Integral Spiritual Experience: Journal 2

Written by 

[Editor's Note from Chris:  Br. Trevor and his bride to be Sarah are at the Integral Spiritual Experience 2: The Future of Love. Trevor will be sending in journal entries from the event and I will be posting them.  Here is the second entry, enjoy...]


Entry 2- 12:36 pm, Dec. 30/2010 (What is Love?)


The event is already unfolding so fast there’s no way I’ll be able to keep up with it here. One of the beautiful things about this event is that there are some twenty-five spiritual teachers, most of whom could host a weekend similar to this themselves. But they have all chosen to come together to share the space, teach together, and compliment each other’s unique intelligences. This is of itself a meta or fractal example of (at least part) of what the ISE is (from my perspective) trying to accomplish, which is the birth of a new collective way of being together. A forty-five minute talk like the one Saniel Bonder and his wife Linda Groves-Bonder gave this morning could be unpacked for days and years. I’ll just try to relay some shreds and threads of wisdom coming my way so far (without necessarily, due to time, acknowledging by name who all this wisdom is specifically coming from), so that folks at home may have a chance to contemplate and meditate on these themes at home in sync and in solidarity with the folks gathered here right now.

What is love? After only half a day I realized I don’t think I’ve ever really contemplated this question in any depth.  


venus hotel

Rabbi Marc Gafni makes the (I think deep and important) point that the only God we have left in our society is Aphrodite. And even then, it’s in a degraded form, cheapened by countless hallmark cards, trite Hollywood romantic comedies, and incessant commercialization of the message that we must and can only find love in a relationship with another human being (with the anxiety ridden sub-textual message that if you don’t find love this way, you will never experience love). Perhaps the reason I haven’t really contemplated love very much, is that our culture has watered the word down to the point of a banal emptiness, or a fear based interpersonal necessity.


The context here is set higher, much higher. Both Ken Wilber (via video) and Marc Gafni placed love in a cosmic context, as the core animating force (Eros) of evolution and the cosmos. In the first episode of the Future of Love teleseries, Ken Wilber lays out a broad cosmic vision of love as the fundamental force in the universe, and I recommend giving a listen to that talk if this perspective is a new one (or even if it’s not, it’s a big ole vision!). I’m also reminded of the conversation Michael Dowd and Bruce Sanguin recently had on the Evolutionary Christianity teleseries, where Sanguin describes God as the non-coercive force of love in the universe that draws and attracts everything to it. Everything in the universe yearns to be in unity with this gently all-embracing God, and the story of cosmic evolution is creatively emergent movement toward higher and higher unities of integration, co-operation and consciousness, driving toward full unity in and as God, the Alpha and the Omega. 

Love, I am learning, is not just a human emotion. Love is a perception, love is a realization of, as the philosopher Schopenhauer once wrote, the true fundamental nature of the universe, which is ultimately unity, oneness. To love God is to let God see through our eyes- the transfiguration. To be a lover is see with God’s eyes. To love someone is to see, witness, and love the divine spark that rests within them. To live my true and unique self is to make my perspective available to God.

Love is also about relations, and not just human relations, which our society teaches us. Everything is in relation, and we are in relation with all things. When I sat silently with this teaching I realized oh my God, I’m still to a large extent trapped in a modernist mindset, still separate from things, still looking at the world. What might it mean to truly love a tree, the ocean or to love the night? What might it mean to walk outside alone at night and to be in love with it, in open hearted loving relation with it? To open our heart, legs, body and spirit to it as living related other, and to love it? What might it look like to love another being, a plant, an animal, a human, not as object to be consumed, but as divine other in living dynamic relation with us. Martin Buber taught that in the I-Thou relationship, God is the dash.

Doing a four-quadrants of love, The Bonders asked, what might it mean to fall in love with our own bodies? To fall to fall in love with the divine fire in all of our hearts. What might it mean to fall in love with- gasp- our own egos? To love and embrace and integrate both our ego and our shadows, those fragmented places cut off in our psyche, our disowned voices. What might it mean to fall in love with who we are together, in the collective, in the we? What would it look like to be in a room, maybe at dinner with our family, and simply open our hearts and love what we are together? What would that bring to the field, to the world?

Related items

Join the Discussion

Commenting Policy

Beams and Struts employs commenting guidelines that we expect all readers to bear in mind when commenting at the site. Please take a moment to read them before posting - Beams and Struts Commenting Policy


  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Friday, 31 December 2010 01:51 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    This is the direct passage from Bruce Sanguin: "How does God influence reality in an evolutionary paradigm?...I think it was A.N. Whitehead who first started talking about God as the non-coercive or the persuasive presence of love that lures creation at all levels of being, from animate to inanimate, toward the deepest possibilities of freedom and fullness of being that each of those levels is capable of...[God] is a source of allurement toward greater beauty, goodness and truth...My own feeling is that all of this evolutionary cosmos emerges from within a field of love. In other words, I'm imagining evolution as a divine strategy for making a world but in a non-coercive way. The future is indeterminate, there are no templates, there's no preset design to it, it is literally emerging out of our collective capacity for choice, and everything depends upon us awakening to our identity as choosers and not defaulters. And as we live in to that radical responsibility of being choosers, we become the presence of a sacred evolutionary impulse".

