-- Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love
That seems simple enough.
True Love is not limited to the profound passionate graspings of deep attachment to the "other." It is much grander than that. (It's pretty clear that "I love you so much that I'll kill anyone who looks at you, then you, then myself." is not exactly what J.C., Buddha and the others had in mind when they spoke of love, right?)
True Love emerges, and is essentially inseparable from the One Love that exists beyond the illusion of isolation and separation that we've been conditioned to experience. Flowing from and returning to our Essential Oneness, True Love is experienced as the open heart's capacity for kindness, compassion, joy, and clarity. It is a Presence experienced directly when you are truly Present in the moment with an open heart and a clear mind. True Love is the our ultimate connectivity.
Unlike the common contemporary understanding that views love as something that someone just "falls into," in the Buddhist tradition, human love is seen as a quality of heart, a mode of consciousness that can be consciously cultivated. Although, we may stumble into glimpses of Oneness through an intimate connection to "the other" in a romantic relationship -- especially in its initial honeymoon phase -- True Love is vaster than that. It emerges from a fundamental choice to open our hearts and clear our minds, to embrace Life itself. It involves the willingness to let go of who we think we are, lay aside our agendas, and get it touch with our experience of the present moment as it is.
Although we may get glimpses of this again and again, the process of actually becoming a loving person generally doesn't just happen. It is a Practice. Erich Fromm characterized it as an art in his classic work, The Art of Loving. Like any discipline, the cultivation of True Love takes commitment, time, effort -- and patience.
Cultivating True Love
Known as the Four Immeasurables (or Divine Abodes, Sublime States), each of these qualities of the heart can be explored and developed in deep and lasting ways on the meditation cushion, and afterwards. The results will effect the thoughts, words, and actions of our daily lives.
Traditionally, the Brahmavihara Practices use silent mental recitations to capture these aspirations. (Perhaps, the most widely known phrase is "May all beings be happy.") In some traditions, these words become the primary object of meditation. The specific techniques and phrases used to cultivate each of the qualities of True Love vary among the various traditions.
In some traditions the instruction is to begin with oneself, then move outward to specific loved ones, then friends, then neutral persons, then "enemies," then groupings of each. Finally, the scope expands to encompass all beings. Other teachers, especially here in the West where "self-love" appears to be more challenging than in Asia, advise practitioners to begin with a benefactor or loved one whose image naturally evokes feeling of love and care. Once you've primed the pump, you can return to holding yourself in the gaze of this kind and caring awareness.
These mental recitations are not the same as affirmations or self-hypnosis. Although a major part of one's attention is focused on the statements that articulate one's aspirations, our inner gaze can be expanded to what actually occurs in our body and emotions. Although feelings of goodwill may immediately emerge, they may not -- especially in cases where one is attempting to extend kindness and compassion to those who we find challenging -- especially ourselves!
Yet, in the cultivation of True Love, I've found it's best to "keep it real." Our willingness to be present for the troublesome feelings and resistances that may emerge, to hold them with gentleness, kindness and compassion is a means, in itself, of cultivating an open heart towards ourselves. This is crucial. In fact, in the teachings of Pema Chodron the message is loud and clear: we must first cultivate unconditional friendliness toward our ourselves, towards our own challenging emotions, before we can fully experience an open mind and open heart towards others. (Tonglen, a related technique, is very helpful in this. See Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call: Taking It To Heart)
Over time, the focus and concentration involved with staying with the mental recitation of the phrases, bears fruit. The dedicated "time on task" of being present for the entire experience, including the more challenging feelings that emerge will have its own effect in establishing a calmer, kinder, more compassionate, and more spacious quality of mind.
These practices work -- if you do the work.
There are a multitude of essays, books, articles, on the Brahmavihara Practices. Most widely known in its form as Loving Kindness (or Metta or Maitri) Meditation, there are also numerous YouTube videos and guided meditations available through a simple search of the web as well.
|Papa and GrandBabe Keaton Izzy|
It just takes Practice.
May all beings know True Love.
(Here's a brief collection of phrases used in Brahmavihara Practice)