We are apt to think that self-improvement matters: that we are in a state of becoming that can go in any number of directions and that this state is subject to a personal power of choice.
In general, spiritual seekers almost always want to be better people – kinder and gentler, slower to anger, given to love and healing. It seems like a foolproof goal. Who would argue with kindness and gentleness? Not me.
I do gently observe, however, that ideals – even when professing love and healing and the end of anger – are a distraction from a simple truth.
That truth is that at any given moment you are capable of profound love and kindness; you can be the very light of the world. That power inheres in you.
You don’t have to become what you already are.
Of course, if it is that simple, then why are we not all Gandhi? Why is the world not a veritable garden of Eden? Why has MLK’s dream gone fractured and unfulfilled? Why is there still hate and anger and suffering?
This is actually a tricky question to answer. In the spiritual circles with which I am most familiar, the tendency is to say something like “our gift for love – our identity as love – is obstructed by a habitual tendency to deny its existence.”
In other words, we make the apparent absence of love a problem to be solved – specifically, a problem that we have to solve.
We subtly shift the focus to the self that wants to be loving and has work to do (overcome the habit of ignorance, end the denial et cetera) in order to achieve a future state of lovingkindness.
Most religions and spiritual practices – often unwittingly, sometimes wittingly – encourage precisely this sort of shift-in-focus. There is and has always been a vast market for postponing love. It probably won’t go away anytime soon.
I want to make a suggestion that can seem overly simple and insufficiently spiritual, especially for those of us whose language and focus revolves around Jesus, the Buddha, awakening, nonduality, et cetera.
The suggestion is this: put aside your quest for God or enlightenment and simply be helpful. Eschew spiritual drama for clear and common sense-based acts of love.
I am suggesting you give attention to that which makes you smile more. To that which allows you to listen more. I am suggesting that you give attention to common ground rather than gaps in the ground.
I am suggesting you keep this as simple as possible. If your goal is to be kind and gentle, start with yourself – eat well, rest well, play well and work well. Opportunities to be kind to others will naturally arise. You will recognize them.
It’s okay that those opportunities seem tiny or insignificant. They aren’t. Love is whole. There is no such thing as a small or ineffective or insignificant act of love. So don’t reach for the brass ring; just do what is in front of you and trust that it’s sufficient. It is.
Just let service happen. Of its own, it will flower and lift you – enlighten you, awaken you – with it.
I am also suggesting that you already know how to do this – and where to do it – and who to do it for and with. It is not a secret and it is not a mystery.
There is nothing radical in this suggestion and there is nothing new in it, either. It’s Saint Francis and Bodhisattva vows all over again. We know it and we know we know it.
You are always looking right at love, and it is always looking right back at you.
So the point isn’t to be radical or new: the point is to discover that love is both natural and present and that service-as-an-expression-of-love is our natural vocation. It is the end of effort and becoming; it is the advent of a still, sustainable and serious joy.
Life will go on with its ups and downs. People we love will die and people we love will have babies. Parades will be rained on and other days the sun will be so bright the frisbees will throw themselves.
Current events will go on, too. Policies we admire and support will be enacted; policies we fear and oppose will be enacted. Politicians we admire will disappoint us; politicians we despise will surprise us.
It’s okay. Let that which comes and goes come and go. Opportunities for love don’t pass and your ability to be loving doesn’t either. Spirituality – so-called – runs by itself. Let it do its thing and you do your thing: discover and explore and make manifest your ability to be selfless and loving – the very light of the world. There is nothing else to do, and only you can do it.