For forty years I have been exploring what is often called “the spiritual path.” I have studied the world’s great spiritual traditions and holy books. I have sat with and learned from a variety of amazing teachers. I have visited churches, temples, mosques, zendos, ashrams, monasteries, and spiritual centers around the globe. I have practiced various forms of meditation, contemplative prayer, yoga, and methods for inner awakening. In the course of this exploration, I have seen that — while forms and methods may differ — many of the goals of spiritual practice are the same. I have also seen that there is one essential ingredient in spiritual life without which all other forms of practice fall short. That ingredient is the cultivation of our ability to love others. Not just to love God, or the Divine, or our True Nature — but to actually love our fellow human beings, to live in the awareness that we are “all One.” Cultivating that love is, in many ways, the most potent spiritual practice available to us.
It may also be the most challenging. How do we experience Oneness — with everyone — and still deal with the plethora of injustices and slights we encounter on a daily basis? How do we deal with a difficult partner, a petulant child, a rude neighbor, an overbearing boss, or an unforgiving in-law? How do we deal with a violent criminal, a murderer, or a government leader who doesn’t embody what we feel to be the essence of truth and justice? How do we feel connected with people who hurt us? And why should we?
The primary reason we strive to feel this connection is that we are all One. We are all connected. From the spiritual point of view, there is no way to not be connected. It doesn’t matter whether someone has harmed us or they perceive that we have harmed them. We are still connected.
Every time we experience separateness we are experiencing the root cause of all human suffering. Separateness and disconnection are an illusion — a distortion created by our minds. When we perceive ourselves as separate, we are perceiving something that isn’t real. Separateness is the source of our most painful and frustrating human experiences. It is the source of our sadness and our fear. It is the source of most of our arguments, resentments, and misunderstandings. Our illusion of separateness enables us to abuse the planet we live on and to feel righteously indignant when someone points out that we may be participating in our planet’s demise.
Our illusion of separateness is also the source of war. It is the conviction that we have to take something from someone else in order to be safe, in order to survive. It is the inability to understand that there is enough for all of us — enough food, enough clothing, enough resources, and enough love — and if we learn to share it, we will all prosper, physically, socially, and spiritually.
Nothing here is intended to suggest that we should subject ourselves to abusive people or to allow violent people to be free to do harm. But being angry and hating others only brings misery to ourselves. When we deny our love to others, we are actually denying it to ourselves. We are denying ourselves the ability to live in the natural joy of our highest nature. If we want real happiness, we have to learn how to love everyone, even those we find most difficult to love, and even as we take action to prevent those who would cause harm from having opportunities to do so.
Understanding the truth of our Oneness is a core principle in the heart of most great spiritual traditions. But though it exists in the roots and the esoteric branches of those traditions, it has, disturbingly often, been overlooked by teachers and clergy. It is sadly ironic that many religious traditions seem more concerned with magnifying the sense of separateness than with overcoming it. Love and Joy are our natural state — infinite and abundant within us. The only reason we don’t feel them all the time is that our minds get in the way. We choose fear rather than Love. We choose anger rather than equanimity. We choose to disconnect in order to protect our fragile human hearts, in order to feel “safe.” But the perplexing Truth is, we never feel safe as long as we feel disconnected.
One of my teachers once asked a group of students if anyone knew why we shout at each other when we are angry? No one could come up with an answer. Finally, the teacher said, “It is because when we are angry, our hearts are ‘closed.’” When our hearts are closed, we can’t hear one another. Lovers who are deeply in love speak in soft, gentle tones, sometimes barely above a whisper. Often they are silent — so fulfilled by love connection that words have become superfluous. When our hearts are “open,” and we are in love, we hear each other clearly. We are living in the place of Oneness.
Living in the awareness of our interconnectedness is an integral part of the path to a truly fulfilling life. It may offer the only hope that our species will survive. Wouldn’t you like to live a life that vibrates with the joy of love and connectedness in every moment?
The love we seek in relationships exists inside us. It is not something another person — or group of persons — feeds into us. It exists at the very core of our own being.
John E. Welshons is a highly respected contemporary spiritual teacher who lectures and leads meditation courses throughout North America. He has been a practitioner of vipassana (mindfulness) meditation and various forms of yoga for more than forty years, and is the author of When Prayers Aren’t Answered and Awakening from Grief: Finding the Way Back to Joy. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in comparative religions from the University of South Florida and a master of arts degree in history of religions from Florida State University. John has also traveled and studied extensively in India. He is a gifted counselor and teacher who has worked closely with Ram Dass and Stephen Levine and trained with Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.
His workshops and lectures are offered in churches, hospitals, hospices, corporations, colleges, universities, yoga schools, and personal growth centers. He is also available for one-on-one consultations. John lives in northeastern New Jersey. His speaking schedule and more about him and his work can be found at his websites, www.johnwelshons.com and www.onesoulonelove.com.
Based on the book One Soul, One Love, One Heart. Copyright 2009 by John E. Welshons. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com or 800/972-6657 ext. 52.