By Pranada Comtois
I treasure Black-eyed Susan’s cheerful orange-yellow glow. They have a fire for life but not without graceful countenance. Spritely, joyful Susan’s deserve larger vases. When I must discard my yellow bundles of love, I put them in the dirt on both sides in the front of the house. They seed themselves. They grow themselves from their own deaths. I’ve got a garden of them thriving.
There’s another garden I’m giving special attention to: my friends and family and complete strangers. Every day I turn myself over to the practice of unconditionally loving. This takes practice and rigorous practice, at first. I don’t always feel loving, and people, family included, can be absolutely impossible at times.
Actively cultivating unconditional devotional love for my Divine Other, the Supreme Person, makes it possible to tend to other relationships. See, I found out that no material relationship makes me whole, and unless I’m whole I can’t love unconditionally. I learned the secret to giving unconditional love—and not be drained or degraded by my offering—is to make developing love of God my central relationship. In that relationship (as one friend likes to say) “giving is receiving; the giving is getting.” When I’m hooked up to my unlimited Giving Source, I find the ability to extend unconditional love to others.
Once I decided that my life’s work and joy is to develop unconditional spiritual love, or bhakti, I’ve found that it seeds itself, sprouts up from fear (and strangles it), and returns love to me unbounded.
We have tremendous potential for spiritual development in our relationships. Do we believe this? If we look at the state of family in America, we might suspect our collective answer has to be “no.” Do we care about the state of family in America? Enough to change ourselves?
After looking at statistics below, if you had to rate it honestly, how would you rate the health of family in America?
Awful, Poor, Fair, Good, Great?
Divorce rate holds firm at 50% for many years, with more than 2 million couples marrying every year. One million marriages coming to an end every year means emotional turmoil for 2 million people and their families.
Most everyone either knows the emotional and relational costs of divorce or experiences pain as they grapple with evaporating dreams.
Divorce isn’t the only familial ill in America (or elsewhere).
As you read the numbers below please don’t read too fast. Allow yourself to remember that each number refers to a human being.
Every day 4 to 7 children die from abuse and neglect right here in our country. This number doesn’t take into account the fact that 50%, or more, of children’s deaths due to maltreatment are not listed as such on the death certificate. 70% of these children are under 2 years old.
More than one in four children live in a single parent home, or 24 million children. 408,000 children were in foster care in 2010, but it should be noted that closer to 600,000 move in and out of foster care during the year.
Every day more than 3 women are murdered by their partners. About 1.3 million women are victims of physical violence by their partner every year. Nearly 7.8 million women have been raped by their partner at some point in their lives.
Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. Studies suggest that up to 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually.
Whenever I listen to the news or hear depressing things like these statistics about the state of family in America, I feel overwhelmed. What can I possibly do to help change the suffering in the world? What’s really frustrating is I usually answer, Not much.
But I can change what’s happening in myhome, in my heart. I can change how I relate to my friends and colleagues. I can change how I behave in relationships and I can do it today.
Guy Finley writes, “How do we illuminate our relationships at home, in our workplace, wherever we are? What must we do to enlighten this murky world of ours that staggers under the weight of its own shadows? We must cease being an unconscious part of its darkness.”
I see myself and others as a spiritual individual and contemplate how we’re eternally interconnected in relationships.I can choose to act with each person, event, and my environment in a manner that honors and energizes how I want to express myself in my personal relationship with my Divine Other. I design my relationship and establish the tenor of my relationship with divinity by choosing how I act in each circumstance now.
Let the numbers remind us; let the human beings remind us; let our loved ones remind us: we can choose to love unconditionally.
We can do so without self-neglect by recharging ourselves through daily practices of loving exchange with our Divine Source, the reservoir of love.
Pranada Comtois is a devoted pilgrim and author of Wise-Love: Bhakti and the Search for the Soul of Consciousness,which has received four industry awards in spirituality and body/mind/spirit. She is a featured speaker in the film “Women of Bhakti.”