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Dilemmas of a Householder: Love is Presence

flaming-heart-javier-250x352There was a time in my life where I so strongly desired to be in perfect Presence all the time that my desire for Presence became the greatest pain I had ever felt.

I sought ego death; annihilation of self into Self, the surrender of “I” into that which is greater than all Its parts combined.

The desire to merge with the supreme and eternal – whether you call It God, Brahman, Allah, nirvana, liberation, or any of the other words we might use to describe the ineffable – became unbearable. I was being driven mad by it. Separation from Itness (God, Krishna, Nirvana, Allah…) was agony. I desired always to surrender myself to this deeper home.

Hari, hear my plea.
Dark One, I am
your servant,
a vision of you has driven me mad.
Separation eats at my limbs.
Because of you
I’ll become a yogini and ramble
from city to city scouring the hidden quarters –
pasted with ash, clad in a deerskin
my body wasting
to cinder.
I’ll circle from forest to forest
wretched and howling –
O Unborn, Indestructible,
come to your beggar!
Finish her pain and touch her
with pleasure!
This coming and going will end,
says Mira,
with me clasping your
feet forever.

-Mirabai

I found myself struggling with the life choices I had made. “If only I were a sadhu,” I thought, “then I could give myself over, cease the thinking, the planning. I could give myself fully to Presence. I could constantly allow for the sweet surrender that is the greatest Union.”

But that choice, the path of the sadhu, the path of austerity, was not the choice I had made in building my life. I had two children to attend to. A husband. A career. I had deadlines to keep, money to make, children to care for, to love and support. The path of the householder.

For months the ache of longing and the confusion caused by my desire for Presence was like a sword stuck through my heart. The pain of separation was searing; almost unbearable.

But I had already made my choices about how I was going to spend my life; once a mother, always a mother. I could have left my career, I could have left my home, I could have left my husband. (As a matter of fact, the leaving of my now-ex-husband was already in the works.)

But I could never leave my children. The suffering caused would be too great.

And my love for them, I am almost guilty to admit, felt like a loadstone around my neck, heavy as an anchor, yet pointing in the only direction I could go; nowhere.

Finally I began asking, “What is Presence? How can I be committed to relationship with others, and Present in The Eternal at the same time? How do I stay Present in love?”

The question rolled around my mouth in wordless curls. It ricocheted through my mind. It bounced and bounded, banged against the edges of my self.

After weeks of weighty rumination, after hours of sitting on my zafu, after what felt like gallons of tears, and after surrendering fully to the burning pain of separation, I broke through the koan that had formed itself inside of me. In a moment of realization, the answer arrived, fully formed and lotus-like.

The question became the answer; “how can I be present in love” became, “love is Presence.” Love is not attachment. Attachment is not love.

Attachments are the causes of dukkha – often translated as suffering, though in my opinion this is a limiting interpretation of the term.

According to Tantra Yoga, these attachments are called kankucas, or “becloudings”. According to Georg Feuerstein, the kankucas can be translated as partiality, knowledge, attachment, time, necessity. Partiality, because we cease to allow for fullness of being. Knowledge, because we cease to allow for growth. Attachment, because it clouds possibility of outcome. Time, because it limits consciousness of the eternal. Necessity, because it limits us.

In Buddhist terminology, the attachments are called skandhas. The skandhas are form, sensation, perception, impulses, and consciousness.

Of these attachments, form is the strongest (and the easiest to encapsulate), because

1., form leads to the illusion of separation from the formless, and

2., because form is transitory, and attachment to form as self leads to dukkha.

The skandhas are the aggregates that form a sense of self, and are the causes of clinging.

All of the skandhas, or parts of the sense of self-as-form are the causes dukkha.

My attachment to what I considered the “perfect” form of Presence, was, at that time, causing my own suffering.

These are obstacles to liberation; the illusion of separation, and the expectations, desires, and responsibilities that we so often mistake as love and commitment.

As a householder, the desire for subsumption into the nondual must merge with the path of devotion, which is often a dualist form of worship. Moment to moment, we dance between mergence and devotion.

Loving in Presence is showing up to my relationship with my children, my husband, and my responsibilities in life in the fullness with which I show up to my relationship with the Divine.

How do we stay present in love? How do we stay Present in abiding relationships with mortal beings? By releasing the illusion of separation, moment to moment.

And when we find ourselves in separation, we stay Present by devoting ourselves to those we serve as if they were God Itself.

Because, after all, they are.

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