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Stoking the Fire of Our Intent ~ a deeper willingness to meet life as it is

Posted by on Nov 1, 2017 in Featured Writing, Lifeletters & Articles | 1 comment

Stoking the Fire of Our Intent ~ a deeper willingness to meet life as it is

I was working with a beautiful young woman a while ago. She was exploring her capacity for true intimacy, and how that intimacy depends on a deep commitment to staying present when she is with her partner, even when she wants to run away.

I told her that I had recently been seeing, for the first time, many of the subtle ways that I still ‘leave the room’ when things get uncomfortable for me in the field of relating. I said that seeing these tendencies in myself had ignited a strong desire to stay in the room, no matter how much I wanted to flee.

She looked at me for a moment and then said, “Yes, I experience the essence of my Vajrayana practice as the same thing: staying.”

Her Vajrayana practice, with Reggie Ray, is a spiritual practice she has taken a sacred vow to commit to, body, mind and soul. That really provoked a wondering in me: what it would be like for me to make a commitment to staying present that feels as deep and potent as a vow?

Sitting in meditation on retreat for about seven hours a day, I came face to face with the other side of this question: all the ways that I move away from staying in intimate connection with myself. The more I looked at this, the more pain I felt, and the more I wanted to leave, to move away. What allowed me to stay was the intention that was ignited in me a while ago: my deep desire to learn how to really ‘stay in the room,’ whatever that room feels like.

I could feel the existence of both these impulses in my own being: the desire to run, to go anywhere else and feel better, and the desire to stay right here. I wanted to learn how to magnify the second desire, and I didn’t know how to do that. Not knowing how felt very edgy.

Then a woman on our retreat built a fire, a beautiful bright fire which filled the cold rainy night with its warmth. As I came into the room and sat down in front of the fire, I could feel those flames nourishing the inner flame of my intention to stay. Every time she came to put more wood on the fire, I watched her crouch down in front of that fire, pick up a log and put it on. Her movement looked like some beautiful dance, a bowing down before the fire and then an offering into the fire of the piece of wood.

I felt an inquiry rise up from deep inside me, slowly, very slowly. I began to wonder about what her body was telling me about how I could nourish the fire of my own deep desire to stay present. I could feel that this question was very personal, and also much bigger than me.

How do we stoke the small flame of intent inside us, when we often have another desire pulling us in an opposite direction? And what is the bowing down that needs to happen first, before we can really stoke that fire?

young man stoking fire

As I sat with this inquiry, I could feel that for me, the bowing down is a very deep and simple, “I don’t know.” I want to know, but right now I do not know. There is a deeper intelligence that will come to me, reveal itself to me, if I ask and listen, and ask again. But I can’t make it happen. It happens in its own time, in its own rhythm. I am utterly helpless to control the flow of that deeper, vaster intelligence.

It can feel very uncomfortable, when I really want to know something, to discover something, to drop down into the darkness of not knowing and just be there. I had to allow that dropping down over and over again, and feel the unease, the distress, that this created in my mind. It felt like giving up, even though I knew that it wasn’t giving up. I was bowing down to something greater than my own mind, greater than the limitations of my rational intelligence.

And then, I began to receive little pieces of wisdom in the darkness. They began arriving in dialogue, in meditation, stroking the cat, doing the dishes, listening to the rain. Each one of these moments brought this new discovery a bit closer. I could see and feel very clearly how the moving away is a flight from a place that feels frightening because there is no love there, no kindness, no gentleness. This was not a new realization; I have felt and witnessed it thousands of times, in myself, with my family and friends, in sessions with my clients, and in my practice groups. I know that the most vulnerable places in ourselves are the places of profound disconnection, where we find ourselves in deep distress, alone and unsupported. And that such experiences are usually a recapitulation of something that happened when we were young.

For some reason, I was able to discern something this time that was entirely new, fresh and surprising to me. That was the realization that the dedication to staying in the room requires an equally strong dedication to choosing love for myself here, in this room where I have not wanted to be. If I want to learn to stay, then I need to make that choice for love, over and over again. Even if I don’t know how to love, I can still choose it for myself, and I will find out. On the way to finding out, I may fall down and make a mess, I may encounter deep wounds in myself, and I may want to howl and fall apart. The choice to choose love for myself has to be strong enough to encounter all of that, to embrace whatever comes to me on the way.

I believe that it can be easier for us to choose another kind of love, an impersonal love, or a love for others. This is very different. It’s a personal love, a love for myself, exactly as I am in this moment. Without this love, this deep kindness, I cannot begin to embody a more universal love. I’ll just escape into the impersonal because it feels safer there. I know that I have done this a lot.

This insight runs contrary to a lot of spiritual teachings which tell us to go beyond our sense of separate self and embrace a vast impersonal love. I am someone who stands for an updating of a lot of our spiritual teachings, and an understanding that there is a natural hierarchy to our unfoldment and awakening. If we follow the natural order of things, we don’t skip over places in ourselves and have to come back later and complete them. Since most of us did not have the opportunity to follow a natural healthy order of development, we do have to come back later on and learn some very basic fundamental things that we missed out on before this. Like choosing love for ourselves. We can’t avoid learning to make this choice. Sooner or later we will have to choose this. My prayer is that we can inspire each other to make the choice as soon as possible. Maybe even now.

We shall not cease from exploration,
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.
~T.S. Eliot

 

with love,
Shayla

One Comment

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  1. Carol Noble

    Blessed Comrade
    As someone who has been running from the room for many years and is now opting to stay, these words ring true in my heart.
    Pop ups of shame, guilt and blame reveal the underlying beliefs keeping me hiding out.
    I loved the meditation too.

    Love in all directions
    Carol

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