"My beloved dwells in the cave of my heart."
Paradoxically, it is only when we enter within the cave of the heart that we discover others as the "beloved" whom they truly are.
Generally, we tend to think that we are some sort of "I" who is dangling within the universe, desperately trying to find a beloved other with whom we might relate. However, this dangling "I" is not our deepest identity. Instead, our own being - and the being of everyone else - is ALREADY and forever grasped and held and known in love by the Beloved, present within all of the beautiful creatures of the world. In other words, relationship is not something we have to wait for; it is instead ALREADY a reality that constitutes our deepest self. Our core identity thus consists in being a "thou" rather than an "I"; or, as Ramon Panikkar puts it, a "thou-I."
I've always loved the following passage written by a medieval Zen master named Dogen:
"That the self advances and confirms the ten thousand things is called delusion. That the ten thousand things advance and confirm the self is enlightenment."
Or, as a Benedictine monk named David Steindl-Rast puts it:
"What you can grasp gives you knowledge. What grasps you makes you wise."
When the self - the fictional "I"- tries to grasp and understand and possess beautiful things, the delusional ego - the illusory separate self so familiar to us - is always involved. However, when these same things grasp and hold our awareness - a reality we experience whenever we are attracted to beauty - then the true self or relational identity begins to manifest itself. It is here that we understand ourselves to be a beloved "thou" rather than a dangling "I." And it is here that we correspondingly empty out our sense of "I" into a realization that our identity consists in being this beloved "thou."
In the process of realizing that we are actually a "thou" grasped and held by beautiful subjects, we simultaneously understand that THEY are actually mysterious presences with a sacredness all their own. For in the very moment when we reach out to them in an attempt to grasp them, THEY empty out and grasp US within our own desire! This movement on their part gives them a flash-like identity, variously called "suchness" (Zen), "the still point" (T.S. Eliot), "the still desert into which no distinction ever peeped" (Meister Eckhart), or "Blessed Far-nearness" (Margarete Porete).
When we feel a desire to possess or relate to something beautiful , we find liberation when we realize that we do indeed possess it to the degree that we allow ourselves to BE POSSESSED - that is, to have our desire grasped and held by the beautiful thing. And we do this by turning our desire inward, remaining - as the Gurbani reminds us - within the beautiful "cave of the heart."
Photo: Ice formations inside a rock cave located on the shoreline of The Loch, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, December 28, 2015
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.