  • Comment Link Bergen Vermette Friday, 31 December 2010 03:49 posted by Bergen Vermette

    Trevor, this is great man, so glad you're there and able to convey the questions and insights for all of us over here.

    In an unrelated contemplation this week I was considering what it meant to love someone or be in love. I think this question has probably been approached by countless philosophers and poets and song writers, but to be honest I never really considered it myself very deeply. I always just assumed it was a *feeling* or a specific experience that I had had and was familiar with.

    Looking deeper into this assumption, I see that's not really true. On the one hand, I feel like I 'love' somebody when I feel strongly for them. Yet when that particular feeling isn't present, I don't (usually) conclude that I've stopped loving them. So then love seems to be more than just a *feeling*. This for me has been a pretty profound insight because I've always equated love with feeling a certain way.

    As such, I tried to pin down what, exactly, was the *feeling* that I had been equating with love. Interestingly - I've found it's hard to pin down. It can have varying degrees of strength, but even different qualities depending on who/what it's directed toward. Also, holding 'love' in my awareness it tends to morph and shift and never actually stays the same exact feeling. Like any feeling (or thought) when looked at in a certain way it also becomes quite ephemeral, or 'Empty' as the Buddhists would say. It's almost as though it doesn't exist at all. So here again, love, whatever it is, seems to be more than just a specific feeling.

    Has there been any talk around this yet at the conference?

  • Comment Link Joe Perez Friday, 31 December 2010 19:13 posted by Joe Perez

    I'm enjoying reading your blog posts from ISE2 (and not just because I'm also doing my own ISE blogging intersubjective practice concurrently), and hope to connect with you while we're here. Much love, Joe

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Saturday, 01 January 2011 00:51 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Joe! You're here and we're communicating over the web. That's absurd! And kind of strange and magical at the same time. It's definitely been a priority of mine to make contact with you, and I saw you in the dinner line while I was eating yesterday, so I know what you look like in person now and will find you for sure. See you soon!!

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Saturday, 01 January 2011 15:24 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Bergen, just wanted to let you know that I've got one eye out for your inquiry here. I've been taking notes when someone talks about the questions you raise, and I've been holding out to maybe get a minute with Marc Gafni or the like to quickly ask them about your question. Thanks for the contemplative meditation, it's a good one.

  • Comment Link Chloe Dierkes Saturday, 01 January 2011 23:44 posted by Chloe Dierkes

    As a plant biologist and lover of nature, I can really relate to what it feels like to love a forest and all it's big and small living and non-living components, but I cannot say that I have felt 'in love' with such things.
    How is that different? What would it mean to love in a more relational or reciprocal way? In what way exactly would humans receive from the relationship?

    This inquiry brings to mind the therapy called shinrin-yoku which is a type of 'forest bathing' used to reduce stress. It has been implemented for workers of companies in Japan and some pretty impressive results have been found. Studies show that levels of salivary cortisol (stress hormone), heart rate and blood pressure decrease while levels of NK (natural killer) immune response cells increase when participants are immersed in forest settings.

    As a scientist one might strive to find some quantifiable factor that leads to these results, isolate it and sell it in pill form to all the stressed out CEO's in the world. Looking at it holistically though, I suggest that perhaps this is how we receive love from a forest. The life force is actually pulsing so much stronger where the ecosystem is thriving and in balance and by being in the forest we become a part of that web. Contributing to it and benefiting from it. Perhaps this is how we can be in love with a forest.

  • Comment Link Tineke Sunday, 02 January 2011 21:02 posted by Tineke

    Great read Trevor, thanks so much for sharing! When reading I was struck by the powerfull concept of love and the power it has to transform us and the world.

    I would allways equite love with the smell of old hippies and incense - something soft that wouldn't have the power to transform who we are. But contemplating a larger definition of love - in the form of wanting to be together and not separate - I discover the transformative power.

    It makes me realize that the most powerfull breakthroughs I had, had to do with wanting to be together with (a friend, a lover, my own experience, life itself). Now I think about it, this seems the only force that can actually create something new - it makes you want to connect and really engage with the other, the world. In the experience of being seperate from that which you love most, you want to develop because you can't stand hurting others. Because you care for them.

    A new way of looking is unfolding!

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Saturday, 08 January 2011 21:05 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Hi Chloe, thanks for the inquiry, apologies for the late reply, been a busy week re-assimilating after the ISE.

