With the holidays approaching, its got me thinking about love - the verb, the practice of love. I think of love as the feeling of gratitude for one’s self and for others. In his book How to Love, Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk from Vietnam, describes Love as having 4 key features:
Brotherhood/Friendship (maitri): Often poorly defined as loving kindness, maitri, in Sanskrit, means love on an equal basis. When we love, we maintain our freedom, and we help to maintain the freedom of our beloved. Our love should not impose limitation on another, but should involve complete acceptance of the other as a whole. This concept must first be applied towards ourselves and is often discussed along the Soul Minded journey. Learning how to be kind, soft, and gentle towards our own heart is challenging because many have been taught to do just the opposite. Many have been taught that self-love is actually selfish, and that we should put others ahead of ourselves. Many practice self-talk which is harsh, critical, and shaming. Maitri is something that must be cultivated through understanding without judgement. Begin the practice of maitri by spending time, with your beloved. Listen with the aim of deep understanding of another without the filter of your judgement: Seek to understand their hopes and desires. Seek to understand who they are on a deep level. Imagine you are meeting your beloved for the first time, and listen with openness. We can also apply this to ourselves by simply paying attention to your own internal voice: Am I mean to myself? Am I critical? Am I judgmental? Observe your findings as though you are a person observing someone else. Then see about softening your approach.
Compassion (karuna): The capacity to understand suffering, and to help remove and transform it. We all have difficulties; we all have suffering – which is essential to living. By having compassion, and understanding another person’s suffering, you can help to release it. Similarly, we must first have compassion and understanding towards ourselves. If we do not have the ability to have compassion for another, then we can never develop a true love for another. If we cannot seem to understand another, it is because we do not understand ourselves deeply enough. It is important to understand that compassion for another person’s suffering is very different than actually suffering with them, we must not attach to another person’s story or suffering, or “get in the grave with them.” All that is needed in order to help is to understand without judgment. Many of us misstep here and actually fall into suffering with our beloved because of the guilt or discomfort that arises within us when we see our beloved struggling. It is very important to understand that we cannot help another release their suffering if we are also suffering along with them – simply seek to understand them without any attachment, and compassion will rise.
Joy (mudita): Shared joy. True love cannot exist without joy. When we see our beloved happy, it should evoke sympathetic joy within your own heart. We must be able to offer joy to one another. There must be a willingness to offer joy to our beloved, and again this must first be cultivated within ourselves first. We can begin the practice of cultivating self-joy by simply doing something to evoke your smile on a daily basis. This can be something as simple as dancing in the kitchen, doing a cartwheel, or blowing a bubble with bubble gum. Any small act which lightens the heart and evokes a smile can be the first step. When you know how to generate joy within yourself, it is nourishing for everyone.
Equanimity (upeksha): Perhaps, the most important component of love, upeksha means non-discrimination. In Sanskrit, upa means ‘over’ while “iksha” means ‘to look.’ To overlook in love, means to love without judgement. To love without discrimination, to love without limits, means your heart loves openly and inclusively. It is the ability to love immensely, and embrace everything. No matter our skin color, or religion, or political view, no matter our opinion, or practices – upeksha seeks to love endlessly. When we are able to love with that capacity, we have the ability to handle anything that comes into our lives, without suffering because nothing can happen that we are incapable of handling when we have the capacity to love with equanimity.
All 4 qualities can be cultivated every day because these 4 qualities have no limits. Infinite love is possible, but only when the practice is directed first towards one’s self. This is vital to understand. We have been taught to seek love and happiness outside of ourselves but, we have the capacity to have love and happiness right now by looking within. Begin your practice of self-love by waking up every day and looking in the mirror and simply saying “I love you” to yourself. Hold your harsh and judgmental thoughts in the arms of your love and gentle kindness and speak lovingly to them, correcting them my reminding them that – we are all on a journey.
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