By Swami Chetanananda (from a talk given November 10, 2007, in Portland)
Last month I spent a good deal of time sitting in airports in Europe, watching people come and go, and go and come. It was interesting to watch because what it was about, for the most part, was people’s imaginary lives. An imaginary life is what our life is about most of the time. It’s about our hopes and fears, our desires and our attractions, as well as our aversions. It’s also about our attitudes. That’s our imaginary life.
Within each of us there is a seed. We are born with that seed. That seed is planted in a container, like a flower pot. The container is our physical body and the family system into which it is born. That container is the tensions of our family system, and the attitudes drawn from our culture that are instilled in us. For the most part, this seed in human beings, which is an unimaginable possibility, never sprouts. It just withers. The innocence that holds open that possibility is usually buried by the time we are 20. Even if we get what we want, what we think we want, or a little bit of it, something happens to disappoint us terribly. Then inevitably we shut down.
Last night I was talking in Bend and I asked the audience, how many of you have said to yourself in your life, “I will never allow myself to be hurt ever again”? I think everybody in the crowd said that they had. Saying something like that to ourselves is a burial of our innocence and the beginning of the accumulation of layer upon layer of life experience that is never digested, that never becomes what it was intended to be. What the experience is intended to be is nourishment for the seed in us.
What allows that seed to sprout, very simply, is the flow of love within ourselves and the flow of love within our life. The flow of that love has nothing to do with our hopes, our fears, our desires, our attractions, our aversions, or our attitudes. It has nothing to do with any of that. It has to do with our reaching into ourselves, making contact with ourselves in that special place within ourselves where our innocence still exists. It is there waiting to awaken, should we call upon it. In that simplicity and sweetness, love emerges as an energy, a power within us. We circulate that power within ourselves with our awareness, and with our awareness we make contact, we really make contact with the people who we share our life with. In making contact, we are extending our resource, this resource from within us to them, allowing that same resource in them to reach to us. In that process we are circulating the energy within ourselves and among us, so that there is a dimension of sweetness and fineness and nourishment happening in our lives. Thend instead of accumulating tensions, we are dissolving tensions and allowing our creative energy to flow as it completely transforms the landscape of our life.
The topography of our life is totally rearranged by this power. Because of this awareness that we have, beyond our hopes and fears, our aspirations, expectations, attitudes, we are present. We are present in the moment, connected from a fine place within ourselves, a real place within ourselves, that has nothing to do with our past successes or past failures. We are connected from that fine true place within ourselves to the same place that is equally present in every human being on earth, but connected to whomever is presenting themselves in our life in whatever way is appropriate in that moment. This flow within ourselves and flow among us manifests an extremely powerful alignment, an alignment between our own heart and mind and soul and alignment between us and all the people that was say we love, that is powerful, transforming, extraordinary, enlightening. That alignment really should dissolve all the accumulated tensions and attitudes that develop among ourselves.
It is amazing to me that sometimes even among people who are committed to living lives of loving kindness and performing senseless acts of beauty--that is a great line. It’s old, but I still like it--it’s amazing to me to bump into the tensions that sort of happen between us and the attitude that accumulates among us. How many of you are the same person that you were 5 years ago? Well, of course, nobody. As loving people, isn’t it appropriate to continually connect from within ourselves to a true place that exists between us, that is free of any kind of attitudes that have anything to do with yesterday? What’s yesterday got to do with anything? Yesterday, last week, last month, last year. That’s dead. It’s gone. That has nothing to do with anything.
What has something to do with something is right now. To connect right now to a true place within ourselves and a fine place and to demonstrate that fineness for whomever it is that we encounter, no matter what has happened between us in the past, is called walking the walk. There is so much talk that goes on about spirituality everywhere, while we allow tensions to accumulate within ourselves and crystallize as attitudes about each other, even here. What is it like out there?
To truly and simply love somebody is to extend yourself to them as a resource and to create for them the space in which they can change, the space in which they can grow and be different. How fantastic is that? Mostly what we are doing to people we interact with is taking some tension and throwing it on them, burying them a little deeper. We don’t think about creating a space in which the people with whom we share our lives can genuinely change and grow.
Not only that, since nobody ever grows into what we want them to be, you have to expect that in this process that people are going to surprise you, and you should be prepared for it to be wonderful. Because if people grow into what you expect them to be, then you have probably become the limitation of their potential. In that case, they are certainly not demonstrating an unimaginable possibility, because you have already imagined it. I would never presume to anticipate the expression of anybody’s creative potential, out of respect for them.
There is a seed in each of us. That seed is an unimaginable possibility that has material structure. It has meaningful content. It has unlimited resource. It comes alive and demonstrates itself slowly and simply as we awaken the innocence within our self, create space for real love to exist, circulate that love within ourselves, and share it with the people with whom we are connected to in this life. When we use the term “surrender,” what we mean is to let go of the past, let go of the tensions, let go of the attitudes and to meet each moment and each person, no matter what has happened, in a true and open place. Giving each person the space, extending to them the space that will allow them to really change, should they choose to, and being mindful enough to appreciate the changes as they take place, allows the seed within ourselves to grow and expand and demonstrate every place.
I hope we can live in our real life, not in our imaginary life. I hope we can be connected to the fineness within us and appreciate the fineness around us in all the people we share our life with, really connecting, not just cohabiting a space. That way the quality of our day and the quality of our experience is increasingly nourishing and rewarding.
Imagine if we were really enlightened and living in the awareness of the ultimate reality, then what would be our response to every single day? We would be grateful. We’d be grateful, for everything. We wouldn’t have regrets. The thing about the container is and our imaginary life is that all the bad things we wished that would never happen to us are going to happen to us no matter what. People get involved in “If I couldda wouldda, shouldda...” The bad things that happen to us are part of the container. It’s just part of the program. It happens. There is no point in any regret. The bad things that happen to us happen to us for the same reason the good things happen: they all happen as nourishment.
When we grow strong from the difficulties in our life and the disappointments, and we hold true to the finest place within ourselves, then that fine place becomes ever stronger and we are ever more clear about what is our real life and what is our imaginary life. So then every day we wake up grateful. Seeing a smiling face, especially on people who have dedicated their lives to their real life, is especially meaningful and joyous. What have we that we can’t be grateful for?
Sharing these moments with you is always really a profound experience, a very special experience. Where is it that we have the opportunity just to sit and release our imaginary life and be connected quietly for a little while in our real life. It’s a precious opportunity. I am grateful that we get to share it.