William Blake writes that “we are put on earth a little space,. That we may learn to bear the beams of love…”
I have had times in meditation when the blinkers of the ‘mind-forged manacles’ (another quote from Blake) fall away, and felt like a sinner welcomed into heaven, hardly able to believe my luck. This love is always there but we get so wrapped up in our sense of a seperate ‘me’ who believes the world is out there and antithetical to us, that we rarely experience grace.
It comes to us NOT by reaching out for it, but by allowing ourselves to let the light in – surrendering all the ways we have learnt to put a shield in front of our heart.
John Welwood writes beautifully about the difference between this grace, and our human capacity to love in the following passage:
“Bringing absolute love into human form involves learning to hold the impossibility of ourselves and others in the way that the sky holds clouds—with gentle spaciousness and equanimity. The sky can do this because its openness is so much vaster than the clouds that it doesn’t find them the least bit threatening. Holding our imperfections in this way allows us to see them as trail markers of the work-in-progress that we are, rather than as impediments to love or happiness. Then we can say, “Yes, everyone has relative weaknesses that cause suffering, yet everyone also possesses absolute beauty, which far surpasses these limitations. Let us melt down the frozen, fearful places by holding them in the warmth of tenderness and mercy.”
In his book Works of Love, the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard points out that true love doesn’t embrace others in spite of their flaws, as if rising above them. Rather, it finds “the other lovable in spite of and together with his weaknesses and errors and imperfections.… Because of your beloved’s weakness you shall not remove yourself from him or make your relationship more remote; on the contrary, the two of you shall hold together with greater solidarity and inwardness in order to remove the weakness.”
The same holds true for loving yourself. When you recognize that the absolute beauty within you cannot be tarnished by your flaws, then this beauty you are can begin to care for the beast you sometimes seem to be. Beauty’s touch begins to soften the beast’s gnarly defenses.
Then you begin to discover that the beast and the beauty go hand in hand. The beast is, in fact, nothing other than your wounded beauty. It is the beauty that has lost faith in itself because it has never been fully recognized. Not trusting that you are loved or lovable has given rise to all the most beastly emotional reactions—anger, arrogance, hatred, jealousy, meanness, depression, insecurity, greedy attachment, fear of loss and abandonment.
The first step in freeing the beast from its burden is to acknowledge the hardening around our heart. Then, peering behind this barrier, we may encounter the wounded, cut-off place in ourselves where the mood of unlove resides. If we can meet this place gently, without judgment or rejection, we will uncover the great tenderness that resides at the very core of our humanness.
Our beauty and our beast both arise from one and the same tenderness. When we harden against it, the beast is born. Yet when we allow the tenderness, we begin to discern the contours of a long-lost beauty hidden within the belly of the beast. If we can shine warmth and openness into the dark, tender place where we don’t know we’re lovable, this starts to forge a marriage between our beauty and our wounded beast.
This is, after all, the love we most long for—this embracing of our humanness, which lets us appreciate ourselves as the beautiful, luminous beings we are, housed in a vulnerable, flickering form whose endless calling is to move from chrysalis to butterfly, from seed to new birth. As earthly creatures continually subject to relative disappointment, pain, and loss, we cannot avoid feeling vulnerable. Yet as an open channel through which great love enters this world, the human heart remains invincible. Being wholly and genuinely human means standing firmly planted in both dimensions, celebrating that we are both vulnerable and indestructible at the same time.”