When I was 19, there was nothing about love I didn’t know. I was like a religious zealot infused by the Holy Spirit, prepared to battle any force standing in the path of my (hormonal) convictions. The equation was deceptively simple: Love is all there is – and I wanted as much of it as I could get.
Then the sixties rolled in on a wave of psychedelic flower power. Volkswagen minivans festooned with multicolored daisies symbolized our new-felt freedom from the tyranny of the “thou-shalt-not” bible thumpers. We made love, not war, eagerly taking advantage of every available opportunity to express our Bacchanalian credo. Those were heady times of excess permissiveness that left millions of us nursing a lingering hangover.
We staggered out of the seventies on uncertain legs. America had weathered an extended period of high inflation liberally spiced with low economic growth and intermittent energy shortages. We were humiliated by the Iran hostage crisis and in dire need of a radical makeover. To many of us, Ronald Reagan and the conservative values he championed seemed to be the perfect antidote.
Love – at least as my generation knew it – got swept aside by his landslide victory. By the time the charismatic ex-California governor took office, I was deeply ensconced in yuppiedom, living in a large home in Connecticut. Much of my hormonal currency had already been spent and love’s earlier driving imperative downshifted into a more subtle gear. I began feeling uneasy in my own skin. Nothing seemed to make sense anymore. I felt like a robot programmed to live someone else’s life.
In my 44th year I finally reached my tipping point. I abruptly left my old life and hopped a plane to Australia where I discovered a rather unnerving fact: no matter how far or how fast I traveled, there I was. There was no way out of my conundrum except to allow myself to journey through it. At the time, I had no idea where to find the elusive grail that would finally lend direction to my rudderless existence.
In time I remarried. Arianne, the amazing woman who continues to share my adventures, joined my quest to find a deeper meaning to life. We’ve been blissfully married for the past 21 years. But despite all our efforts to remain daring and curious, we’ve inexorably settled into a comfortable and all too predictable pattern.
By the time we moved to Southern California, we had been twice around the world, purposefully seeking the spiritual gifts of countless cultures, teachings, and sacred sites. Yet, I was unable to shake off Yogi Berra’s doubly perceptive quote: “This is like deja vu all over again.” No matter what we experienced, how deeply we were moved, or changed by some extraordinary occurrence; we couldn’t escape one unalterable reality: there we were.
My internal pressure cooker existence (it was beginning to feel much too familiar all over again) finally found relief as I began writing. The birthing of a book is an incredibly intimate affair. After a few weeks into my project, I found myself hurtling uncontrollably into an ever-expanding universe. I was Hercules, lashed to my computer keyboard, willingly submitting myself to the lure of the Sirens’ irresistible song. I was awash in tones merging into subtle overtones; filo dough harmonics folding richly in and through one another, disappearing completely, only to reemerge in vibrant waves of ecstasy.
I unexpectedly rediscovered what I had already known when I was 19: Love is all there is. This five syllable phrase, reiterated for eternity; a simple, haunting refrain repeated again and again like Ravel’s Bolero, throughout every aspect of the infinite creation. One can stop anywhere along the way and pretend – as so many devout believers seem to do – to have heard (or read) the ultimate word of God. Or, one can continue to dive ever deeper into the infinite mystery relentlessly goaded by the Siren’s song.
I chose the later, knowing full well that I can never fully experience it and retain any attachment to my egoic identity. Yet, I am absolutely, irrevocably, and unreservedly willing to sacrifice (what a grossly inappropriate word) everything I ever thought I knew in pursuit of that celestial song. I will follow the path of love’s masters and seek to become initiated into Eleusinian mysteries. I am not alone on this journey; Rumi and Kabir, St. Catherine of Siena, Master Hakuin, the Baal Shem Tov, Paramahansa Yogananda, and countless others will meet me at the appointed hour to reveal new possibilities of exploration.
In short, everything can be viewed and experienced as an expression of love. Every interaction is an opportunity for us to be love. Only when we abandon the safety of our acculturated beliefs and recklessly lose ourselves in the infinite instant, can we become the Sufi dancer, consumed in ecstatic communion with Oneness. Only when all sense of the egoic “I” – who we think we really are – disappears completely, can we can cross the threshold of the great unknowable gateway onto the heart/mind of all that is.
I refer to this often when addressing audiences. I ask those in attendance to visualize two bar magnets drawing closer and closer until the force between them is so great that it easily overcomes one’s ability to keep them apart. The irresistible, attractive magnetic force is simply an aspect of love. It exists throughout all creation and can be felt – in either it’s positive or negative aspects – between any two people, objects, or concepts. I then ask my audience to imagine that the solid form of the two abutting magnets slowly dissolves until all that remains are the merging force fields.
As a concrete example of what each magnet “feels,” I invite the people to pair up (ideally with someone they’ve never met before) and look deeply into each other’s eyes with the intention of radiating unconditional love. When, at last, they both feel overwhelmed by that love, they are invited to hug. After holding the hug for several minutes, I invite the participants to imagine that their bodies are slowly dissolving and all that remains are their magnetic force fields that fuse into a single, harmonic flow.
