A few days ago I was savoring my morning walk through the West Village on my way to lead the 200-Hour Teacher Training at Yoga Works in Soho. The music from my earphones mixed with the sound of church bells ringing. It sounded like AUM, the hum that resonates within all sounds in the Universe. I took off my headphones and hummed softly as the bells continued to ring. On the next block a woman crossed my path asking for money to buy food. I didn’t have any money, but I had food. I offered her my bag of delicious probiotic trail mix to which she responded, “Shove it up your ass! Go to hell!” She kept walking, but turned back and yelled, “Trail mix!” shaking her head in disgust.
“Well, Namaste!” I said. I couldn’t help laughing at the cosmic joke. My intention for this month has been to practice love in all its forms- through generosity, patience, and non-reactivity. In that moment I realized that love doesn’t have a variety of forms. Life gives us a variety of experiences in which to practice it, but love itself just IS. The word for the Heart Chakra is Anahata, which means “unstruck”. It is untainted by what happens in the phenomenal world. While the mind resists, the heart unconditionally embraces exactly what is happening, because it knows that while experience is impermanent, love itself is eternal and unchanging.
I was still smiling when another woman walked past and said, “She’s not homeless. She lives in one of the nicest buildings on Bleeker Street. She begs for money so she can buy scratchers tickets and then she goes back home and scratches for the rest of the day.”
I thought about this and about hell. Hell is something we experience right here on Earth when we keep scratching an itch, but never find satisfaction. Even though she lives in a nice building, her experience appears to be one of poverty. It seems she lives in a hostile world and believes the only salvation is to scratch her way out. We’ve all been there.
In choosing love we choose to live in a magnanimous world full of possibilities. Anything can happen when we let go of trying to make things a certain way before we love them. We may fear that in the act of loving we are condoning what is wrong, but this is not true. Loving doesn’t mean we stop working to make the world a better place. It is through loving that we most directly create change for the better. We may not always directly affect the person or situation with which we choose love, but the energy will go out into the world, and in some way it will be reflected back to us.
On my ride home that evening a young man walked slowly through the train car asking for money OR food. I offered him the trail mix. He gladly took it and he smiled.
“It’s good,” I said.
“Thank you so much,” he said.
“You are so welcome.”
Love is an act of welcoming what is, welcoming one another and our selves into this moment, with all our flaws and quirks, with all our opposing beliefs and perspectives.
This is something we must practice, because so much of what we see opposes it. If I hadn’t been practicing all month I probably would have had a few suggestions for the woman wanting “money for food.” I still have a lot of practice to do, but every time I choose love I can feel that hardness around my own heart softening and it always comes back to me when I least expect it.