An Experiment in Mystical Union

by Stephen and Ondrea Levine

stephen_ondrea_levine_origSince our youngest son left home we have been committed to a relationship experiment of considerable song and intensity. Having departed the town of Taos, in which we raised our three children, we moved thirty-five miles up into the vast pine and ponderosa forests of the northern New Mexico mountains. Living in near seclusion, with no phone and few distractions, we committed ourselves to an experiment in conscious connectedness. Other than an occasional visitor, there was little to interrupt our process, except perhaps for the “culture shock” a few times a year when we “went out” for a week to do workshops and lectures.

We had always imagined that when our children were grown and out in the world, we would intensify our practice. And when the conditions allowed this to occur, we settled on a piece of land with not another house to be seen within our sixty-mile vista to the snowcapped mountains. Outside the cabin, the night sky is as amazing as the mind; a perfect mirror—seemingly solid, constantly moving, unknown in origin but appreciated for its luminosity. And by the forest stream, a thousand shimmerings and light plays were seen—a hundred shades of green. The open sky of the Southwest is as blue as Krishna and as vast as the mind of Buddha. Everywhere we look is the artful product of Creation. A beauty so effortless and perfect that it made a recent visit to the Museum of Modem Art, a familiar haunt from my distant years in New York City, seem like walking through the corridors of a rag and paint shop. What hung from the walls was more invention than creation. Nothing to compare to a three-hun­dred-year-old ponderosa or a salamander surfacing to break Narcis­sus’ reflection on the pond. Sitting by the stream, looking toward the mountain just behind the house, we came to realize that the often-quoted statement “Buddha is the blue sky and the green grass” was not a metaphor. That which we call “mountain,” or label “consciousness,” is but a varying density of the same un­folding “nature.” What we recognize as “Buddha” are but aspects of a single suchness. And as we experience the essential nature of the mountain, of the sky, we experience our essential nature, as well.

When first contemplating this experiment in silence and seclu­sion, we projected romantic labels such as “meditation retreat.” But we soon discovered, with a sharpening of awareness and an ex­panding heart, that there was more to the process than even doing “spiritual practice.” What we really seemed to be about had little to do with what we knew, or even what we did, but was a deepening experience of simply what we are—beingness itself in all its distressing disguises. As much as it was a meditation intensive, it was also a relationship retreat, with a daily commitment to remain present. And in the moments we were ab­sent, to acknowledge that as well. And to rejoice, in the times we entered together the same level in the same moment, at what was a “coinci­dence of heart.” It was a commitment to try to awaken from the long dreams of forgetfulness, of self-betraying self-satisfactions and move beyond the awkward spasms of old mind fear. Connecting first with the mystery, and eventually in the mystery, we explored beyond fear, in the mind-body-spirit of the moment. Working daily in the laboratory of relationship, we were quite amazed when the fruits expected from extended periods of meditation began spontaneously to arise in simple silences and passing glances, filled with kind connectedness and the sparkle of the Beloved. Though our meditation practice was interrupted at times over the years due to illness or other factors, there seemed no diminishment of our process. The power, dynamics and profundity of extended periods of clarity and insight were unparalleled in our decades of formal practice. The yoga of relationship defined itself.

As our practice became more a simple resting in being, even the ordinary became quite extraordinary. Mindful of the last breath into sleep, mindful of the first breath on waking, we began to investigate lucid dreaming and do other dream-learning experiments. For example, during one period, we did not move from the position in which we awoke, but medi­tated on dream and waking states for between twenty minutes and four hours. The most common of experiences offered up the mys­tery, like exploring the body’s relationship to food, and food’s relationship to the process of life. We took on a “one bowl” practice where for months we ate only one bowl of food a day. During another experiment we ate the same meal daily for months, observing closely the process of eating. We contemplated the sacred which is eaten (and which eats). Sleep was at times like going to the Cave of the Sages and eating was like taking birth moment-to-moment.

But it wasn’t all heraldic trumpets and angels descending. Much of the grief that lay beneath the noisy ruminations of the mind presented itself. It was an opportunity for healing, an opportunity to meet our lives on many levels with little to interrupt or interfere with the natural unfolding of such healings. It wasn’t only the grief of the last fifteen years in which we worked as a team with the dying, but in this stillness could be heard subtler griefs—the griefs of a lifetime which now could safely express themselves in an ever-expanding quietude.

At times this grief, this unfinished business with ourselves, pre­sented a confusion of hearts. It was particularly noticeable during changing levels of consciousness when fear held the old and fragile security of previously successful strategies.

When we say we undertook an experiment in mystical union, we don’t in any way mean to reinforce the painful expectations of “mythical union.” We don’t mean to make it sound more compli­cated or easier than it is. Even in a growth-oriented, spiritual rela­tionship, there are times when a couple is out of sync—when we wondered if we shared a common language.

Growth experiences are sometimes very subtle or quite enormous. They occur as they will in various ways, at various times, each healing at its own rhythm and rate. Different energy movements, hearings, openings, or closings, can cause two individuals to momentarily communicate at different frequencies. A disattunement may occur as one partner breaks through one aspect while another is preparing their own great leap through hidden mind fields. The work to be done is painfully clear, and nothing but an attitude of mercy and awareness can do it.

These moments of disattunement were most often received by two hearts willing to go beyond old clingings and fears, which cultivated a gratitude and trust so inexplicably deep that confusion about each other’s essential intentions rarely arose. We experienced love expand naturally and without effort.

In writing about developing a mystical union we do not wish to mythicize relationship, but to demystify the depths available. Mys­tical unions grow from a shared appreciation of the mystery and a commitment to the co-evolution of consciousness. We have been together since the moment we met more than fifteen years ago, accompanied by an intense commitment and a load-bearing love beyond anything we had previously experienced.

We used to think that Franklin Roosevelt’s statement, “There is nothing to fear but fear itself,” was a remarkable insight. But then we came to discover there was nothing to fear even in fear. That it, too, was just more “passing show,” another boxcar in our train of thought. And fear turned from an instigation to escape to a re­minder to be present, for nothing was worth the separation or the guarding of hearts. We allowed fear its natural impermanence, neither clinging to it nor condemning it, but allowing it to float in something so much greater, the committed heart.

By the time we moved into the woods, our triangulation was well established. We had entered together at the heart level in the great joy of a harmonic love. It was the love of two beings sharing beingness, the love that knows the love beyond “knowing.” In these last seven years we have learned that whenever we are anything but the Beloved, our true nature, we suffer. Anything heavier than our original lightness is almost too much to bear.

The commitment to wholeness elevates relationship to mystical heights. When we expand from loving another being to the being­ness of love, alternatives for healing and insight arise—the healing becomes immense. Hope turns to confidence. Fear to fearless mindfulness. And joy, so absent in even some of the most remark­able beings, becomes a common condition. The heart opens be­yond the grieving mind. The lotus rises from dark waters.

Stephen and Ondrea Levine have devoted more than eighteen years to investigating the mind/body relationship, particularly as it relates to the states of healing, dying, and grieving. This is an excerpt from their new book Embracing the Beloved: Relationship as a Path of Awakening Copyright ©1995 Stephen and Ondrea Levine. Published by Doubleday. Reprinted with permission of the authors.  www.levinetalks.com