By and large, the vast majority of each audience is able to experience a few moments of transcendent bliss while doing this exercise. I liken this to the way they might expect to feel when we finally move past our illusion of duality and separation and enter into the promised land of the new paradigm. I also invite them to take this awareness and try to embrace it in everyday life.
Such invitations are generally ignored. Life, with all its constant demands and priorities, invariably intervenes and such special moments – if they are ever to be experienced again – are reserved for sporadic workshops, body, mind, spirit expos, and other similar oases in the spiritual desert of everyday life.
A short while ago, I saw for the first time the very expression of love I was trying to convey, freely and unabashedly exchanged between perfect strangers. It was so natural, so completely guileless that it enchanted me and everyone else observing the phenomenon. Having seen this, I now know with absolute certainty, that God (however one defines the term) is not merely alive and well in each of us, but is each of us.
The story begins some five years ago when my wife and I attended the annual Pines to Palms Jazz festival in Idyllwild, California where we came across an unlikely ensemble consisting of a piano, bass, cello, and two violins. They played a piece by Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla that moved us both to tears.
At the time, we didn’t realize that this singular experience was destined to change our lives in ways we could never have imagined. We were smitten by the haunting marcato – the underlying, basic, four-beat pulse of tango. We went from buying tango CDs to dance lessons, to the ultimate pilgrimage: a trip to Argentina, where tango first emerged from the fusion of African and European influences in the bars, dance halls and brothels of the Corrales Viejos – the slaughterhouse district of Buenos Aires.
When we first arrived in that beautiful capital city, we immediately headed to some of the more celebrated tango venues where professionals put on a dazzling display of dance. These shows, like the many others that tour the world today, are technically brilliant, but they somehow lacked the steamy essence that only raw love can carry.
Tango is the dance of the flesh, of the desire, of the embraced bodies. It is a new dialogue, the seduction made movement, the coming and going encounter of two worlds. It is an exhibitionist dance, aesthetically pleasant and fearlessly teasing.
To the prim and proper sensibilities of cultured foreigners, tango may seem too primitive and uninhibited. To me, it is an exquisite, unbridled expression of love. We finally came face to face with the “real” tango in the late hour milongas – informal venues where locals come to dance. We arrived early along with a handful of other novices to receive some basic instruction. Within the first few minutes, both Arianne and I realized that while we might have learned a step or two in our previous lessons, we had yet to encounter the driving passion, without which tango is merely beautiful movement to music.
Around 11:00 pm, people started to arrive. Some came alone; others with a few friends. What was noticeable was that almost none came as couples. The women sat along one side of the room, the men on the other. Their ages ranged from late teens to the seventies. A few were dressed for the occasion, but most seemed (despite the late hour) like they had just left work. The music, played in sets of three dances, came from a boom box unceremoniously sitting on one of the tables. As they entered, the women immediately changed into their dancing shoes; the men, for the most part, arrived with theirs already on.
There is an unspoken ritual that guides all the participants – a rigid protocol that curiously makes it safe for them to break all the rules of polite society. When a man wishes to dance with one of the women, he looks in her direction and waits for a signal. It might be a small smile, a slight nod of the head, or some other subtle indication that his invitation has been accepted. Tango has already begun.
He slowly walks to her table and gallantly leads her to the floor. They embrace each other in the classic dance position and, for the first several bars of music, neither move. These are the moments of electrical connection when the two bar magnets first touch and, transcending the limitations of form, allow their magnetic fields to merge. Then, as one, the two dancers engage in an intensely intimate ebb and flow of movement. These are two perfect strangers, meeting for the first time, each tacitly agreeing to bypass all the perfunctory foreplay so that for a few magic moments, they can fall deeply, passionately, and unconditionally in love.
The music stops after three dances and the gentleman escorts his partner back to her table. They may never dance together or speak to one another again. Yet, for the rest of eternity, they are entangled in that field of infinite love and will forever remain a part of each other’s essence.
We, who are fortunate enough to be on Earth in human bodies, have the choice of engaging in spiritual practices designed to allow us to transcend the realm of the physical, or to tango and taste the exquisite fruit that this realm holds – the gift of pure, unconditional love that we can only receive when we let go our egos and intellect and simply merge with everything/everyone we meet. Instead, most of us elect to stay safely out of harm’s way by keeping others at a comfortable distance. We have become so accustomed to the pain arising from unconscious insensitivity that we instinctively hold back to avoid getting hurt. In the absence of ego there is no need for such protection and we are free to express with total abandon. There is no throttle on love, no meter, no qualifier. We cannot love a little, or with reservation, or with strings attached. The love in tango is fearless; it does not speak in the politically correct language of reticence and compromise; it cannot survive in such restrictive containers.
Each time you meet a perfect stranger you receive a new opportunity to dance. I dare you … I double dare you … to accept the invitation and fall head-over-heels, madly in love.
The day will come when after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, gravitation; we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.
– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Jean-Claude Gerard Koven is a writer and speaker based in Rancho Mirage, CA, USA. He was a featured weekly columnist for the UPI (United Press International) Religion and Spirituality Forum and the author of Going Deeper: How to Make Sense of Your Life When Your Life Makes No Sense, recipient of both the Allbooks Reviews editor’s choice award and the USABookNews.com award for the best metaphysical book of the year. To read his articles and book online, please visit: www.goingdeeper.org.