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.

Practicing Spirituality & Citizenship in the Era of Trump



Erected between the Church and the State is a "Wall of Separation."
But within the envelope of my skin, there is no line of demarcation segregating politics and spirituality. 


We do not live in a totalitarian state. As members of a democratic society, we have a civic duty. Our government is held in check by "we the people." In a democratic system of government, politics is just another aspect of daily living.

Spirituality is not an other-worldly affair. It is a principled worldview coupled with a system of practice that orients our whole being to the world in which we live.

Politics is not a distraction from spirituality, but one aspect of daily life with which spirituality is deeply concerned.

Saying that politics is a distraction from spirituality is like saying relationships or work are obstacles to spiritual practice. They aren't obstacles, they are opportunities for our spirituality to be born into the world. Segregating politics and spirituality is an attempt to closet your spirituality—to shield it from things that push your buttons, rather than turning into your struggles and learning to move beyond stress, fear, and anger.

We are not called to hide behind a vapid smile or to look the other way. Any spirituality that hides behind a distraction is not a spirituality but a defense mechanism. It is spiritual bypassing not spiritual practice. This is true regardless of whether our practice is rooted in Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, or lacks religious affiliation.

Gandhi once wrote, "Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is...Indeed, religion should pervade every one of our actions. Here religion does not mean sectarianism. It means a belief in ordered moral government of the universe. It is not less real because it is unseen. This religion transcends Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc. It does not supersede them. It harmonizes them and gives them reality."

A living spirituality is politically conscious and engaged but not obsessed. And this is the catch.

It is hard to be mindful and politically engaged at the same time. It is difficult to watch the news or read the papers without getting wrapped up in it, especially this day-and-age with a 24 hr news cycle and a controversial President that dominates every minute of that cycle.

Mindfulness and activism often feel mutually exclusive. But uniting the two is our path. We have to root our politics in mindfulness and silence. If we fail to do this, we will either neglect our civic responsibility or our politics will be tainted with fear and aggression.

You can be present and centered while protesting or voicing concern—Dorthy Day, Gandhi, King, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dalai Lama are perfect examples.

While the basic outline of spirituality remains unchanged, the terrain that path must traverse changes with each generation. And it is no accident that these great icons of mindful activism have come before us, showing us the way. They have outlined the path before us. Their activism is rooted in prayer and meditation.

Venturing into the realm of politics without tethering the mind to reality is the way of madness.


Meditation anchors the mind in the present moment. But it is not enough to sit every morning. Mindful activism is meditation in action. We have to bring the principles of meditation—letting go and returning to the simplicity of the present moment—into our daily life. In the presence of injustice, we often feel fear, anger, and aggression. But we must disown the fear, anger, and aggression, not the awareness of injustice, which is grounded in reality.

Our conscience must rise above our fear of confrontation. We have to speak truth to power. Our words must not be weighted down by anger and resentment. 


Politics devoid of compassion is just another way to vent resentment. And our body politic is already saturated with resentment. Prayer connects the mind and the heart, melting away resentment. William James wrote in Varieties of Religious Experience, "Religion is nothing if it be not the vital act by which the entire mind seeks to save itself by clinging to the principle from which it draws its life. This act is prayer." And the heart is the principle from which the mind draws life. But once again it is not enough to pray only in the morning. We have to see aggression as a reminder to pray throughout the day. When are afraid or angry, we have to pray for those that arouse our bitterness. We have to pray for those in need. Prayer gets us out of our head, out of our self-centered mind. It awakens the spirit of selflessness and sanity.

Spirituality reminds us that it is our responsibility to be a voice of sanity, a light unto the world. I say that not with a condescending tone, but with an awareness that I too must work harder to bring mindfulness, compassion, and sanity into my politics. Politics is a sticky subject. It is easy to get caught up in politics. But the spiritual path always cuts through our obstacles. It never goes around them. This is the path we in the era of Trump must trudge and we have to do it together.

Part of doing it together is holding each other accountable. When we see someone with good intentions lash-out or become disrespectful, it is important to point that out to them. We have to remind them that how they say it is every bit as important as what they say. Yes, we are obligated to speak the truth, but we are also obligated to do that in a skillful manner. If we oppose hate, then we have to oppose it even when it is attached to a message that we agree with because hate--in any form--only adds to the problems that we face as a nation. Hate is not the counter-measure for injustice. As Martin Luther King said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."


