"Mindfulness Practice isn't just about escaping to some magical inner realm devoid of life's challenges. The Practice is about calming your mind and opening your heart enough to engage Life directly, to be more fully Present in a kind, clear, and helpful way."

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call!

The Musings of a Long-time Student of Meditation

Saturday, November 7, 2020

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 other gurus, 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?  Why does the world appear to be going to hell in the proverbial hand basket? 

First of all, what many folks call love, the subject of myth, music, and Hollywood Movies -- isn't love.  Instead, what is pursued in the name of love is actually a form of desire, biological and 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 love that flows from the spiritual dimension.  True Love is the quality of consciousness that emerges from what the Buddhist Teacher, Pema Chodron, calls an Awakened Heart.  

Love is not the profound passionate graspings of deep attachment to the "other." 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 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.  Our innate ability to access 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. 
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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 afterwards.  The results will effect the thoughts, words, and actions of our daily lives.

These practices emerge from our basic human aspiration -- and innate ability -- to experience True Love.  That aspiration appears to be quite universal.  I've had numerous conversations over the years (quite a few in bars) with self-styled realists who don't consider themselves to be spiritual or religious at all, who express a deep longing for wholeness and connection.  That yearning emerges from our True Nature.  Acted upon, it's impetus carries us forward to experience the Real Deal.  (Some refer to that as Enlightenment, although I think that term is often misconstrued.)

Traditionally, the Brahmavihara Practices use silent mental recitations to capture these aspirations.
  (Perhaps, the most widely known phrase is "May all beings be happy.") 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. 
 
Although the traditional phrases can be used, I've found it 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 specific and relevant 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, 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.

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.   
 
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, there has been a deepening in my own ability to see that quickly, take a deep breath, relax, feel my heart -- and move into the next moment with greater kindness and ease.

It just takes Practice.  

May all beings know True Love.

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

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