"And Jesus was a sailor When he walked upon the water And he spent a long time watching From his lonely wooden tower And when he knew for certain Only drowning men could see him He said "All men will be sailors then Until the sea shall free them." — Leonard Cohen, Suzanne Love is the revolution.
By “love” I mean loving kindness. There is a certain precious joy in knowing that loving kindness (or lovingkindness) isn’t contained or explained by any philosophy, religion or cultural paradigm.
Lots of folks associate the word “lovingkindness” with the metta of Buddhism, or with Jesus or Christ, etc. But it has been my calling to be utterly stripped of all religion in the usual sense of the word. I did identify as a Buddhist for a while. And I continue to draw water from that spring in my silly little tin cup.
But somehow, long ago now, I had become called deeply into a very radical wrestling match with Utter Mystery, and Utter Mystery won the match. I was pinned. I could not move. I was broken and shattered and defeated by the end of this wrestling match and I’ve basically been naked of religion ever since.
And ever since I can only feel the music — and dance to the music — of the sacred without knowing a damned thing about it. Other than this: everything is related.
All is relational. Relation is all. There is only relation. To fully enter into relation is to embody and enact lovingkindness.
We’re being called to stop holding back. This call — inevitably — is to revolution. Love is always revolutionary. It brings down empire. That’s what it does.
Look deeply enough into relation, into relatedness, and something paradoxical is revealed. There is no separation to be found anywhere. So what is it which is in relation? This is what, in Japanese Zen, would be called a koan.
The point of the koan is not to riddle or puzzle out the question using simple logic and reason, but to live the question down into your bones and breath, so that the question ultimately falters, drops down into laughter, crumbles into joy (or tears). Or both. (I just experienced both as I wrote these words.)
Relation is primary. That’s all I can say I know of what had been religion’s sacred, which was torn away from me as longing for “religious” knowing. We are fundamentally relational beings.
And when we know this in our breath and bones, and not merely in our thoughts, we are dwelling within the sacred. Even the holy.
I had always had religion’s longing in my bones, in my breath. But somehow I was drawn so deep into Utter Mystery that the mythic shape of the questions and longings of religion had nowhere left to live within my “soul”. And so my longing for Ultimate Knowledge of a religious kind simply broke. It stopped. It ended. It died.
The longing to give words to “spiritual knowledge” crumbled — and in doing so the sacred was revealed much too plainly to speak or to know, in the ordinary sense of “to know”. I’m telling you this only because the revolution lives in me. It lives in you too, but you may not yet know this—yet.
The revolution, lovingkindness, desperately wants to live in you — in your bones and breath. The revolution isn’t merely about lovingkindness. It literally is lovingkindness. (Love is a verb. It’s what we do.)
And the corollary is also true. Where there is at least a partial absence of lovingkindness, there is at least a partial absence of the revolution. What some of us are now calling the polycrisis is—every bit of it—a symptom of the absence of this revolution. Where there is insufficient lovingkindness. empire dwells.
Empire’s longing is for power, control, dominion, hegemony, dominance. Empire is the flight from relationship, from relatedness — from love.
While the revolution has begun, it has not yet flowered. It hasn’t yet freed us from bondage to empire and ruin.
Many who will read these words live within a culture in which the notion of “the sacred” is associated with a deity or deities, with a division of the world into “the natural” and “the supernatural”. All of this association, for me, fell away in the above-mentioned wrestling match. In that wrestling match, nothing remained of the idea of a supernatural realm, of deities, of gods, of spiritual longing for escape velocity into Another World.
This is how the sacred was laid bare for me. Naked. For me, this living world is utterly, nakedly sacred. I’ve been naked ever since. And while this is a great liberation, I can assure you, there have been steep, difficult prices to pay for living naked in this world of empire. It is damned hard to live here without religion while shocked awake by the shimmering, radiantly dark, naked presence of the sacred.
There is the flotsam and jetsam — the detritus, the wreckage. My ship of religious longing sank, and still something in me has the silly habit of reaching for something floating in the wreckage I can hold onto — some conceptual framing for the naked sacred and holy. I can find none. There is utterly nothing to hold onto.
But I’m telling you this only because of the naked fire of not knowing (a luminous darkness) which burnt the gilding from the lily—, which burned empires to the ground (of myself). Which stripped me of religious knowledge and longing. The empire which left this ruin we see around us, if only we have eyes to see.
What I do know is this. When the sacred undresses before us it reveals this very world, and no other. Does this sound erotic? Oh, it is. It isn’t the kind of eros found in pornography. The longing which is the essence of eros is the longing for the florescence of relational being — its ecstatic, wakeful surrender to lovingkindness as the only plausible basis for meaning, value, aliveness, … for human existence. All else is revealed as pathos, as suffering—, as a shit show of utterly grievous horrors — such as empire.
Love refuses empire. It replaces empire with lovingkindness, with gentleness, empathy, compassion, care. Love is relationship. All relationship is, in some weird sense, loving relationship. That is, not to be loving is not to be in relationship. It’s that plain. Nakedly plain. Empire is the refusal of love.
But we can only know this in the music of love, and in its dance. We cannot make scripture of it. I’m not offering here a doctrine. This is a poem—a prose poem. The purpose of poetry is to awaken us to the music and the dance of love. What other use might it have?
I’m saying all of this because while the revolution has begun, and it is everywhere being revealed, the empire of sleepwalking habit and refusal of real relationship is devouring the world, leaving ruin in its wake. And this has something to do with a certain kind of deafness and blindness to the sacred.
And I don’t think religion can provide us with much help with this. Not religion in any conventional sense. Not exoteric religion. Not institutional religion. But we can all go to these springs and fill our silly little cups. I’m not saying we can’t. Indeed, perhaps we must.
But when we taste that water we’ve been set up for a wrestling match. And it’s a match which we must lose. Let us pray that we lose the match!
But in the fires of this wrestling match there will be a savage darkness. The Goddess which is a relational being will undress. Her perfume will intoxicate you with longing.
You will burst into tears and laugh with the sacred at last. Love is naked. (Love is too big for any draping, any scripture, any myth or story).
Love is the revolution. The revolution is love.