Embodying True Love

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Thursday Evening Online Program

May 12, 2022, 7:00 to 8:45 pm Eastern Time

Dear Still Water Friends,

A warm belated Happy Mothers’ Day to all mothers and all who care for and nurture others.

This Thursday evening, after our meditation, we will recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus our discussion on the Third Training. In its original formulation, the Third  Mindfulness Trainings encouraged lay disciples of the Buddha to refrain from sexual activity with inappropriate partners, such as those who were underage or committed to others. Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay), in his rewriting of the training for modern times, imbued the training with a larger vision that encouraged the cultivation of true love. His third training, which he titled True Love, reads in part:

Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy, and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others.

This past Sunday, Mothers’ Day, I was moved by Michelle Singletary’s tribute to her godmother. (Singletary writes the weekly Color of Money column for the Washington Post.) She explains that early in her life her mother had left her and her four siblings in the care of her maternal grandmother. The Rev. Lois Bethea-Thompson came into her life when she was hospitalized as a child with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis:

She was the director of the physical therapy department at Provident Hospital in Baltimore. My legs were so weak from the disease that I needed daily physical therapy to help regain my ability to walk. When Lois heard that my mother was in my life irregularly and that I was being raised by my grandmother with four other siblings, she claimed me as her goddaughter.

True love shines through Singletary’s descriptions of the ways Lois nourished her and helped her bloom, and also in Singletary’s responses to Lois’s care giving:

  • Lois taught me how to live without financial fear. She was a Black entrepreneur who prospered running her own physical therapy practice in an industry that was rife with discrimination. She exposed me to a world wholly different from the low-income childhood I experienced.
  • Lois collected people, adding to her life’s mission the care of anyone who could benefit from some extra mother love and attention.
  • The way she cared for folks inspired me to follow her lead. When my husband and I purchased our first home, we intentionally opted for more space to accommodate family members who might need a place to stay. We’ve had several long-term residents, throughout our ownership of three homes.
  • What I will remember most is how Lois showed up for everything — graduations, my kids’ plays, certificate ceremonies, music recitals, and when I would do financial workshops at my church.
  • As parents, we often think our children need so many material things. But Lois, whose love language was giving, also understood that being present meets children’s needs in ways that money can’t buy.
    I’m a better mother because of Lois. I enjoy the fruits of my labor more because of Lois. This Mother’s Day, I’ll weep without her presence because it was exactly that — her being present — that helped me lead a more fulfilling, less fearful life.

 Singletary’s full article is more expressive than my brief description — it is well worth reading. It is available on the Washington Post website and also available as a PDF on the Still Water website. Her portrait of the Rev. Lois Bethea-Thompson reminds me of the lay practitioner Vimalakirti, the hero of the an early Mahayana Sutra. Like Vimalakirti, she was a lay person, and also, seemingly, a highly realized person who fully embodied true love.

This Thursday evening, after our recitation of the trainings, we will share our experiences with true love:

  • Has there been someone in your life who has nourished you and taught you how to cultivate true love? How did they do it?
  • What encourages you to grow your love? What discourages you?
  • What emotions and thoughts arise in you when you reflect on Michelle Singletary’s relationship with her godmother?

Three related excerpts from How to Love by Thay are below.

Warm wishes.

Many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner

Three Excerpts From How to Love by Thich Nhat Hanh

Recognizing True Love
True love gives us beauty, freshness, solidity, freedom, and peace. True love includes a feeling of deep joy that we are alive. If we don’t feel this way when we feel love, then it’s not true love.

Love Is Expansive
In the beginning of a relationship, your love may include only you and the other person. But if you practice true love, very soon that love will grow and include all of us. The moment love stops growing, it begins to die. It’s like a tree; if a tree stops growing, it begins to die. We can learn how to feed our love and help it continue to grow.

Shining the Light
When we love someone, we should look deeply into the nature of that love. If we want to be with someone so that we can feel safe, that’s understandable, but it’s not true love. True love doesn’t foster suffering or attachment. On the contrary, it brings well-being to ourselves and to others. True love is generated from within. For true love to be there, you need to feel complete in yourself, not needing something from outside. True love is like the sun, shining with its own light, and offering that light to everyone.

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