I love liberation.
I have sought out liberation in all its forms for as long as I can remember.
I love relative liberation. Earthly liberation. Oh, I have not actually met it. Nor has anyone I know.
But I have longed for and ardently pursued social justice all my life; I believe in liberation for all oppressed beings.
That all may live in safety and sufficiency, free to express, create and contribute, each according to their nature.
Captured by Fanny Lou Hamer’s words, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
Captured by Green Tara’s outstretched foot, ready to leap into the relative world to end the suffering of beings.
I love absolute liberation. Liberation from duality. To be free from hope and fear.
Unfettered by the constricted vantage point of “me,” the star of my ongoing soap opera.
Captured by the Bodhisattva vow to remain on the earthly wheel of rebirth until all beings are free.
Captured by the Heart Sutra, which declares, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form, form is none other than emptiness, emptiness is none other than form.”
And, “Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone completely beyond, oh great awakening!”
When I recite the Heart Sutra, I tear up. Just the title of Franklin Merrell-Wolff’s book, The Philosophy of Consciousness Without an Object makes me happy.
Absolute liberation is what I intuited at age seventeen, when I wrote, “Deep screams of hearts breaking, sorrow of generations compel me—I must not drown, I must find a way.”
Relative and absolute liberation are intertwined. Today I reflect upon absolute liberation.
Although absolute liberation is ineffable and unknowable, sometimes we get glimpses.
I have been blessed with glimpses now and again. When I stumble upon the absolute and lose myself in it, it spits me out again like Pacific waves that suck you in and toss you out.
Liberation is sublime and fleeting.
“I” keep forgetting about it.
Or I remember and wait hungrily for the next doorway to liberation. I grope for a doorknob for days, weeks, months, years, decades…
Suddenly the door opens, and I am swept through it. Small me absorbed into vastness. Identities temporarily (or permanently) melt.
INFINITE DOORWAYS TO THE ABSOLUTE
The third of Zen Buddhism’s Four Great Vows declares: “The Dharma gates are boundless—I vow to open them.”
Those boundless doors to liberation include the natural world; contemplative practices, love—romantic and otherwise; loss, death; and suffering. And many more.
Places of natural beauty can open the door. Desert skies, lakes, oceans, snowy mountains, and lush forests.
Prayer, contemplation or meditation can open the door.
THE DOORWAY OF LOVE
Sometimes love opens the door.
Agenda-less love. Romantic love. New parent love. Critter love.
I was 29 when I fell in forbidden, impossible love. Prophetic dreams and unlikely events threw us together. Loss was certain, imminent. Yet I gave myself utterly, drunk on our summer rain: each time we made love, the skies opened and drenched the earth with heaven’s music. We felt our flesh radiate blessings to all beings in every dimension.
Love can be a little death; great love can be a great death. When my lover left me, my life disintegrated: my home, job, friendships, name and identity fell away. I was propelled thousands of miles into a new life.
THE DOORWAY OF LOSS
Sometimes loss opens the door. Or a series of losses.
In 2011, my mother died and my dearest friend broke up with me.
In 2012, I lost Tigger, my bird-friend of nine years, and my home of twelve years.
In 2013, Tigger’s mate also passed. I was birdless for the first time in fourteen years. Gone all those sweet call and response whistles that are integral to life with birds.
No more trills of reassurance and belonging: “Are you there? I am here.” “Is all well? All is well.”
2014 was loss on steroids.
In February I brought a special needs baby bird home; he died soon after we bonded.
An April bike accident stole my health and motivation for months.
In summer, my certain refuge–the lake I swam at daily–was closed by toxic algae.
By September I had let another baby parrot crawl into my heart. She died in October. [Thank goodness for her sister Zee, who chose to live, to live with me.]
And in 2015, sleep became elusive, hard-won.
So much loss, year after year.
The friction of loss can bring glimpses of non-duality. We rub up against fundamental questions like:
How do I go on when the one I love is gone?
Who am I without my narcissistic mom? So much of what I am is the daughter who resented her, who defended against her.
Who am I without my bird-friends? So much of what I am is the woman who shares her life with birds.
Who am I without a lake to swim in? So much of what I am is the one immersed in the lake, who flies beside ducks and turtles.
Who am I without the certainty of sleep? So much of what I used to be was rested.
What happens to identities stripped of their physical objects?
What is a swimmer with no lake? A motherless child? A sleeper who cannot sleep?
What is left of me when the parent, the beloved, the lake, the certainty of sleep are gone?
What remains of this consciousness I call “me?”
Sometimes death opens the door. Dissolution can release us from a particular form.
I have written elsewhere of how the deaths of two of my bird companions loosened my ordinary, subject-object consciousness a little.
When my mother died, I went through many changes. The most surprising change was my relief that she was beyond my protection. Nothing could hurt her anymore.
Like a hidden vault opening, I remembered as a child, silently agreeing to protect her from
my suffering. To shield her from how much she had harmed me.
Now relief flooded me; a long-held exhalation rushing out. Permission to be thoroughly angry at her. On the spot I wrote a song called “Vampire Mom.”
I sang that song over and over in the days that followed, melting a glacier of grief and rage.
That momentum carried me “beyond, completely beyond” my mother’s daughter. My mother and I were finally free from that messed up dynamic.
Much more of my aliveness became available to me after that. Including, strange to say (since I did not seek it), forgiveness for my mom. A sense of peace about her.
THE DOORWAY OF SUFFERING
Sometimes suffering opens the door.
Sometimes you suffer unbearably, endlessly from some absurd, arbitrary torment, or ridiculous injustice. Then, finally it’s over. Or maybe it continues. It doesn’t matter, because you have crossed the threshold.
Did that grit-storm sand down your soul? Somehow, you’ve let go. Horror is redeemed as you find yourself standing, relieved and grateful.
“Gone beyond, gone completely beyond” is not just an expression. Liberation is a movement beyond reactivity, the breeze that melts our resentment.
Liberation allows us, no matter why or how much we have suffered, to choose how we meet life.
Shedding that victim stance is waking from a nightmare. Our gaze widens out into spaciousness and generosity, a new way of being that is audacious and exhilarating.
You have probably noticed that most of the doorways I describe are difficult doorways.
Perhaps there is more to say about struggle than ease. Perhaps I require a lot of pressure to crack open.
But there are myriad small, subtle doorways beckoning to us in each moment. A sweet gaze. Sunlight on water. A difficult truth revealed. A baby, of any species, surrendered in sleep.
Many doors to liberation. Never the same door twice.
“No,” he said, “I don’t think it will be any good trying to go back through the wardrobe door to get the coats. You won’t get into Narnia again by that route. Nor would the coats be much use by now if you did!
Eh? What’s that? Yes, of course you’ll get back to Narnia again someday…But don’t go trying to use the same route twice. Indeed, don’t try to get there at all. It’ll happen when you’re not looking for it.”
~C.S. Lewis, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.