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Ten Thoughts on Monuments and Racism in America


1) As humans, our strength has always been in numbers, that is to say, tribes. We are, therefore, inclined towards tribalism.
2) When people incorporate, they can achieve bigger goals (Two minds are better than one). The bigger the tent the better. Diversity is therefore better (if you can make it work), because diversity is always going to be bigger.
3) Ideas grow the tent beyond rudimentary forms of tribalism like race or ethnicity. Religion is good at this. Muhammad, for example, brought fractured, warring tribes in the Middle East under the banner of Islam. Or look at the biggest group in the world, Christianity: "In Christ there is neither man nor woman, Jew nor Gentile," and as King later added, "Black nor white." Another big tent is nationality, which in America is more or less defined by the creed "All men are created equal." This is a banner that enables people of all races, ethnicities, religions, genders, and sexual orientations to identify with "America."
4) This is one reason why both religion and politics have been successful evolutionary vehicles. And I see no reason they can't continue to be as we move forward. I think "America" can do a lot to solve the problem of racism.
5) America is a baby on the world stage. Compared to England, France, China, and India, for example, we are cultural infants. This makes it more difficult to identify what it means exactly to be an American and effectively relate to it.
6) It seems to me that identifying with "America" is largely about accepting her history. America is so young this is difficult to a certain degree even for white men, but it would seem even more difficult for African-Americans and women. Their inclusion in the already young project of defining what it means to be an American is even more recent. Furthermore, much of their place in American history has been marked by oppression and marginalization. My guess is they sometimes struggle to identify with American history because it does not include them and because that history often venerates the people that explicitly denied them that right, not to mention that these forces (racism and misogyny) are still active today. These two points--a history that does not bear their mark and one that venerates their oppressors--make it even more difficult for them to identify with "America" than a white man.
7) I see no way around this problem other than a willingness to part ways with those venerated figures of our past that are exclusively identified with oppression. We cannot add voices to our history. We denied them and that chapter is closed. I see a couple of constructive ways to move forward (To be clear, I'm not talking about the greater problem of racism, just the stand-off over our history and its monuments--though I do think this will do something to help more people identify with being an "American" and therefore feel less divided by race).
8) First, search our past for voices that must be elevated. People like Abigail Adams, Fredrick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to name a few, are not lost on us, but have far more to offer than has been extracted. They need to be taught as American history, not women's history or black history, because they are instrumental in shaping modern America. I am sure this list could be increased exponentially. And doing so is not a meaningless exercise in political correctness and or an appeasing celebration of diversity. It is a practical effort to grow the tent and make America a bigger and better idea. I would also spend money building memorials to Lynching victims and Slavery museums.
9) Certain figures we will have to part ways with. People like Jefferson Davis and John C. Calhoun, nicknamed "John C. Kill a Coon" have no place in the public sphere. History books, museums: yes. Public grounds, no. They are divisive; they literally divide us or shrink the American tent. Robert E. Lee is the most controversial, I suppose. This is largely owed to his character which was, in his day, venerated by both Northerners and Southerners alike. Still, he is divisive because he is the figurehead of the Confederacy, which fought on the side of slavery. If you privately admire the character of Robert E Lee, that is your business, but when we put a statue of him on public grounds that is us as a society endorsing him. This endorsement is not shared by all, and makes it difficult for a large chunk of people to identify with the endorsing body, a body they have equal claim to. We can move the Lee monuments to a Civil War memorial ground or find another creative solution.
10) People like Thomas Jefferson are also lumped into this category. I don't think the comparison is just. In the public mind, Lee is almost entirely identified with the Civil War. Jefferson's career is not monopolized by slavery, though he did own hundreds of slaves. Thomas Jefferson cannot be discarded without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Jefferson's name calls forth a great many accomplishments including religious freedom and the Declaration of Independence, which are so deeply ingrained in what it means to be American that no intelligible idea of "America" can be formed with referencing both. We cannot utter one word about America without mentioning his name, even if that name must be appendixed with facts about his ownership of slaves. Instead we must claim Jefferson's ideas as our own, and hold America and even Jefferson himself to account for them, just as Martin Luther King did in his famous "I Have A Dream" speech: "When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Obviously, I am not saying that Jefferson must be venerated by all. I am simply saying he can't be discarded. However, there are other figures central to our founding that I think are worthy of respect AND do not bring with them Jefferson's baggage: Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, for example. Lincoln too, in a sense, is a Founder of "The" United States (vs these United States) and is also worthy recipient of our respect.
These are just some thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head. What do you think? What would you add/take away?

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