Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of: September 3, 2007

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The Stages of Love

When we think of will, we think of will power, of making decisions and following through, of standing up for our principles, of determination, responsibility, and focused attention. When we think of love, we think of an emotional relationship. Will and love seem so different and unrelated. Yet these two, will and love, could not be closer. The highest form of will is love. And the truest form of love is the union of wills in the Divine Will. But from our starting point to that highest form, we may encounter the nine stages of love.

Love is not just as state of being, as in “being in love.” In fact to reach the state of “being in love,” we engage in a process of loving actions. We open ourselves from within. Opening to love is a series of acts of will. Each stage of love requires a particular act of will, a particular willingness. The acts of will leading toward love involve progressively moving beyond our egoism, beyond our utter self-centeredness.

Though assuredly interrelated, the stages of love need not be sequential: in one day we may live several of them, depending on who we are with, our inner state, and our intention. The following description does not represent the process of falling in love, e.g., meeting, fascination, infatuation, encountering difficulties, and so on. Rather, it describes the qualities and levels of willingness to love, the stages of the will to love.

1. Noticing: The first, preliminary, and rudimentary stage of love is simply to notice the other person. Often we are so preoccupied with our own issues that we do not even notice the people around us. Without noticing the person, no relationship can exist. This first step of noticing, however, is a shallow one: noticing the surface, noticing their body, noticing the person as a body. But at least we notice them.

2. Seeing the Humanity: When we walk along a crowded sidewalk, we may notice all the many people but regard them as mere obstacles to our path. We can notice people in the same way we might notice a life-size cardboard cutout of a person: two-dimensional and devoid of life or value. But to see someone as a person, to see their living, breathing humanity brings us to the threshold of real relationship. This moves our perception of the person from outside toward inside, from surface toward depth. The person is no longer just a body.

3. Tolerance: We may notice someone and see them as a person, but not like what we see. The reasons for not liking him or her can span a wide gamut from ethnic, racial and religious prejudice to fear, jealousy, disgust, contempt, boredom, squeamishness or a simple difference in type. Whatever the reason may be, disliking someone puts up a barrier to love. We may not be able to drop our dislike, but we may be able to drop the barrier nevertheless. We do this by actively working within our heart-mind to tolerate the person despite our reaction to him or her. We focus on their humanity, rather than on the qualities or manifestations that we dislike. We allow ourselves to live with our dislike and rejection as a background, while letting the other’s personhood rise to the foreground of our awareness.

4. Equality: After we can tolerate people, the next step toward love involves respecting them as our equal, in terms of innate value. If you consider yourself to be above or below, more important or less important than another person, you create an insurmountable barrier. Dropping that barrier brings us closer. But to even recognize the barrier of subjective inequality requires a fair degree of self-awareness, a quality developed through spiritual practice, through meditation and presence. When we realize that we do not respect another person as our equal, the practice of equality calls us to be willing to drop that attitude and regard the other as our equal, in the eyes of the Sacred. This brings the possibility of friendship.

5. Sameness: The practice of stillness, wherein our thoughts, emotions, and intentions become relatively quiescent, ushers us into the great hall of silence, our vast and pristine consciousness itself, without boundaries. From that state we recognize that this cognizing stillness pervades all and, in particular, other people as well our self. So we come to see the stillness within the other person and perceive that their inner stillness is the same as ours, their consciousness is the very same substance as ours. Living in the stillness, we directly feel and see the sameness that we share with all people.

6. Acceptance: Seeing the sameness that we share with others, brings us to the point of accepting other people as they are, without reservation. We drop our inner objections and let the person be. We may still, when appropriate, try to help them grow, but we do so from a state of complete acceptance of who they are, as they are.

7. Empathy and Compassion: Standing in our shared sameness and accepting people as they are, carries us to the threshold of empathy and compassion, whereby we allow others’ joys and sufferings to touch us directly. We willingly enter the experience of other people, celebrating their successes and suffering their setbacks. This is the place of heartfelt prayer and charitable acts for others’ welfare. The walls of separation grow thin and ready to evaporate.

8. Local Unity: In unity we dissolve the bonds of self-centeredness to merge with another. We wish for the other what they wish for themselves. The other’s joys and suffering become our own. We become the other: separate bodies, separate experience, but one, unified, shared will. The paradigms of local unity include true marriage and the parent-child relationship. If we can love one person unselfishly, then we can learn to love others as well.

9. Global Unity in God: The ultimate level of love opens us to the deepest truth of unity, wherein the realization dawns that all of us human beings are children of our Common Father. The Divine Will is one, but differentiates like white light through a prism into the unique rays that form the core of our personal individuality. Trace our will back to its Source and you find the One Will from which we all arise. In that Source we have our global unity. Our individual uniqueness achieves full-flower in our participation in the Great Uniqueness, in the Great Heart of Love.

All these stages apply not only to our relationship with others, but also to our relationship with our self. To notice someone else, we also need to notice our self. To tolerate or accept another, we need to tolerate and accept our self. To enter unity with another, we need to unify our self.

Our spiritual path is a path in love, toward love. Love suffuses each stage of love. Whichever of these stages we enter with a particular relationship, it is love. Whether the first or the ninth, it is love. While we aspire to deepen our love, that aspiration is itself love.

In the coming weeks we can delve deeper into the stages of love. For this week, bear in mind the whole spectrum of love. See what points on that spectrum characterize your encounters with people.

May the Sacred Source of Love touch us all.


The Stages of Love Inner Work Series:

Seeing the Humanity





Empathy and Compassion

Local Unity

Global Unity in God


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