The Movement Of True Love
Posted by Sam Bower on Feb 25, 2013
Inspiration passes through our community and connects with us on the streets.
It was a particularly well attended Awakin Oakland --formerly Wednesdays On Fridays-- night at Casa de Paz in Canticle Farm last week. The crowded attic meditation space was filled with a delightful and diverse community of generous and thoughtful souls from throughout the neighborhood and the world, older / younger, from CEOs to school teachers to former sex workers to urban farmers.
After the traditional one hour of reflective silence we read and shared a passage by Adyashanti that discussed spiritual arrogance and how "enlightenment can be measured by how compassionately and wisely you interact with others—with all others, not just those who support you in the way that you want."
After reading the passage and hearing it again Friday night, I was struck by the challenge it set and by the many ways I felt I didn't measure up to the task. The author suggests living life in a state of perpetual "yes" to the flow of love. "Freedom and love," explains Adyashanti, "arise when you die into the unknown mystery of being." Inspired by these poetic insights, the circle of sharing continued around the room and my brief contribution was to admit that the best way I could think to respond to the many barriers I seem to set up to love was by being as loving as I could be at any one moment. Perhaps the rest would resolve itself in due time.
Inspired and buoyed by everyone's thoughtful comments we finished up our circle of sharing and then moved to the front room for our vegan meal for 30+ eaten in silence. One of the regular visitors to Awakin Oakland, is the brave, inspiring and warm hearted Louis Vitale, a local Franciscan Priest and peace activist who has travelled 80 times around the Sun. He opted out of dinner that evening, so I volunteered to walk him back to the church where he lives about 4-5 blocks away.
It was a pleasant evening and not too cold and arm in arm, we strolled down the urban streets towards the church compound, feeling the strong love and respect and honor to be alive in times like these. I have a deep appreciation for Louis Vitale and, while I'm not Catholic, or religious, I delight in his insightful, witty and compassionate words and his brave example as a lifelong activist and protester for peace and social justice, who has spent years in jail and been arrested over 200 times for civil disobedience. As an advocate for open spirituality, Louis (with the remarkable Matthew Fox) offers liturgy on Sundays at Canticle Farm in the same meditation space at Casa de Paz where our beloved sister Joanna Macy teaches the Work That Reconnects.
For me, with this context of loving laddership around me like a blanket, walking slowly along the dark streets of Oakland talking about life with Louis is ambrosia for my soul.
After dropping Louis off I began to head back home, glowing in the warmth of love and a sense of really being somewhere. Earlier that afternoon, on my way home to celebrate Wednesdays on Fridays I had "coincidentally" run into one of my housemates at Canticle Farm, Jason, at BART, so we were walking back together when we "coincidentally" crossed paths with another housemate Pancho, who was walking along with two friends from San Francisco who were coming to join us for the evening. A few blocks after that we were greeted warmly with big hugs by two neighbors who were walking past and then a block after that, stopped by two other people in their car on their way to the event. It felt that everyone was where they needed to be that evening.
So as I walked back to Canticle Farm Friday night, I felt the love of all those people, and was not entirely surprised when a block away from the church, I greeted two men with a friendly "buenas noches" as they emerged in the dark from behind a house. One of them responded with a challenging "Where the @#$% do I know you from?" I smiled and looked the the two heavily tattooed Latino men, one quite tall and heavily built wearing a dark hoodie and the other, the one who greeted me, also in dark clothes but more agitated, a tattooed teardrop or two on his upper cheek. Two local members of the Norteño gang who had had some encounters earlier in the year with my housemate Pancho and who I'd see occasionally in front of the house of one of our neighbors. I explained that I lived on 36th Ave and that we were neighbors and instantly the energy began to shift to talking about street names and places we had in common as we headed up the sidewalk together.
"Teardrop" was clearly jumpy and upset about something and his companion "Tall" called him on it and told him to just chill out and cut with the negativity and so Teardrop pulled back a bit and walked about 20 feet behind us for a while, cursing and kicking at things along the street for a while, but apparently taking a "time out". Tall and I meanwhile, began chatting and he shared that his friend behind us had had a rough life and "wasn't right in the head" and that Tall took it on himself to look after him to make sure he didn't get into trouble. They were buddies navigating their uncertain way through a crazy world. I shared that a lot of us have old and sometimes fresh hardships we carry around with us that can make the simple act of being present a challenge. He then confided that he'd had his own difficult circumstances growing up in Oakland with a father with PTSD who was eventually stabbed to death in jail and a mother who was on drugs when he was born and other things that made life and even staying focussed hard at times.
What was so remarkable is that it felt just like walking with Louis Vitale. For those three or so blocks until we parted ways, we felt like old friends sharing personal details and vulnerabilities with each other in a space of peace and respect. While initially, I kept my "radar" on to keep tract of Teardrop behind me, I soon relaxed into the flow with Tall and understood that Teardrop stayed back to give us space to talk. Although I speak fluent Spanish, I can be seen as a white male who has had a fairly privileged background. I'm the new guy in the neighborhood, too, having moved to Canticle Farm in June of 2012. My life and Louis and the two gang members lives on the outside were quite different yet inside, of course, we were all seeking to connect with others and experience love. Like bookends to the evening of thoughtful reflection at Casa de Paz, these two encounters invited us each to die for a while "into the unknown mystery of being".
I'm deeply grateful for the guidance and wisdom of the people in my life. The ones I feel I've chosen and sought out as well as the many who have generously appeared in other ways to surprise and challenge me to be more loving and compassionate, despite my frequent clumsiness, egotism and blindness. "True Love" has a trajectory of its own and can flow through us if we make space for it. Blessings to the courageous souls who embrace this path and to all of us who may sometimes feel 20 feet behind where we'd like to be walking but nonetheless are exactly where we need to be.