Love as Tether
This July, 2019, I was at Hallelujah Farm again for Bill Redfield’s Mary Magdalene and Conscious Love retreat. I had a role leading conscious practical work and weaving a container for the group at the farm, but this retreat is specifically a place where Bill has been working and evolving with the nature of conscious love over the course of four or five years. Each year has been different, although it goes by the same title. It always takes place around July 22, the feast day of Mary Magdalene, as it will in 2020 as well.
This year there was a moment during the retreat where the power and quality of love that is non-grasping lit up like the sun and the moon. This is a love that wants and needs nothing from the other but is instead pure presence. I remembered an instant in my life several years before when I knew that potent truth. I had a simple and profound experience where freely given love was indeed a ‘tether’ for me. This word is often used in the Wisdom tradition to describe a force of presence between two people that can match, meet and follow one another. Where we stand by one another in the love, and we can go where the other goes. My memory was about a moment that created a lifeline for me that was undeniable, at a time when I was consistently ill with symptoms of Lyme disease.
At that time, I often woke up in the morning with a feeling of dread or fear coursing through my body, rising particularly from my legs and feet and reaching up into belly and chest. Clearly physiological, the Lyme bugs do their turning, nerve-y, stabbing, nauseous, concerning thing. It creates weird and unfamiliar pain, bizarre and scary. Constantly moving and twisting sensations squeezing up from deep inside bring up powerful feelings of inadequacy. They often take the form of doubt: “do I have the strength, the will, the tenacity, to meet what is coming and to do what is mine to do today?”
I am talking about the small stuff. Will I be able to feed myself well enough to take care of my physical needs for nourishment? Will I be able to work long enough without brain fog to actually accomplish the next three small tasks on my list of things to do that demand cognition? Will I be able to get myself outside long enough to breathe fresh air and move blood? Will I have the will force to recognize when I have been engaged with life long enough, and not so much that overstimulation causes a collapsing crash the following day?
The questions, and this deep physiological pain and terror had been welling up most mornings for years as I wrestled with not judging and not dwelling on the pain and confusion. The practice is to turn towards the sensation, witness the thoughts for what they are, and let them go. Not easy when it roots in the body like a guest, a stranger, who shares residence.
Usually I am up before light. I love to sit during the transition from dark to light. My husband often sleeps later, but he woke me up this particular morning knowing I had to leave the house early for centering prayer. He woke me with his hand, with a loving touch that reached through and beyond all that physiological sensation.
It was a touch that had no interest in anything but itself. It carried no demand, no motive, except to move in love across my face. It was sweet and full. It had no charged emotion, no separate will; it was unburdened by thought. It was purely loving. It was unattached. I could feel that so clearly through the touch itself.
I woke with no fear, no twisting dread rising in my bones and muscles. It was like being bathed in love. I realized that I felt strong, rather than scared and weak. I had a sense of having everything I needed to do what must be done. Not that the thoughts were churning–it was sensation. The sensation of having everything necessary. The absence of worry was palpable, gaping. This is potent.
I realized that in this state of feeling strong without effort or attachment, this state of ease and comfort with myself and the world, I was being given something very necessary for the task. Whatever the task to be, whatever form it would take, no matter how minor, how large–this pure ‘loved’ and ‘loving’ was connecting me to my ground of being. It was binding me to the deeper source of strength within me. Opening me to an inner sense that knows what it is to swim in the current of love no matter what difficulty or pain is unfolding on the surface of daily life.
I understood something in that moment about second body and that word “tether” as it is used to refer to Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ. It is not just for them; it is for all of us. I felt a fullness in the inescapable quality of presence rocketing through our brokenness and connecting the Lover and Beloved within each of us. I felt this loving touch would follow me, be with me. Spacious. Unconditional. Witness that is not a ‘looking’ but witness as a ‘standing with,’ a tracking from within. Not necessarily consciously constant, but somehow tapping into a connective current that is always present.
My dear husband does not care what I do in the world. He wants me to be happy and he feels I have something to give. He is not interested in the details, not excited by my studies or practices, nor does he reject them. His witness is of a different nature. He respects and loves me; appreciates that I have people to love and work with. Ken has stood by me through years of chronic illness that have been horrifyingly difficult and terrifying at times, particularly for him. It is a mutual witnessing. It has little to do with what we do or even who we are. We fight and grumble. Get frustrated. And there is a nugget of truth within each of us that we stand together with, by and for one another. Often forgotten, often remembered, the presence that is always there goes in–and out–of consciousness.
My experience was one of sensory knowing, an ah-ha moment. It was sudden confirmation of the fact of love as a tether. Not to feel like a tether or act like one. To be a tether and to be tethered. It was shocking really, the way it spilled out of the body that way. Undeniable. I have often taken up the quality of being-ness, of presence. I have sat too with what is created in a relationship, in this case a marriage where Ken and I have become through our lives together more than the sum of our parts. I do not know if I can imagine what Mary Magdalene embodied in order to be tether together with Jesus Christ. I was given a hint.
I had an experience one day on an earlier Mary Magdalene retreat that gave me a taste of the force of attention that Mary united with. It seemed to be about her relationship with the Anointed One, and her witness to and with his journey into the center of the earth. That moment was an immediate wake up. A force of presence shooting through me. I found myself suddenly upright, eyes wide open, in an absolutely alert inner stillness that penetrated everything around it. It was a degree of attention I had not experienced before. It was shockingly real.
