I’ve never been able to define the word “Love.” To me, it’s like trying to define “God.” Some say that love is the opposite of fear, but I think they’re talking about that human kind of love, not the Love of the Divine. That kind of love has no opposite. Maybe by sharing an experience I had with Divine Love, you’ll feel its essence. And from that point, I could attempt a definition.
I was in my mid-20’s and living in Wisconsin, when I decided to check out a rock quarry that had been converted to a community “pool.” I used to swim for exercise while I was in college, and wanted to get back in shape. The quarry was free to residents, so I didn’t have to worry about a club membership, and it was only 15 minutes from where I was living. It was a big quarry, and there were at least seven lifeguards stationed around it. They sectioned off about half of the mini lake with a rope, and it was very deep. There were lots of people there that day, so I chose to work out by the rope where I could swim in peace.
I had been swimming for about 20 minutes, when I started to wear out and decided I would do my last lap. Just then, I caught a glimpse of frenetic activity. A group of kids were playing wildly, somewhat close to the area I was about to swim. I almost turned around, not wanting to get too close to the action, but a voice in my head told me to go on, and finish my last lap. As I swam closer to the commotion, I noticed a few kids tossing a small boy up in the air, back and forth, between each other. Then I heard the yells, and saw the frenzied arms waving toward the lifeguards. I realized they were trying to keep the boy above water, because he couldn’t swim; and they couldn’t swim well enough to save him. As I continued swimming, I took in the whole situation. The lifeguards didn’t notice, they perceived it as wild play, just like I had. Then from the beach, a woman suddenly jumped up, started screaming “My baby! My baby!” and spontaneously ran into the water, even though she couldn’t swim. Several of the lifeguards ran to her aid, but still didn’t understand the reason behind her erratic behavior. She wanted to save her son.
As she ran into the water, I wondered if I would be able to help this child. A split second later, he was tossed in front of me. How they ever got him out as far as I was, I’ll never know. It seemed an impossible distance. He immediately went under, and I quickly asked for inner wisdom. “God, do I leave my goggles on or take them off? Will I be able to see him? What should I do?” Just then, his small hand popped out of the water, and instantly I grabbed it. He had no energy left. Any panic he might have felt previously was completely and utterly drained. I wrapped his legs around my waist, his arms about my neck, and proceeded to swim the breaststroke. I kept my head and shoulders high out of the water, so his head wouldn’t go under. I never took a life saving class; I had no idea how else to hold him. I swam with an intent focus on the beach. I saw the lifeguards bringing the mother onto the beach and tending to her. I also discovered that not one lifeguard noticed me - or the boy. No one was coming to help.
With my body in a strenuous position, and having already done my big workout, I started feeling great fatigue. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. I got closer and closer to the shore, the goggles still on my face. Finally, a lifeguard approached, and only walked into the water until it reached his knees. I think the other kids that were trying to save the boy came to shore and got his attention. He yelled to me, “Do you have him?” “Are you okay?” I looked at him, wishing to God that my goggles were off, so he could see the desperation in my eyes. The exhaustion and fatigue were overwhelming. I couldn’t even shake my head ‘no.’ Although I was close, I was still over my head. What could I do? The only thing left was to show him that I needed help. I unwrapped the boy, took his arm and held him above the surface, while I relaxed my body and went under.
That’s when my world stood still. I sunk down into the silence of the water, and realized, “This could be it. I think this is the end.” A feeling of grace and gratitude washed over me. And something inside me rejoiced. I heard my own thoughts reverberate in my head. “My life is over, but I saved this young boy’s life! There was a purpose to my existence. Then I felt joy like never before. Nothing else mattered - none of the pain, none of the sorrow, none of the abuse I experienced as a child - it was all worth it. I was filled with such gratitude that there was a reason for my life. I was there to save that one life.
A great sense of peace washed over me. I was filled with love. This feeling came from every direction, surrounded me, and touched every cell of my being. There was no separation between the love and me.
Then suddenly, the weight was lifted from my arms, and I realized the lifeguard had taken the child away. My body sunk down further into the water, and the feeling of love engulfed me. My sense of peace was perfect. I didn’t want to move. I didn’t feel the need for air. I didn’t feel the need for anything. I gave up, released, and was in timeless suspension. I was drowning in love.
The pure state of bliss was interrupted by a voice within me that said, “You can go now. You can go to the shore.” My first response was, “Maybe I don’t want to.” Then after a few seconds, I felt a pull in my heart that made me paddle up to the surface, and take some big breaths of air. There, in the sunlight, I knew my life was changed forever.
A lifeguard came over and quietly thanked me. He said they didn’t see him – they had no idea the boy was out there. It was odd because once they had the boy, they had forgotten about me as well. But it didn’t matter. I was in a state of awe and wonder. It was a strange juxtaposition to be standing on that beach after the other reality I had just come from. Then I suddenly felt exhausted and knew I had to go home.
So back to the original question. How do I define love? Love is not limited to time or space. It is effortless, abundant and self-sustaining. It creates joy, peace and unimaginable bliss with absolutely no conditions. And when we completely let go of all resistance, and trust in our existence, then we recognize that love is the essence of who we are. Nothing else matters.
Here’s a link to a beautiful song that exemplifies this experience. It is one of only a few songs that I’ve recorded that I didn’t write. It was written by Pat Donahue, who is best known for playing guitar for Garrison Keillor on “Prairie Home Companion.”
"Drowning" written by Pat Donahue