Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Forget Lent II: Practice Showing Love

Things come and things go. Some things remain fairly constant, some change with the seasons. Many change when we least expect it. Some are erased from the earth completely yet linger in memory or curiosity. Still, there are are things I'd like to be more constant and intentional about: loving neighbor as self, staying open, exercising, (add your list here).

I've been listening to and reading the news from the earthquake in Japan and the rest of the world. I don't know anyone who hasn't been. I've been praying about it all. Many people are praying about it all. Some are giving of their time and talent, as they say. Can't have too much time and talent. That's what gets things built, and rebuilt after all hell has broken loose.

There have also been lots of folks still musing about the season of Lent, even though I thought my last post was quite clear (Forget Lent). Much of this Lenten musing has taken the form of the ode to sacrifice and suffering. There are the usual run-of-the-mill "I'm giving up..." articles. I'm pleased to report that chocolate, smoking, profanity, cheese, sugar, and fat seem to be holding their own as the go-to choices. Some bloggers think we're in danger of losing the season unless we embrace sacrifice and suffering the way they've always done it ("OMG we've lost Lent!"). Another asserted that we should seek to suffer and sacrifice because Jesus did ("If Jesus jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you?"), one person spoke of being mindful of the things of the world, the ways in which we use them, and walking lightly on the earth. I've come across only one other post about how to work with your heart.

I've been working on the ways of my heart (and mouth), and how to best to use them. I believe that there is enough suffering and sacrifice in the world without courting more, and that if we were to engage with one another as mindfully and heartily as we pay attention to how much water, gas, electricity, packaging material we use, how Jesus suffered, or how tax breaks are handed out, we would find ourselves whistling deep happiness in 4-pt harmony on the corner of Fruitful Road and Love Parkway.

Toward this end, for the last week I've been reciting the mantra "Aham Prema", a Sanskrit mantra which translates "I Am Divine Love" - in bed, on airplanes, at the beauty parlor, on my zafu - wherever I find myself with a couple of minutes to spare. (See last weeks post for the whole scoop on Aham Prema). One thing I left out last week about Aham Prema is that it also means "You Are Divine Love." This has always made sense to me, because I admit no essential distinctions between humans. I try to love myself enough to love you, and to love you enough to be able to love myself (and vice versa). Some of us are better at one than the other, but spiritual growth requires the ability to soften to both self and neighbor and engage reality on its own terms. Different realities require different responses. The pattern that worked yesterday may be useless today. It may even have the opposite effect, which may be good, or not. Pay attention. Don't try to cling to the ground you think you know. It doesn't exist.

I lead a lot of retreats and the one constant through all of them is that when people arrive, they are exhausted. It's the kind of exhaustion that manifests itself as aches and pains, facial tension, skepticism, and so much more. I'm not immune to these things either, but I consciously work at them every day (exercise, remembering to smile, spiritual practice, good food, 8 hours of sleep, and the occasional red wine, dark chocolate and a nap.

We run through our lives apace as events jostle us, and we harden ourselves so we don't really feel the effects. We think there's nothing we can do except work ourselves into the ground, often finishing, or arriving at the last minute. It's as if we think we are the only one standing between the success and failure of whatever enterprise we are working on. It's hard to be soft, flexible and open when going through life so highly defended. Contrary to popular belief, there are effects even if you do not feel those effects. As a matter of fact, if you don't feel them, you might look around and see what you are causing.

Here's a modest proposal: You can only go as fast as you can love.

That might cause suffering and sacrifice enough this Lent.

This week, my focus is on Aham Prema as "You are divine love". For the remainder of Lent, I'll recite Aham Prema as both I am divine love and you are divine love, because ultimately, the object and the subject of love are one.


  1. Love this, Ana. Thanks for being willing to go against the grain and suggest that thoughtfulness and discernment are what make Lent Lent and the fruit of that discernment is always about love.

  2. I love you, Ana, and I know you love me. I'll pass it on. Thank you!

  3. Thanks Penny. I wish I'd said that!
    Thanks, Anne, I think of you often!

  4. Amen to all of it. And how nice to read it while listening to you sing (just purchased "greatest hits of M.O." & am adding it to an MP3 player for a parishioner/poet/amazing person who is bored out of her mind in a physical rehab center).