Love. It's a word we shied away from in my Buddhist days. And with good reason. Its imprecision may be unprecedented in the English language. Unconditional Bodhisattva love, Kuan Yin, Mother Teresa, empathy, sympathy, neurotic attachment, cupidity, Eros, pity, friendliness, compassion, crush, infatuation, Platonic stuff, Aphrodite, ecstasy and related empathogens, longings, yearnings, anima; the feelings some people have for pets, mum and dad, boyfriend or girlfriend, God, Guru, nature, wild places, dolphins, daffodils, dinosaurs, doughnuts, computers and computer games, Justin Bieber, the girl you see on the bus every morning. All and more are implicated by the vague and vast word 'Love'. No wonder we sometimes feel confused.
Yet, beneath the panoply of forms, 'love' suggests that basic movement towards. Together. That
movement in the universe to unity, union. Connection. It's a big word.
Love strikes me as being a basic part of the fabric of the universe. From its pure source in non-locality, it cascades down. First as a primal energy that moves between and connects two points: primordial polarity, dualism. Then down, through healthy fellow-feelings between people, through ever-more twisted and distorted forms, until eventually hitting rock-bottom in television soap operas and supermarket checkout magazines.
My own experience of love has been unexceptional; paltry, even. Sure, my sometimes cheery smile and playful banter have lightened up people's day; I have been useful, helpful, accommodating; have experienced the bitter pangs of loss on the deaths of my parents. I am averse to conflict and confrontation, and what has sometimes appeared as sympathy and understanding may have been, at times at least, a mask for not wanting to create a hoo-hah. I have, generally, speaking, hung the banner of love from outside the comfort of my own tower.
Maybe more, but twice have I undeniably participated in a different order of love. The first occasion was over twenty years ago. I was living in a room of a friend's flat in the Waterloo area of London. In common with many inner city quarters, the area boasted a veritable honeypot of humanity. Despite being located proximate to the Old Vic Theatre, the estate where we lived was roamed by all manner of ne'er-do-wells, don't-do-wells, can't-do-wells, and won't-do-wells.
It was a Saturday morning. I was sitting at my little table ready to eat breakfast. The top floor flat overlooked a busy main road with a tiny park and bus stop adjacent. Suddenly I was alerted to one almighty din of a noise, the sound of shouting and screaming, coming from outside. A man and woman were standing at the bus stop with a collection of carrier bags, and yelling their heads off at one another. A really loud, high-pitched, vicious bout of trading lethal insults had started up.
Then something unusual happened. Instead of the habitual frustration and irritation, or the pity directed towards myself, as I needed a nice quiet breakfast after a stressful week of teaching work; instead of the 'bloody hell, not another bunch of alcoholics'; or even the attempted understanding of, sympathy towards, two people down on their luck. Instead of all this, something else manifested. I can only term it 'love'. A pure energy, yellow in colour should I need to pin it down. Free of all judgement, and free of mentalities that we often associate with 'love', such as acceptance and forgiveness. None of these got a look in. It was something else. It nearly put me off my cornflakes.
The second incident is from more recent times: March 26th, 2010, to be precise. I had been going through one of my more wretched periods of 'What am I doing with my life? Am I doing the right things? Am I doing enough of the right things?' These periods, mercifully, seem no longer to occur: maybe I am simply 'on track' now. In an attempt to possibly clarify matters, I enlisted the help of a 'sacred teacher plant', a certain spiny being from way up in the Andes of Peru. Many hours after ingesting the noxious-tasting brew, I was no closer to any revelation about the current state of my life. I decided to call upon yet further help (isn't it great to have friends?) in the shape of two 'spirit guides'.
The previous year I had attended a course in Switzerland run by Ralph Metzner, on the theme of 'Alchemical Divination'. Of course, learning to contact and work with spirit guides is precisely the kind of thing that happens on courses such as this (without the aid of teacher plants, I should add for clarity's sake). I invoked the male spirit guide. He tried, I felt, to make a point to me, but I couldn't catch it. He began to get frustrated with me, and started shouting and ranting; I had to let him go. Then I called up the female spirit helper, and something unexpected happened. I was bathed in a warm yet strong yellow light, and a feeling not unlike that which manifested at breakfast time in Waterloo.
Again, words like 'forgiveness' and 'acceptance' don't capture the tone of what was communicated. It was more like an 'Everything is fine because everything is just as it is and it is impossible for anything to be any different. Whatever you do, even the mistakes and the messes, is just fine. It is impossible for it to be any other way. Stop worrying and get on with your life.' But it was communicated, not through the medium of mind, so much as bodily and through the heart. Then the spirit guide disappeared and I collapsed onto the bed in wonder. I gained considerable personal confidence from that evening encounter, going about my life with fewer doubts and anxieties littering my way.
After looking up the date of this experience while writing this piece, that strange yet familiar voice, the one which makes connections where other voices don't, suggested I checked something out. Sure enough, the day after this meeting with the spirit guide was the day when I posted my first piece on Pale Green Vortex. Meaningless coincidence, I'm sure.
So, love. Feeling. An indispensible ingredient. I suspect I have received at least as much as I have given, but love is not really amenable to quantifying in that way.
And there comes to an end this little series. It has assumed a life of its own as I have written, and all sort of stuff has emerged that I did not imagine would when I first started. That, I suppose, is part of the magic of the creative process.
Image: The magnificent Luis Royo, as used in his Dark Tarot, Six of Pentacles