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Esteemed Reader 

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Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:

Become aware of your individuality, aware of your sense of being an individual that is bounded by skin and a body, and aware of how that individual has a whole world, a whole history, a whole universe that is full of action, interaction, suffering, fear, and desire. If you can become aware of all that, what is aware of all that is your consciousness, which is love.

A. H. Almaas

When I saw Wim Wenders Wings of Desire as a young teenager, the film struck a chord. Wenders shows a cadre of angels together with human characters. The men and women are sometimes joyous, mostly suffering, and otherwise undergoing the spectrum of struggles that are endemic to life in a body; and the angels are always with them, patiently, vigilantly watching.

Here the implication is that all angels can do for humans is watch. This, in contrast with the humans, who have an inverse proportion of biased involvement with the experiences of their lives. People are attached to objects and outcomes, endlessly striving for some kind of success or relief, while the angels are aware of everything their humans experience, though not in a clinical way. Instead their interest is summarily accepting, and includes a profound tenderness.

The angels seem to possess a deep, patient impartiality toward their humans' suffering. Indeed there is nothing the angels can do for the humans, for in Wenders's depiction, the angelic realm is not an arena of action (excepting the case of the fallen angels, who "get involved"). Nevertheless the angels compassion for their people is complete and unconditional.

I think this image struck a chord in me because I always felt a supportive presence surrounding even my most painful experiences. Whether the tenderness was within my own being at some deeper-than-conscious level or was somehow external to myself didn't seem to matter. What I knew was that however deep my despair, a fundamental supporting presence was there, and it loved me no matter what I did or said, no matter how I succeeded in my endeavors or failed; that the unconditional regard of that presence was reliable.

In contrast, we all have the experience of the fickleness of our fellow human beings. We are too often identified with the critic—all the standards of approval and disapproval, liking and disliking, emitting from others or our own critical superego. We are subject to the random preferences and desires that give rise to erratic and changeable states of emotion. This leaves us with the sense that in order to be acceptable or worthy we must achieve and perform. There is an unrelenting pressure to earn a feeling of wholeness—to become acceptable—and a corresponding abiding loneliness. Not only do we see ourselves as unacceptable to the world, but we are unacceptable to ourselves, according to an arbitrary standard set at a time before we can recall.

Even this conditional love, a love we are convinced can be earned by fulfilling a particular function, living up to an image, or satisfying the desires of others, points to the possibility of an unconditional loving acceptance. For, we may deduce, if we can be loved for a reason, why not for no reason at all? This is the love that is the real gold, not ersatz. It is sweet and saturating, and touches us not only generally but even in each particularity of our being. In the light of this love, which could be seen as angelic, there are no defects; in ourselves, or, for that matter, in anything in the world.

In the spiritual traditions it is this total love that allows us to perceive and bear the truth—the truth which is whole, unvarnished and without qualification. It is the "love that surpasses all knowledge" because it is not predicated on any particular thing, though it encompasses all things. It is itself the predicate, the medium in which everything swims.

We are convinced that love is a conditional experience, to be aroused through attraction, or earned by performance. The suggestion that we can receive love—be in love—simply by opening to it sounds absurd. It flies in the face of our capitalist paradigm which says anything of value must be earned or stolen. And this may be so in the limited world of objects. But I'm quite sure love is exempt from this economic paradigm because it is not subject to supply and demand. The infinite availability of love is more akin to the principle of zero-point energy.

It may seem that feeling the omnipresent availability of love that does not originate from a particular person or experience but is, in essence, "free energy," would lead to a state of super-satisfied inertia. The fact is that the action of love is to produce real freedom. This is a freedom from likes and dislikes, aversions and preferences. It is a freedom to act or not act. To be touched by love is to be replete in wholeness, which wholeness can only lead to wholeness.

  • Jason Stern on unconditional love and the self.

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