image -Beauty Of The Arts
“When the sense of self expands to the circumference of the world, one’s ethics, love, hatred, one’s sense of what is important—all change. Sensitivity and the strength to respond to it unite. Yet there are psychopathologies whose descriptions sound like this. I suspect that unless the insubstantial nature of one’s personal self is deeply seen and felt (seemingly a rare event, even among Buddhist practitioners), the act of expanding the sense of self will lead too easily to some form of inflation or megalomania. “
~Tyrone Cashman talking about the book, World as Lover: World as Self.
Spiritual traditions have tended to look at the world in four major ways: as a battlefield, as a trap, as a lover, and as the self. The first two – as a stage set for our moral battles or as a prison to escape – are probably familiar, and have in many ways contributed to our lack of care for the world. But what of the other two? Might they shed some useful light on life in an interconnected world?
This is the focus of Joanna Macy’s wonderful book, World As Lover; World as Self, published by Parallax Press, from which I’ve taken the following excerpts. Joanna Macy is a scholar of Buddhism and general systems theory. She is known in many countries for her trainings designed to empower creative, sustained social action.
WORLD AS LOVER
It is my experience that the world itself has a role to play in our liberation. Its very pressures, pains, and risks can wake us up – release us from the bonds of ego and guide us home to our vast, true nature. For some of us, our love for the world is so passionate that we cannot ask it to wait until we are enlightened.
To view the world as lover is to look at the world as a most intimate and gratifying partner. We find some of the richest expressions of our erotic relationship to the world in Hinduism, for example in Krishna worship, but this erotic affirmation of the phenomenal world is not limited to Hinduism. Ancient Goddess religions, now being explored (at last!) carry it too, as do strains of Sufism and the Kabbalah, and Christianity has its tradition of bridal mysticism.
It also occurs outside the religious metaphor. A poet friend of mine went through a period of such personal loss that she was catapulted into extreme loneliness. Falling apart into a nervous breakdown, she went to New York City and lived alone. She walked the streets for months until she found her wholeness again. A phrase of hers echoes in my mind: “I learned to move in the world as if it were my lover.”
Another Westerner who sees the world as lover is Italian storyteller Italo Calvino. In his little book, Cosmicomics, he describes the evolution of life from the perspective of an individual who experienced it from the beginning, even before the Big Bang. The chapter I want to recount begins with a sentence from science: “Through the calculations begun by Edwin P. Hubble on the galaxies’ velocity of recession, we can establish the moment when all the universe’s matter was concentrated in a single point, before it began to expand in space.”
“We were all there, where else could we have been?” says Calvino’s narrator, Qfwfq, as he describes his experience. “We were all in that one point – and, man, was it crowded!” Given the conditions, irritations were almost inevitable. See, in addition to all those people, “you have to add all the stuff we had to keep piled up in there: all the material that was to serve afterwards to form the universe … from the nebula of Andromeda to the Vosges Mountains to beryllium isotopes. And on top of that we were always bumping against the Z’zu family’s household goods: camp beds, mattresses, baskets. …”
So there were, naturally enough, complaints and gossip, but none ever attached to Mrs. Pavacini. (Since most names in the story have no vowels, I have given her a name we can pronounce.) “Mrs. Pavacini, her bosom, her thighs, her orange dressing gown,” the sheer memory of her fills our narrator
“with a blissful, generous emotion. … The fact that she went to bed with her friend Mr. DeXuaeauX, was well-known. But in a point, if there’s a bed, it takes up the whole point, so it isn’t a question of going to bed but of being there, because anybody in the point is also in the bed. So consequently it was inevitable that she was in bed with each of us. If she’d been another person, there’s no telling all the things that might have been said about her. …”
This state of affairs could have gone on indefinitely, but something extraordinary happened. An idea occurred to Mrs. Pavacini: “Oh boys, if only I had some room, how I’d like to make some pasta for you!” Here I quote in part from my favorite longest sentence in literature, which closes this particular chapter in Calvino’s collection:
“And in that moment we all thought of the space that her round arms would occupy moving backward and forward over the great mound of flour and eggs … while her arms kneaded and kneaded, white and shiny with oil up to the elbows, and we thought of the space the flour would occupy and the wheat for the flour and the fields to raise the wheat and the mountains from which the water would flow to irrigate the fields … of the space it would take for the Sun to arrive with its rays, to ripen the wheat; of the space for the Sun to condense from the clouds of stellar gases and burn; of the quantities of stars and galaxies and galactic masses in flight through space which would be needed to hold suspended every galaxy, every nebula, every sun, every planet, and at the same time we thought of it, this space was inevitably being formed, at the same time that Mrs. Pavacini was uttering those words: “… ah, what pasta, boys!” the point that contained her and all of us was expanding in a halo of distance in light years and light centuries and billions of light millennia and we were being hurled to the four corners of the universe … and she dissolved into I don’t know what kind of energy-light-heat, she, Mrs. Pavacini, she who in the midst of our closed, petty world had been capable of a generous impulse, “Boys, the pasta I could make for you!” a true outburst of general love, initiating at the same time the concept of space and, properly speaking, space itself, and time, and universal gravitation, and the gravitating universe, making possible billions and billions of suns, and planets, and fields of wheat, and Mrs. Pavacinis scattered through the continents of the planets, kneading with floury, oil-shiny, generous arms and she lost at that very moment, and we, mourning her loss.”
But is she lost? Or is she equally present, in every moment, her act of love embodied in every unfolding of this amazing world?
Whether we see it as Krishna or as Mrs. Pavacini, that teasing, loving presence is in the monsoon clouds and the peacock’s cry that heralds the monsoon, and in the plate of good pasta.
For when you see the world as lover, every being, every phenomenon, can become – if you have a clever, appreciative eye – an expression of that ongoing, erotic impulse. It takes form right now in each one of us and in everyone and everything we encounter – the bus driver, the clerk at the checkout counter, the leaping squirrel.
As we seek to discover the lover in each lifeform, you can find yourself in the dance of rasa-lila, sweet play, where each of the milkmaids who yearned for Krishna finds him magically at her side, her very own partner in the dance. The one beloved has become many, and the world itself her lover.