"Mindfulness Practice isn't just about escaping to some magical inner realm devoid of life's challenges. The Practice is about getting out of your head enough to engage each moment wholeheartedly. When we are Present in an open, kind, clear, and helpful way, the vast, mysterious, magical reality of life itself becomes self-evident .

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Love Love Love

"The moment we give rise to the desire for all beings to be happy and at peace, the energy of love arises in our minds, and all our feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness is permeated by love: in fact, they become love."
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, Teachings on Love

"All you need is love."
-- The Beatles

We have it on good authority.  Jesus and Buddha, as well as many of the myriad seers, sages and saints of the world's religions seem to agree with the Hippies -- and the Beatles.  In the final analysis: All you need is Love.  

That seems simple enough.

So, what's the problem? Why are so many folks suffering and why does the world appear to be going to hell in the proverbial hand basket? 

First of all, what many folks have learned to believe is love, the terrain of much music and Hollywood Movies -- isn't love.  Instead, what is presented as love is actually a form of desire, energetic attraction, and attachment.  This "love" has a lot more to do with fulfilling one's own ego needs for sex, security, status, and self-esteem than the quality of consciousness that emerges from what my favorite Buddhist Teacher Pema Chodron calls an Awakened Heart.  

Love is not the profound passionate grasping of deep attachment. True Love 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 JC, Buddha and others had in mind when they spoke of love, right?)  

True Love emerges, and is essentially inseparable from, Pure Being, the One Love that exists beyond the illusion of separation that characterizes the realm of relative reality.  Flowing from and returning to our Essential Oneness, True Love is our Heart's capacity for fundamental kindness, compassion, joy, and clarity.  It is there, always,  in our heart of hearts.  Our innate ability to access True Love is the 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 can be consciously cultivated.  Although, we may stumble into glimpses of Oneness through an intimate connection to "Otherness" in a romantic relationship -- especially in its initial honeymoon phase -- True Love is vaster than that.  It emerges from a fundamental choice to embrace Life itself, to let go of who we think we are and open our hearts and minds to the actual experience of the present moment.  

Although this can happen with the very next breath, 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.) True Love takes commitment, time, and effort.  Like any discipline, it takes effort, understanding -- and patience.  I hope to still be Practicing with my final breath.
Cultivating True Love

In the Brahmavihara Practices of Buddhism, True Love is presented as having four qualities: kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.  

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 the results will effect our thoughts, words, and actions in the course of our day to day lives as well. 

These practices emerge from our basic human aspiration -- and innate ability -- to experience the presence of true peace, happiness, and freedom.  That aspiration appears to be quite universal. I've seen that even those folks who aren't experiencing a lot of any of these positive qualities in their lives at the moment, can usually still get in touch with a deep longing, a yearning for these qualities to appear in our lives.  That yearning emerges from our Buddhanature.  It's impetus carries us toward wholeness and completion.  (Some refer to that as Enlightenment, although I think that term is often misconstrued.)

The Brahmavihara Practices use silent mental recitations to capture these aspirations in words as the primary object of meditation.  (Perhaps, the most widely known phrase is "May all beings be happy.") Although the specific techniques and phrases used to cultivate each of the qualities of True Love vary among the various traditions, generally a practitioner is instructed to begin with oneself (May I be...), then move to specific others, (May you be...), then move outward to all beings.  

In some traditions the instruction is detailed as moving from ourselves, to specific "loved ones", then friends, then neutral persons, then "enemies", then groupings of each, then move outward to encompass all beings.  Although the traditional phrases used can be useful to get an idea of the what has been used to specifically address each of the four qualities of True Love, I've found it quite helpful to put the aspirations into my own words as well, especially when I focus on someone who I know well.  I try to keep it real as I radiate the invisible energy of love to them.

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, some of one's attention is also focused on what actually occurs in one's body and emotions.  Although feelings of the 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.

Yet in the cultivation of True Love, our willingness to be present for the more troublesome feelings and resistances that may emerge, to hold them with some degree of 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 own challenging emotions before we can fully experience an open mind and open heart towards towards others.  

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.   

This practice works -- if you work it.

There are a multitude of  essays, books, articles, on the Brahmavihara Practices.   Most widely known in its form as Lovingkindness (or Metta or Maitri) Meditation, there are also numerous YouTube videos and guided meditations available through a simple search of the web as well.   An inveterate bookworm and practice geek, my own readings have taken me through Thich Nhat Hanh's Teachings on Love, B. Alan Wallace's The Four Immeasurables, Sharon Salzberg's Loving Kindness: The Revolutionary Heart of Happiness, and Pema Chodron's Awakening Loving-Kindness over the years.  Thich Nhat Hanh's True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart and found it quite helpful as well.  (I prefer to read these texts slowly, one chapter at a time.)
And in the End

"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." -- The Beatles

Papa and GrandBabe Keaton Izzy
Although a day doesn't pass without me noticing that I could have responded with more kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity to those around me time and time again, I do know that there has been a deepening of my own ability to see that, to understand how and why it happens -- and move into the next moment more easily with greater kindness and care.

It just takes Practice.  

May all beings know True Love.

(Here's a brief collection of phrases used in Brahmavihara Practice)


Don Karp said...

Thanks, Lance, for once again coming up with a doozie of a post!

As a teenager, I used to think "love" was a word to use in the back seat of a car when you wanted your date to spread her legs.

More recently, a friend introduced me to the work of Gay Hendricks. I now layer into my daily Vipassana meditation, this phrase: "I love myself unconditionally." I makes my meditation much deeper and more focused.

Unknown said...

This post was quite timely for me. Thank you Lance! I find myself quite challenged often when feelings of the goodwill just won't come forth when extending love to others who appear to be intentionally harming the world we live in. Thank you for sharing the teachings of Pema Chodron. Perhaps I can come to terms, first, with my own challenging emotions. I keep practicing and practicing more! Meditation is most definitely a journey.