If nothing else, that experience taught me something about the potential strength and fullness of a capacity we might call witnessing presence. It may be connected to the creation of a second body between two people. I do not know. I do know that with my husband’s touch that morning I experienced the transformation of fear into substance of love. It happened in an instant outside of time, simply by the hand of my husband’s unconditional touch, and it woke me up to a new reality. It gave me agency. I recognized: Oh! This is an experience of love as a tether.
In that moment of awareness on retreat, a piercing quality of presence identified itself as Magdalenic. I suddenly recognized how full and strong second body would need to be in order for Mary to follow Jesus. A hint of the force, perhaps, that Mary aligned with in order to track and bear witness from her post and enter into the center of the earth with her being and her Beloved. A taste of the truth of the beingness that grows within us that we may literally connect consciously with the circle of humanity in the Imaginal. I believe these are experiences of sensation that speak to us. Gifts that poke through the veil in a moment.
As a teenager, I took care of a woman who had lymphoma. She was the mother of a dear friend and his three sisters, two of whom were much younger. I took care of the house and the toddlers and offered her comfort measures as I could when she returned home from the brutal chemo treatments of the early 1970’s. I felt close to her in ways I did not understand, but that I accepted completely. At her funeral poems were read. Poems she had written for each of her children, as well as one for me. When I heard her poem for me read in the vast spaces of Washington Cathedral I heard the words of someone who saw me, who knew me in a way I had not felt known before.
Years later in conversation with my centering prayer friends, something more specific about the relationship was dawning on me, about what she had given me. I suddenly felt her presence in the room. As I allowed myself to experience a new level of conscious understanding about her specific gift to me, there was a sensation of substance pouring over me like molten honey, as if it was washing me from head to foot with liquid love. This sensation continued for most of an hour. There was no question that she was there; no room for doubt in that state.
This also felt like a tether, a direct line of connectivity and action between and with one another, that was not about either one of us and simultaneously had everything to do with our particularities. It was about being present with her in the great sea of love, the Well. The love we live and breathe in. She was both without and within me, bringing me into a conscious experience of the source of living water, the substance of love.
The morning that I arose with Ken’s touch, I greeted the day beyond his loving hand and wondered about our human beingness in all this. Our exchanges with one another; the many levels of exchange, mostly very practical and gratefully mundane. At that time, to awake in a state where I was not afraid in my leg bones, where I had no gnawing physical anxiety of illness, was precious and freeing. My sense that dread was being held at bay, and that love bade it stay away, was a marvel. I was amazed by the bridge that his hand had created with such simple touch. Ken’s unadulterated love in that tiny moment helped me connect to deeper sources of strength and being within myself, to God.
That touch helped me cross over. It bridged the gap between my sense of separateness and the absence of separation. It was a physical act that created a conscious pathway through and beyond the purely physical experience of my body. Just as in the case of the woman I had worked for. There a sudden recognition of the truth. The flood of gratitude for her very specific and timely gift to me allowed me to suddenly feel the tether alive between us beyond time. The gift was given decades earlier, shortly before her death, but I was aware of the two of us connected in real time by the visceral experience of the substance of love. I was open to receive what had been given so long ago. That thick sweet honey felt like it had the capacity to transform, to mend cells, to heal. It felt like a conscious conduit for the love ever-flowing between the imaginal and the manifest world.
… I wrote about this experience with Ken four or five years ago, processing it after it happened. Memories came up, connections happened. One morning a couple of years later it came up when I spoke with a friend. We talked about life and living. About living the work, the work within and the work without. We touched on history, personal and otherwise, and the times we are living in. I felt the smooth and deep reassurance of souls resonating, of a second body being created; another instance, with another presence.
Consciously and thoughtfully, with all the honestly that we were capable of, we were gazing into the small steady flame of love manifesting. She spoke of it as forming, grounding: did she say compressing? Firing? Yes. We grow together what we need. What is necessary to walk into the world with courage, and face it, meet it, turn into it from the place that is the center of our beings. So much heart in the state of being that is engendered through a love that grasps for nothing. So much fortitude and capacity for presence.
This exploration of conscious love is endless and timely. The paradigm, and our capacity to bear love, is changing and evolving as we become more capable of embracing one another in the gorgeous array of our differences. As our practices change and deepen. As we age. As life closes in. We are being brought into the firing of a world getting closer, pressing together, in lives that are moving faster than ever. And in the midst we have moments when the timeless bursts in, when we are suddenly aware of a greater reality that has always been the sea we swim in. Moments when we find ourselves in a grounded agency that has been birthed between and among us. Moments when we begin to let ourselves give and receive a love that burns through our attachments, our needs, our desires. A love that connects worlds.
My prayer is that we are learning to trust the reality of our experiences, and gently release our grasp when we find ourselves and those around us flooded with pain, scarcity, abandonment and fear. That we can feel the lifelines, the handrails–indeed the tethers–that we offer one another. Consciously or unconsciously, simply, out of the purity, by the letting go, within our presence, love and truth between and with one another.
posted August 14, 2019 by Laura Ruth