Last month, I returned to France for the first time in several years, and one of the highlights of my trip was getting to browse my favorite French bookstore. As you can see from the photo, I didn’t leave empty-handed!
The top three titles in the pile are all by a fellow named Arnaud Desjardins, well-known in France for his almost 40 books on spirituality. His thought is a unique synthesis of Christianity and Eastern philosophy, particularly the teachings of Swâmi Prajnânpad, and even back when I was an atheist, I found his writing a breath of fresh air. One of the first lines of his I read–in the book Spiritualité: De quoi s’agit-il ?—said that the essence of spirituality is liberation. What a revolutionary perspective for me, who didn’t hear much about liberation in the Southern Baptist church where I grew up!
A few months after discovering Desjardins, I went through a severe personal crisis, and during that time I happened upon another of Desjardins’ books: Les Chemins de la sagesse. His advice to accept what is, to feel the pain and fear and then to let them go, was of great help to me in navigating that difficult time. In fact, his writing was so powerful, so rich with insight, that over the next six years I frequently returned to his work, often reading just a few sentences at a time and mulling them over.
When I returned to France last month, beside the bed in the apartment where I was a guest, I found another of Desjardins’ books. This one was called La Voie du coeur: the Way of the Heart. The title echoed the nature of the spiritual path I’ve been intuitively walking for these last seven years. And when I began reading the book, I found a wealth of confirmation of that path, as well as much that challenged me.
Few of Desjardins’ books are available in English, so for those of you who aren’t able to read his work in French, I want to offer you here what I found to be the most powerful insight of La Voie du coeur. In the second chapter, Desjardins writes,
Il est absolument–je dis bien, absolument–impossible d’atteindre le but tout en se réservant le droit de ne pas aimer qui que ce soit ou quoi que ce soit.
It is absolutely–I repeat, absolutely–impossible to reach the goal while reserving for oneself the right not to love some particular person or thing.
The goal he’s talking about is Enlightenment, in the Buddhist sense of freedom from suffering. We can’t get there, Desjardins says, unless we are willing to love everything and everyone.
Desjardins briefly describes some of his own personal history, how at one time his desire to advance spiritually led him to avoid people and things that he thought of as not spiritual enough or enlightened enough. He says he only read a certain kind of book, only wanted to see certain kinds of artwork, only sought out a particular kind of architecture, until he found himself incapable of being interested in anyone who didn’t think like he did. Fortunately, he eventually realized that spirituality was just an excuse he was using to reject anything he didn’t like!
It’s easy, Desjardins says, to become so busy rejecting other beliefs or practices or people that we lose sight of the fact that true Enlightenment means acceptance, and indeed love, of All That Is. Whatever is happening to you right now, whoever you’re surrounded by and whatever your current situation may be, that is the situation that Heaven has currently chosen to aid you on your journey. It doesn’t mean you have to stay in that situation indefinitely, nor that you can’t extricate yourself from abuse. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t work for positive change in the world, nor that you shouldn’t stand up to injustice. But when you find yourself in a difficult situation that for the moment you are unable to change, instead of hating it, instead of wasting energy fighting it internally, try accepting the situation in love. If you find yourself there, it’s because that situation has something to teach you, however painful or annoying the process of learning may be. And until you have accepted its gift, you’ll find it coming back to you again and again.
Desjardins quotes a saying from the Upanishads: “sarvam kalvidam brahman.” In Sanskrit, this means, “The entire universe is Brahman.” Everything in this world is of God. Even the things that seem awful or evil. Those, too, have a place in your journey to liberation. If they didn’t, God wouldn’t have allowed them there.
The greatest challenge of life is learning to see all things through the eyes of God. The eyes of Love.