Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee | Embracing the Beloved

We need to find ourself in another and taste the archetypal fruits of this inner embrace. Later, after our initial encounters, it can be helpful to understand what is happening, and how romantic love can lead beyond sex into the inner union of masculine and feminine. When my daughter was four she one day stood up in the bath and surprised us with an understanding of this deeper truth, stating, “When a boy grow up he becomes a girl, and when a girl grows up she becomes a boy. And that means sorted out.”

The beauty of God’s physical form

I have always had a deep conditioning to seek God only in the emptiness, beyond form or image. I have never been attracted by the idea of a personalized God, especially not the heavenly father-figure of Christianity. Although I went to church every Sunday of my childhood, there was no internal resonance and in my early adolescence I became an atheist. Then, at sixteen, awakened by a Zen saying, I found tremendous meaning in the formless void of this tradition. “Enlightenment” in Zen does not involve any relationship to a personalized deity, but a state of inner awareness that is often symbolized by an empty circle. This emptiness of Zen was not just an abstract idea, but a dynamic reality which I had experienced in meditation, and also found in nature. Only through the empty mind of the watcher can the haiku-like moment be realized. The pure experience of the moon on the water evokes a quality of life that just is.  The simplicity and formlessness of Zen evoked a deep echo within me, a formlessness which is also a state of being.

However, although I had experienced moments of pure being in nature, I was more attracted to the inner emptiness beyond creation. For me the created world carried the shadow of the feminine, the limitations of time and space, which I longed to escape. I was more drawn to His transcendence than His immanence, looking inward in meditation rather than outward into life. After I had been with my Sufi teacher for about a year she gave me a practice in which I had to try and see God in everything. Wherever I walked, whatever I did, I had to feel His presence. At the same time she gave me an invaluable little book, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. This seventeenth-century monk, whose only concern was to live in the presence of God, describes his simple spiritual practice of living “as if there were no one in the world but Him and me.”[3] Working in the kitchen, washing the potatoes, whatever his daily activity, he felt himself in the living presence of God.

I had found that this little book opened a door into a new way of living in which I no longer had to escape this world in order to find Him. He was not only in the intangible emptiness, but could also be found in this world, alive within His creation. But after a while it was no longer enough to try to feel His presence. I needed to love Him in a tangible, created form. Ibn Arabî  writes that “Woman is the highest form of earthly beauty, but earthly beauty is nothing unless it is a manifestation of Divine Qualities.”[4] Through this beauty I could come nearer to Him, feel Him in the closeness of His creation.

I found something wonderful and unexpected about being able to love God in a woman. A deep, passionate need was being met, the need to feel the beauty, the softness, the warmth of His feminine form. I found an intimacy I never believed possible. Sometimes just being near to Anat I would experience a bliss that I now know comes from feeling the embodiment of the divine, the numinosity of the eternal feminine. Anat carries this quality, the sacred nourishment of life, which is a part of the essence of a woman, because a woman gives birth out of her own body. There was also the continual sense of mystery, of the unknown and unknowable, which belongs to the feminine, to the veils of the Goddess. At the time I was just caught and often confused in this encounter. I was bewildered, but blissfully, knowing I had fallen into love’s trap, as is echoed in a Sufi poem:

Her tress is a trap,
Her mole is a bait;
I, by such ruse,
Hopeful-hearted fell
Into the Beloved’s snare.[5]

My heart’s desire was full of the contradictions of the feminine. I was a victim, turned this way and that, accepted and then rejected. But deep within me I did not care. I felt like a winter-worn ascetic unexpectedly encountering a warm and wonderful spring.  I had recently read a story by Tagore, which I found hauntingly appropriate to my own state:

In the depths of the forest the ascetic practiced penance with fast-closed eyes; he intended to deserve Paradise.

But the girl who gathered twigs brought him fruits in her skirt, and water from the stream in cups made of leaves.

The days went on, and his penance grew harsher till the fruits remained untasted, the water untouched: and the girl who gathered twigs was sad.

The Lord of Paradise heard that a man had dared to aspire to be as the Gods…and he planned a temptation to decoy this creature of dust away from his adventure.

A breath from Paradise kissed the limbs of the girl who gathered twigs, and her youth ached with a sudden rapture of beauty, and her thoughts hummed like the bees of a rifled hive.

The time came when the ascetic should leave the forest for a mountain cave, to complete the rigor of his penance.

When he opened his eyes in order to start on this journey, the girl appeared to him like a verse familiar, yet forgotten, and which an added melody made strange. But the ascetic rose from his seat and told her that it was time he left the forest.

… For years he sat alone till his penance was complete.

The Lord of the Immortals came down to tell him that he had won Paradise.

“I no longer need it,” said he.

The God asked him what greater reward he desired.

“I want the girl who gathers twigs.”[6]

Aloneness and loneliness

Love was bringing me back into the world, a world not of alienation and rejection, but a place where I wanted to be. Anat seemed to be a part of life, to have a natural connection to people and life itself. Relating for her seemed natural, not something to be learnt. Through her I sensed that I too could connect to life and to people.

For a long time I had felt deeply isolated, unable to relate to others. At times I felt like the wanderer in the cold, desolate street who, looking in through a window, sees people together, talking, laughing, in the light and warmth. My only real companionship was friends from the meditation group, fellow wayfarers. But here I still felt separate. At our meditation meetings we meditate in silence, and then drink tea and talk, before discussing dreams or other spiritual questions. For many years I did not understand the need for people to be together and talk of ordinary things. I came to the meetings to meditate, to reach an inner goal, something beyond the outer world. Years later I came to understand the importance of just being together, fellow wayfarers on a path of infinite aloneness. But then I found it very difficult to relate to anyone; only meditation held the promise I desired.



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