All of you have likely heard talk about the universality of Love. It’s in many places, from the Bible saying “God is Love” to various newer teachings. For instance, the most famous quote of A Course in Miracles is :
“The opposite of love is fear, but what is all encompassing can have no opposite.”
According to this, the universe itself is composed of nothing but love. And yet our experiences seem to be full of things which do not appear loving. Others may treat us with disdain and rudeness, and we ourselves may experience emotions such as pain, anger, despair and grief that we think are as far from the experience and ecstasy of love as can be. And yet, if the universe itself is made of love and we are part of the universe, then logically we ourselves should be made of nothing but love. So why do we experience such intensely negative emotions such as pain, when love is supposed to be ecstatic?
It at this point, let’s go beyond the labels we have for these emotions. Labels keep us fixed into a relatively small concept, and in fact there are wide differences between two people for the same experience of an emotion. If looked at deeply, there is a fullness within every emotion that most people do not even glimpse. In fact, each emotion is not a limited experience – it’s an entire spectrum, much like the light that comes to us from the sun. And like light, there are even huge swaths of the spectrum that we cannot even see. In fact what we know of as pain, for instance, is but a small area of the spectrum available of this one basic experience, but a small part of the expansive range open to us.
To go into more detail, let us now take a look at pain. To use the analogy of the body, pain serves a very useful purpose. It lets us know when there is something important that we need to focus on. If we are being stabbed by a sharp needle, for example, it is good to take immediate action to remove the needle from our body. Sometimes the pain is more chronic and speaks of long-term actions necessary to create a healthier environment in the complex system that is our body. So to put it simply, pain is a good thing. However, if we think of pain only as an enemy, and therefore do not listen to it, it is quite possible that the symptoms will grow exponentially larger until we reach the point where we see nothing but the pain. It is not pain that is the problem, only our experience of it and our reaction to it.
The inward experience of emotional pain is similar. It serves a very useful function – it lets us know what needs to be listened to and transformed. When fully allowed, this can be a truly transcendant experience. In most cases we see, of course, it’s misery, but to give a wider picture of what pain can look like, it is useful to think of it again as a spectrum. Here’s a table showing a range:
All of these come from the same basic internal energy, that which we label ‘pain’. In this one emotion, there is a universe of difference in the experience. And yet the experiences are intricately intertwined; in each moment of meeting pain there can be an instant shift into another mode of experience. The only difference between the states listed above is the degree of allowing we have for the pain – which is the degree we make pain our friend, becoming one with it. Being completely in the present moment, in an ever-fulfilling process of allowing, opens us to the entire range. Resisting the experience will tend to move us to the more blocking side of the spectrum. Normally we sway back and forth a fair bit, even for minor pains!
Both ends of the spectrum are of course connected. Numerous accounts, such as Eckhart Tolle, exist of completely giving up in the pain of existing, surrendering to ‘the void’, and then dramatically shifting to an ecstatic experience of transcendence.
How does this then relate to love? Most people think of love as an emotion. If this were so, it would limit Love. Love itself is not an emotion. Love is the entire spectrum. Think then, that pain is not seperate from it; pain is part of that vast spectrum. Love is a complete allowing of everything. It includes pain, joy, anger, longing, connections with others, and all human experience. Love in some way can be likened to the space through which light can pass. It is Love itself that provides the allowing that enables pain to be the complete blessing that it can be, if it is surrendered to. If you think to a time where you sat in front of someone you knew loved you, it was at a time when everything in you was welcomed. This included all your emotions, all your thoughts, all your desired; it was all invited and allowed. Why then should loving ourselves be any different?
This of course in no way minimizes the paralysing agony that pain can be, or is it in any way saying people are “responsible for their pain”. It takes experience and wisdom to trust the process of allowing and surrendering to an experience, and most people need much support to do this. That’s what friends are for, after all. Still, I hope by looking at pain this has given a glimpse of possibilities that exist in every moment, inside every emotion.
PS. There’s an online group aimed at discussing concepts like this and integrating it into our lives which I’m a co-owner on. If anyone is interested in it – which does involve time, exercises and experiments – please send me mail. And of course, comments and questions are always welcomed!