“In order for me to become a vessel, to be used, I had to have my attachments broken. You can’t be a true vessel if you’re attached. You have to be emptied out.”
—Julia Butterfly Hill
The idea of becoming a vessel, or conduit, for selfless love to flow through you into the world is part of many spiritual teachings. To be of service in this way can become one of the highest aspirations for those on a deeply committed spiritual path. Julia Butterfly Hill, who spent two years living in the branches of a 1500-year-old redwood tree to prevent it from being cut down, has described her own preparation for this dedicated act of service. She let go of all physical attachments in terms of possessions, but then Mother Nature emptied her of everything else in a fierce wind/rain storm that brought her face to face with the possibility of her own death. She was “emptied out” for the task ahead.
We may not all be called to such courageous actions, but more and more I believe we are called to be fully present in our lives in the most loving way possible. When your heart is open, you can touch the hearts of all those around you. Love is the greatest act of service imaginable. It doesn’t necessarily take physical stamina or facing death, but it may require you to let go of attachments that keep the energy of love from flowing freely. Ones you may not even be conscious of. Like attachments to particular outcomes or to controlling how things occur. This requires letting go at the deepest level. And often the letting go itself is beyond your control. Perfectly designed that way.
I have written previously about my move to Florida and my expectations about how it would unfold in terms of being of spiritual service there. God presented me with a framework, and then proceeded to take it apart piece by piece. Nothing I had planned on came to pass. And as things fell away, I felt at times lost and abandoned by spirit. Yet that same spirit kept me going, showed me light in the midst of my inner darkness—and the beauty of Nature everywhere. At the end of more than a year of being emptied out, I finally saw that this was exactly what was meant to happen. I had asked to be of service, to be a vessel, over and over in my prayers. I couldn’t be that when I was full of expectations and ideas about what that meant. Surrender means completely letting go and just being peacefully present, without attachments, for whatever arises.
Then the “storm” of COVID arrived, within which we each encountered our own possible death (like Julia). At that point, I could see that all I had just been through had prepared me for emptying out and letting go even further into acceptance and peace. There was nothing I could do about stopping this pandemic. I saw that what I could do was remain peaceful and loving every day, through meditation, writing, and connections with individuals around the world online or in my own neighborhood who were holding this same space of peace and love. The “invisible” network that the Internet provides has helped many of us find support when feeling isolated and alone during this time. It has shown us how we are always connected in our hearts.
We all do what we can in our lives—and the greatest gift we can offer is in being who we are deep inside: compassionate, peaceful human beings. COVID has compelled us to look inward, to meet our own souls, maybe for the first time. From the soul’s perspective, there is no necessity for trying to control what happens or doesn’t happen. Within the soul, there is only loving-awareness. When life empties you out of all external activities and aspirations, you come home to that wisdom within you. The wisdom that shows you that in emptiness is peace and space for the love in your heart to flow freely to all those who cross your path. This is what it means to become a vessel, a conduit, in the world. Perhaps yet another of COVID’s hidden blessings.