide.

It seems to me that both "I" perspectives have merits and faults. I think we have a responsibility to voice our truth, but in the body politic, all these I's have to become a "We." There has to be compromise. When our perspective hardens, it prevents us from solving problems. The hardened perspective of gun advocates tends to obstruct common sense regulations that would keep certain weapons out of the hands of mentally ill people, and moreover help ensure proper handling and storage. The hardened perspective of gun control advocates tends to forestall physical security measures that would make our schools safer for our children and their teachers.

It seems to me that when our will is informed by subjective truth, but ultimately tempered by the objective standard, compromise is more likely, and compromise is indispensable in a democracy. The hardened "I" leads to obstructionism. It gets us nowhere. America has to return to the perspective of "we," or no progress will be made on issues like guns and healthcare.

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