It is often said that the goal of yoga is to heal the dis-ease of separation. In which case, the Path of Love, a weeklong process of meditation and self-inquiry that I participated in recently, is the warp-speed delivery method for the cure—awakening to the fullness of our essence, the vastness of our humanity, and the depth of our authenticity.
Yes, meditation (read: all the practices of yoga) is designed to help us wake up, not grow up: It’s designed for liberation, not necessarily to make us better at being human, at being fully human. As Buddhist psychotherapist John Welwood puts it, meditation is oriented toward suprapersonal, rather than interpersonal or personal, realization.
Spirituality and personal relationships have become largely separate in their evolution. “We’ve had thousands of years of people waking up and having beautiful, transcendent realizations,” Welwood says, “but how much of it has percolated down into daily life and what’s happening on the planet? Not all that much, I would say, given the amount of violence and exploitation that is everywhere.”*
Granted, there are people whose spiritual practices have turned them into angelic beings who never even think a harmful word. But let’s face it, there are plenty of angry yogis, plenty of yogis challenged by their personal relationships, plenty of yogic communities rife with jealousy and corruption. Just saying!
The mistake that so many of us in the latter group (hey, I’m there with you!) make is that we show up on our mats with all kinds of emotional/psychological baggage, some of us with steamer trunks full, expecting yoga to fix everything. We assume that eventually but inevitably all of our problems will vanish if we just keep practicing.
I am definitely happier, more empathetic, kinder, and way less likely to use words as swords than I was pre-yoga. But I’ve still got issues, and I want to do better, and I’ve wondered just how much better. So with that in mind, I arrived at the Path of Love retreat at Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, Colorado, just as the leaves were sending out shards of crimson and gold. (There are more than a dozen POL retreats held all over the world each year—even one at a castle in Wales.)
People come for all kinds of reasons and with very different agendas. Some come to work through persistent trauma. Some come because they feel stuck in their life and aren’t sure why they can’t move forward or where they want to move. Some come to resolve a critical relationship issue or because they know there is more to life. And some come to get away from it all and have some much-needed “me” time, expecting to take leisurely yoga classes and enjoy indulgent massages. (FYI: This couldn’t be further from the truth! Except for generous time to sleep and eat, the process is a full-time endeavor.)
I arrived still grieving the loss of my beloved girl kitty some months before (not to mention guilt and confusion over the fact that I’d grieved harder and longer for her than I did for my own very dear father when he passed). I brought with me a sense of curiosity, and a commitment both to be vulnerable and to stand on the coals in my discomfort zone.
I arrived with what I thought was a small enough amount of relatively benign emotional baggage to fit in a day pack, with room to spare, only to discover that my pack was as full and as bottomless as the satchel Mary Poppins totes! During the course of my retreat week, I pulled out all sorts of warts and toads—hurts and disappointments and rejections—that I didn’t even know were still there…and which still stung.
Those hurts and disappointments and rejections create wedges of separation, beginning at a very young age, telling us that we aren’t truly loved or valued for who we are. All longings, all problems—of unworthiness, self-acceptance, guilt, blame, etc.—arise from separation from self, from others, and from God. It all stems from different circumstances for each of us, but amounts finally to the same thing (if in various degrees). POL is a process of detox for the dis-ease of separation, a detox for body, heart, and mind, an East-meets-West process that helps us remember our wholeness—our wholeness as individuals and as a part of the entire fabric of universal consciousness.
During the process I plumbed depths I didn’t know existed and might have been afraid to explore in a less-supportive and wholehearted environment. And I soared higher than I ever knew was possible. The experience was mind-blowing, heart-expanding, judgment-shattering. I had thought my life was pretty rich, and I was grateful for the privilege of living it, but at POL I knew for the first time what it felt like to be truly, madly, deeply alive. Like Dorothy’s in The Wizard of Oz, my world went from black and white to ecstatic technicolor.
During the process I plumbed depths I didn’t know existed and might have been afraid to explore in a less-supportive and wholehearted environment.
And I needed no more proof of how much inner work I had really done—not to mention proof of the interrelationship of the koshas—than my asana practice when I got back on my mat after being off it for eight days. I expected to need to be compassionate with myself for not being quite as strong or flexible or fluid, so I could not have been more surprised and delighted to discover how energized I was, how deep my twists were, how open my hips, how strong my handstands, and that my backbends (never my asana strongpoint) felt Cirque du Soleil-worthy. A lot of issues had clearly been purged from my tissues!
There is a softening in my heart, in my acceptance of myself, in my ability to be vulnerable. And with that, an ability to step more fully into my authenticity. Authenticity, allowing our true self to be seen, breeds intimacy. And intimacy creates connection, which narrows the gulf between self and other, decreasing separation.
My work is just beginning, but I have tasted the goal and I know that sitting in a cave meditating is not by itself going to get me there. As Osho explains in The Power of Love, tantra says that this life is the only life, and it is through life, by living our humanness fully, that we can have it all: “The other life is hidden in this life. It is not against it; it is not away from it; it is in it. Go into it, and you will find the other too. God is hidden in the world—that is the Tantra message…If you love, you will be able to feel it.”
The Path of Love invites us to go deeply into this life so that we can feel it.
*From (A revised and edited version of the text of Welwood's podcast interview with Buddhist Geeks)