It’s that time of year again. You know, the “love day” in honor of a martyred saint and popularized by a greeting card company. It’s the day to give and receive gifts, tokens and declarations that promise to answer the age-old question: “Do you love me?”
Human life can be defined in infinite ways. Innovative, creative, loving, hateful, greedy, generous – the list that defines us as a race is endless! While we share these traits to greater or lesser extents, the one trait that binds us in its universal power is the need for love. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we seek it in one way or another.
Every culture is replete with stories, legends and myths of the power of love. Despite its omniscience however, love is often confused with need and longing that arise from our deep sense of lack, which is inherent in suffering. From the standpoint of awakening to Radical Beauty, it has to do with who we think we are.
Our sense of self rests on a mish-mash of what we were taught by our caregivers, teachers and peers, our roles in society, how we perceive ourselves and how we would like to be perceived by others. Fed by these concepts, we form an image of ourselves that has a specific nationality and race, performs certain roles (child, partner, parent, doctor, musician, plumber, priest and so on) and has unique personality characteristics (shy, smart, talented, dull, angry and so on). We then breathe life into this image by assigning abilities and properties to it. The image is reinforced by the constant commentary of the mind. We like and prefer things that validate the image and dislike and shun things that don’t. The image needs to be fed constantly to be sustained. And its food is validation. Without validation, the image would crumble, causing fear and pain for what would we be without the image? Where would our sense of self lie without it? Thus we constantly seek image validation, which makes us ask, “Do you love me?”
Seeking validation from others is a great recipe for suffering. We become slaves to the mercy of others’ approval and affection. When we get it, the image is validated and we feel good. When it is withdrawn, the image is threatened and we feel bad. Between good and bad, our lives are marred by a deep sense of unrest and lack.
When the image is validated by others’ affection, deep down we fear losing it. Fear of loss is a powerful motivator for rearranging our self-image. Women in particular can be willing to rearrange roles, beliefs, opinions and personalities to please others and gain approval. Our self-worth can be so dependent on approval that we can be prepared to overlook or tolerate abuse and exploitation. Again and again, we ask if we are loved, wanted and needed. Again and again, we look for someone or something else to “complete” us.
The remedy for the sense of lack is to discover the fullness that is the essence of who we are. In Sanskrit, this fullness is called Purnam. Simply allowing this word to arise in meditative stillness can result in a powerful shift. In the spacious energy the word evokes, we can examine the difference between the perpetual sense of lack that is that “hallmark” of self-image (pun intended!) and the knowledge that nothing is ever needed to complete us. Let’s try it.
Radical Beauty Ritual
- Find a period of time where you will not be disturbed for 20-30 minutes, preferably when you don’t have pressing engagements immediately after.
- Sit in a comfortable posture on the floor or on a chair. Close your eyes gently.
- Take two slow, deep breaths. With each exhale, relax any tension in your body. Sigh deeply, releasing on to the ground or the chair.
- Let go of any control over the breath. Notice how the chest and belly move, how the air feels during the in-breath and out-breath as it passes through the nose, the back of the throat and the windpipe. If thoughts come up, gently bring your attention back to the breath.
- Notice the vast space within where the breath arises and subsides. Are there boundaries to this space?
- Silently say the word Purnam (poor-num). Allow it to fill the inner space and subside. Notice the inner silence as the last vibrations of the word come to rest.
- Think of how you define yourself. What comes up? Try to allow the sense to arise fully. Don’t rush through it. It can present itself as a visual image, a stream of thoughts or in some other way.
- Allow the image or thought to subside and return your attention to the breath for several minutes.
- Return to noticing the breath and space it arises in. Repeat Purnam again, allowing it to fill the space and come to rest naturally. How does the feeling of space compare to the feeling the image evokes? Does it feel constricting or freeing?
- Bring back the image of yourself. How does it compare to the feeling of vastness? Does it feel constricting or freeing?
- Go back and forth between the image and the space, focusing on the feeling each evokes. Notice the sense of contraction the image brings up and the expansiveness that is the sense of space.
- Repeat Purnam again and rest in the spaciousness. Notice now if there is any need or longing here. Notice that the image comes and goes, but the space within which the image arises always remains. You are not the image that comes and goes. Who are you then? Don’t try to answer the question. Allow the silent fullness of being to show you.
Love is the magical force that holds the universe together. Its expression is one of overflow of Purnam, the fullness of being. It indiscriminately touches everything and everyone we come in contact with. Like a brimming reservoir, love flows outward from our own fullness.
This beautiful and profound verse from the Isha Upanishad sums it up:
Purnam adah purnam idam
Purnat purnam udachyate
Purnasya purnam adaya
Purnam eva Vashishyate
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantih
That is full, this is full
This fullness arises from that fullness
When this fullness becomes one with that fullness
All that remains is fullness
Om Peace, Peace, Peace
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