“The lover’s ailment is not like any other; Love is the astrolabe of God’s mysteries. Whether Love is from heaven or earth, it points to God.”
In this poem, Sufi saint Rumi describes our love for God as an illness unlike any other and that love is the instrument of God’s mysteries. But he also tells us something important; that whether this love is from heaven or from earth it always points to God. In our sorrow and depression we should never forget that this pain is part of God’s mystery as we are being called to grow into the mystery of God.
One way to look at the spiritual pain we went through in the last chapter is through the spiritual concept of descension. Many religions and spiritual traditions mainly focus on ascension in the search for God, but what about the people who have found God? Since they cannot stay until they die they will have to descend again down to earth or this physical reality.
This is where in some religions and spiritual traditions we find the concept of the two directions: ascension and descension. Attached to the two directions are also two truths: divine and earthly truth. During ascension the focus is on divine truth whereas in descension the grip on absolute truth is loosened as we are forced to accept earthly truth as well.
Back when I began my spiritual path, I was on a Vipassana meditation retreat in Bodh Gaya, India, where each evening there was a question and answer period. Earlier through my practice of yoga, the teacher had told me that love was always unconditional, but my issue was that at the same time I was in love with a girl that kept hurting me. Whenever I would apply unconditional love, she would continue to disrespect and hurt me, and it is fair that say that I was pretty confused about seeing love only from an absolute perspective.
So, now came the question and answer period at my Vipassana retreat in Indian, and of course I could not resist asking: “Is love conditional or unconditional?” Questions were written on a paper without sender as it was not the kind of retreat where the Guru beats on the ego in front of everybody, but still the teacher laughed out loud. After he stopped smiling, he said: ”It is both.”
That love is both conditional and unconditional was a revelation for me not only in my relationships, but also through the understanding of the duality of truth. Till then I had frustratingly tried to apply absolute truths through either/or logic to this imperfect world and often found myself in conflict.
This paradox confronting the passive spiritual state was also made clear to me when a Lama later told me that, “if a child runs out into the street and in front of a car; what do you do: meditate?” Of course not, you get up quickly, yell all you can and take action in order to save the child from being run over. After all as a Buddhist you do have compassion for the child and the world.
In Buddhism we find a complete integration of duality through the understanding absolute and relative truth. The absolute truth is divine truth and relative truth is earthly truth. The two are not separate but instead two sides of the same coin and here Buddhists use the analogy of a bird to explain how the two interact.
One wing is the absolute truth and the other the relative truth. For the bird to be able to fly both wings must be in harmony. Then when the wings are in harmony and perfect balance, the bird can take off and fly towards the absolute truth above. This is Rumi’s love from both heaven and earth that points towards God.
Also in spirituality we say that spiritual growth is like a tree that starts with the roots and then reaches up for the heavens above. But like a house the tree needs a solid foundation in order to be strong enough to reach up for the sky above. Otherwise during a storm both the house and tree will fall and heaven will never be reached.
In the Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross describes that the effect of this lack of balance is human imperfection, earthly truth, but the real underlying cause of it is that the “soul has not understood its own state” and has therefore given itself “no peaceful abiding-place within itself.”
In the west we do not like duality but when we force our logic into categories we end up in extremes. Our logic of either/or separates reality into categories and by putting our experience into opposing categories we end in conflict, within ourselves and in the world.
In her book Purity and Danger, Mary Douglas explains this danger of extreme purity and she writes that, “Whenever a strict pattern of purity is imposed on our lives it is either highly uncomfortable or it leads into contradiction.”
Douglas is here speaking of extreme purity in the form of rejecting evil. There is evil in the world but too much focus on rejecting it can make the negative force of it become stronger. Fighting something will increase its power as what we are opposing will fight back and therefore our fight against it will lead us into the extreme.
Douglas explains about extremism: “That which is negated is not thereby removed. The rest of life, which does not tidily fit the accepted categories, is still there and demands attention…As life is in the body it cannot be rejected outright.”
The paradox is rooted in our either/or logic that forces us to take sides and when we hold too tightly on to one side, we will find ourselves in conflict with what we reject. Our rejection of what we do not like or accept does not solve the problem because the negation in itself does not remove what we reject.
This is the same for sorrow where there is a danger in manifesting what we are trying reject. By not accepting the pain of the sorrow there is a temptation of falling into despair, where our soul is not grounded in love. Instead we manifest more sorrow and so to speak fall in love with the sorrow.
Going back to the poem of the dark night, we can hear this falling in love with the night: “Oh, night more lovely than the dawn.” Here the line has been crossed from sorrow into despair as the soul has fallen more in love with the night than the light of day.
Paradoxically it is the extreme category of day and night; good and evil, or happiness and sadness that have lead the soul into the despair of the night. By rejecting and not accepting the shadow of life – the night – we are deliberately manifesting the night. Our separation into opposite categories makes us reject and push away the night but this does not remove the night as we subconsciously manifest what we reject and fear: the dark night.
In the East we often find religions that use meditation in order to calm the mind with the aim of abandoning duality. Buddhism teaches that in order to reach a peaceful and happy state of mind we must let go of the “poison of contradiction” within our mind.
Also Sufi saint Rumi makes the point how if we are not spiritually strong enough to take in the poison of contradiction, our minds can darken: “If the saint drinks a poison it becomes an antidote, but if the disciple drinks it, his mind is darkened.”
If we go back to the spiritual pain of the suicide note in the last chapter we can see what Rumi here means. To look at all the pain and suffering in the world and take in all the evil can work as a poison in our mind that will be taken over by sadness. But this can also mean that if we take in the poison of thinking too much about our sadness and despair our minds will darken.
Also in Douglas’ argument before she is not only pointing out that what you negate receives power through your negation, but also something more important and general: that we cannot reject the body.
Religion dealing in divine or absolute truth has a tendency to focus solely on the soul or mind through the rejection of the body. The body is where we find impurity or relative truth that is more down to earth than the inspiration sought from above.
No matter how devoted we are in our search for God, as life is in the body we cannot outright reject the body. And no matter how much we long to be united with God, we still have to live here on earth in the body. Since we cannot reject the body completely we are forced to accept the body, and as such, we will also have to accept the pain and sorrow of living in the body.
Rumi tells us that; “To say you have no pain is like saying ‘I am God’.” Pain and sorrow is a natural part of our human condition and life in the body. To say that you have no pain is the same as rejecting the pain and thereby manifesting it. This is the poison but the antidote is to accept the pain.
Rather than rejecting the negation of what we do not want; the pain, we need to accept it and not try to run away from it. Running away from our human nature and its painful condition will only result in despair when we finally find that there is nowhere to hide.
Striking the right balance is not to outright reject the night and say that I have no pain, but instead to embrace the pain for what it is without fear. Rejection involves fear and the negation manifests more pain. On the other hand acceptance involves trust and the embrace manifests true love.
The way out of this despair and attachment to the night is to loosen our mind’s grip on extreme purity. As the abandonment of contradiction can lead us away from extremes, we also find that love and acceptance becomes important in our search for balance.
The reason that balance is important is not only to lead us out of inner and outer conflict, but also because balance is a fundamental principle of life. From the smallest cell to the biggest galaxy, any system that is not in balance will self-destruct.
Therefore, as we cannot negate the pain and suffering in our world we also cannot escape our own pain and suffering, and so, with nowhere to run and without being able to escape the pain we have to accept the pain of living in the body.