    You say: "As a plant biologist and lover of nature, I can really relate to what it feels like to love a forest and all it's big and small living and non-living components, but I cannot say that I have felt 'in love' with such things.
    How is that different? What would it mean to love in a more relational or reciprocal way? In what way exactly would humans receive from the relationship?"

    I have a couple of reflections on these questions, although I must say that this is all still a new inquiry/practice for me. The love you already feel for a forest is probably already close to being 'in love'. But here's a couple of ways to maybe take it deeper. The first comes to me from the Canadian nature-mystic poet/philosopher Tim Lilburn. And this is to drop or remove any proper names from your mind when interacting with anything in the natural world. When you come upon a tree for instance (or any Other being), just remove the word tree or any other material/scientific data you might know. Just simply encounter what's in front of you in all its strangeness and otherness, in its impenetrable mystery and wonder. In my experience of the practice, the entity in front of me slowly opens up to me in a new way, and starts to live and shimmer with a simultaneous foreignness and closeness. All of sudden the sheer fact of existence pops into my awareness, and I somehow feel a profound connection to this creature that I share the earth with, that I share this strange thing called Life and Existence with.

    Here's a couple of passages from Lilburn, from his book 'Living in the World As If It Were Home':

    "Contemplation, unlike the more entrepreneurial noesis of analytical reason, is not interested in converting it to utility: marveling is exactly enough". (28)

    "The world is its names plus their cancellations, what we call it and the undermining of our identifications by an ungraspable residue in objects. To see it otherwise, to imagine it caught in our phrases, is to know it without courtesy, and this is to perhaps not know it at all...The knowing of discrete things, these sandhills, the rose hollows, chokecherry tufts dark in snow, the deer, is a not-knowing of them, a humbling of the mind's workaday cravings for fixity, certitude" (13).

    This is of course to take nothing away from scientific knowledge or the quest to understand the world in a objective way. But perhaps when out in a forest, or when doing one's research, to stop once or twice a day and try this practice. I've found that one's re-cognition of the world is almost immediate, and that something deep opens up in the heart space.

    The other practice we learned many times at the ISE is to open up the chest and heart, and to put one's attention in this chest area. And then to encounter the world (we were mainly doing this with other humans, but I practiced outside with natural objects as well with the same potent results) with an opening and awareness that emanates from this area. It doesn't take long before you can feel a whole new type of (very energetic) connection to what you are opening yourself to in this way. I think the 'in love' relation is one in which you and the other start to become 'attracted' to each other, that is, a literal pull of connection towards.

    For some resources around the heart, and the new science being conducted around it, check out the HeartMath Institute:

    And an episode of Entitled Opinions on 'The Heart', where one of the guests has authored a new book on the Medieval conception of the heart, and she relays a lot of new science that's in line with Medieval conceptions (such as those of Dante, and Catherine of Sienna)(Program, Oct. 21/2008):

    And lastly, what would humans get from this new relation to the natural world? From my experience, a profound sense of wonder, an aliveness and at-homeness on the earth, and a living connection to the divine current that runs within all things. Not bad for a day out in the bush!! Thanks again for the inquiry, hope some of that might be helpful. :)

  • Comment Link Chloe Dierkes Saturday, 08 January 2011 23:39 posted by Chloe Dierkes

    Awesome Trev- thanks for the response. I really like the practice of not naming living things. I can imagine how coming from a place of not already knowing would open up a beautiful space for love to shine through. This is especially helpful for those coming from a science background like myself where life forms are understood by reducing them to their components and the overall organism's majesty is rarely appreciated.

  • Comment Link SarahO Sunday, 09 January 2011 04:43 posted by SarahO

    Wowzers. What a great conversation! I was with Trevor at ISE 2 and have yet to really absorb all the dialogue you all have been up to.

    Some beautiful insights.

    I particularly wanted to respond to Bergen's inquiry into the nature of love and it's relationship with feeling.

    Obviously I am just exploring this myself, but I really took a lot away from Marc Gafni's understanding of love as not a feeling, but actually a perception. This means that we can see the world through love and as love (it reminded me immediately of the Christian idea of transfiguration, or having transfigured eyes)...

    With this new way of understanding love, it actually becomes possible to "fall in love" with anyone you meet, a stranger even. If you are seeing with eyes of love, then love is everywhere. We actually did this practice with strangers several times at the conference, and it was extremely powerful.

    I hear the added complexity of what you said at the end of your comment though Bergen, that when you hold "love" in your awareness, it shifts and changes and becomes ephemeral. I can relate to this experience, to the indistinct and slippery nature of this love-perception. What I am coming to more and more though, is that it is a practice. Maybe if we open to love again and again, every day, the love-awareness-perception may begin to become a more permanent structure?

    Here's to finding out!

Login to post comments

Search Beams

Most Popular Discussions