Being Homo Amans: Happiness as a Spiritual Practice

I say sometimes to my students: “take what you learn and act in the world with it. Do something.” And when they ask what they should do, I tell them to help somebody in a way that makes both parties happier than they were before the encounter started.

Related to this – especially when it comes to spiritual paths and practices and the inevitable contentions when one relates with them – is to have as one’s standard in this domain be that what’s right is what works.

sideyard lilac
lilac in the side yard

Let me briefly address those two ideas.

First, it is important to allow our ideas and insights to have full run of the bodies in, through and to which they occur. If you are having ideas about peace, then behave peaceably. Don’t screw around by being casual or self-deprecating. Jesus and the Buddha were just people, like you. Beget peaceful practices that themselves beget peace. If that is not happening in your living – if everything is remaining at the level of the intellect – then something is wrong. The circle is not connecting, or closing. The wheel can’t go.

I am not disparaging the intellect. Praise and glory to the inner librarian, the inner scholar, and the inner cartographer. Truly! But a librarian without a writer of books is lost. A scholar without a classroom is lost. A cartographer without an explorer is lost.

You see where I am going with this.

I propose that we think in terms of identities – or essences – that make one another possible, that define and empower one another, so that what emerges is not one or the other but rather a relationship. Absent the explorer, no cartographer, and absent the cartographer, no explorer. You might think of the yin yang symbolism as an apt image. Somewhat less elegantly, you might imagine a bear eating blueberries, then shitting the blueberry seeds in sunlight so new bushes will grow, which in turn feed more bears who in turn shit more seeds . . .

Since I like bears and blueberries, I’ll use those images to build out the second idea. I proposed that a way to think about spirituality is to ask if it works. Is it helpful? If your spiritual practice has peace and justice as one of its goals, then are you helping instigate peace and justice? If yes, okay. Keep doing what you’re doing. If no, then reevaluate.

So there is this system we call a bear and it eats these berries, which are little systems themselves. The bear wants to make more bears, and the berries want to make more berries. This is a way of saying how life loves itself, how its aim is just to keep going, keep flowing. Life is what recreates itself, in and through all these observers, some of whom – like us – are aware of the the flow and some who aren’t. The flow doesn’t care; it just is. But it is sweet to see it – sweet like blueberries, rough and beautiful like bears.

The blueberries work for the bear because they energize her and satiate her, and they can do the same for her little cubs, if she has any. They help her be a living bear and to bring forth her bearness. But it works for the berries, too, because even as they lose their autonomy in the bear’s jaws, their seeds are set free in a most fertile way. As the bears brings forth her bearness, the blueberries bring forth their blueberryness. It works for both parties, you see?

You want to be happy. I want to be happy. I don’t mean the silly ersatz happiness of our team wins the Super Bowl, or we just ate a slice of fresh-baked bread with butter and cinnamon, or had some really great sex. Those things are fine – they are more than fine, really – but they are like fireflies compared to the great lantern of joy that is our inheritance and essence.

grazing_horses
horses grazing the far pasture, watching them from the woods

Happiness is what doesn’t come and go. It is not touched by external circumstances, which of course include your personal response to those circumstances. When we are happy we are helpful in a direct clear way because all that matters is extending our happiness. Joy wants to be shared, the same way life wants to be shared.

The blueberry is sweet and nutritious and so the bear wants it and takes it, and the way she consumes the berry maximizes the berry’s potential to become a new bush redolent with new berries. That is the nature of berries and bears. Our nature is to be happy and to extend our happiness through sharing, being nearby, co-creating, et cetera. We are loving creatures, what Humberto Maturana characterized as less Homo Sapiens than Homo Amans.

So I say: go do something today, something that works. And you will know it works by the measure of joy it brings you. Joy is infectious; it travels, radiates, disperses. It’s like a bear in a blueberry patch, a blueberry seed in bear scat. What makes you happy? Deeply naturally productively happy? Do that. That is your spiritual practice.

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