Love and Awakening

posted in: Dharma Topics | 0

April 8, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Silver Spring, Maryland, community online on Thursday evening
April 9, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all online on Friday eveniing

Dear Still Water Friends,

In the mid-nineties, I attended many retreats at the Mount Equity Zendo in Pennsylvania. The teacher, Dai-En Bennage, had studied Zen in Japan for several decades, and had then lived a year at Plum Village studying with Thich Nhat Hanh. A day or so into a seven-day Sesshin, I had an interview with Dai-En. She asked how I was doing with my sitting practice. I responded that I was settling in, but that my mind was often distracted by replaying a disagreement with my wife. I told her that I hoped this distraction would soon fade away. Dai-En smiled and then with great warmth said: Mitchell, you have it wrong. Your disagreement with your wife is not separate from your practice. She is the face of the Buddha looking at you.

Hearing Dae-En’s words, I was immediately able to let go of my belief that I could separate my relationships (and conflicts) from my time on a cushion. For this insight and many others, I remain grateful to Dai-En for her support and informal mentorship.

I remembered the conversation this week as I was reflecting on the Third Mindfulness Training, True Love. Often our discussions of this training focus on sexual behavior or on the four aspects of true love: loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Rarely do we focus on the intersection of practice and our closest relationships, be they with life partners, parents, teachers, children, siblings, or dear friends. As the interview with Dai-En helped me see, our longing to find ease, joy, and engagement through mindfulness practice, and through our cloe relationships, is taking us in the same direction. Both encourage us to let go of our pseudo-selves and our defensiveness and and develop a more intimate relationship with ourselves, with others, and with the world.

As John Welwood explains in Love and Awakening: Discovering the Sacred Path of Intimate Relationships:

Most people in our society share a peculiar belief: We imagine that we should be able to establish a rich and satisfying relationship with someone we love even if we have never learned to relate to ourselves in a rich, satisfying way. We imagine that a successful relationship largely depends on finding the right person and doing the right things. We often don’t see that how we relate to another is an expression of how we relate to ourselves, that our outer relationships are but an extension of our inner life, that we can only be as open and present with another as we are with ourselves. …

As soon as we look beyond both duty and pleasure for a deeper meaning and purpose in relationships today, we start to move in the direction of the sacred, which we could define as coming into deeper connection with our true, essential nature, behind all our masks and facades.

Welwood was one of the pioneers who brought together Western psychology and Buddhist thought. In the 1960s he studied with Eugene Gendlin, of Focusing fame, receiving a Ph.D. in existential psychology, and studied and practiced with many Zen and Tibetan Buddhist teachers. In his eight books and many articles, he brings the traditions together, as in this excerpt from Love and Awakening on the importance of our full presence in a relationship:

Love inspires us to relax into the blessed flow of our being. That is why we value it so. What we most cherish with our loved ones are experiences of just being together. All our deepest, intimate moments are those in which we’re simply present— being ourselves, and sharing the richness of that with someone we love. Not so much being together as being together.

Our culture teaches us a great deal about having and doing, but very little about this kind of being. When we focus on a relationship as something to have, it becomes something to hold on to, a box with walls, rather than something vast and boundless. When we focus on relationship as something to do, it becomes busy and effortful which destroys its freshness and spontaneity. Beyond all the particular things two people have or do together, their deepest connection is the quality of being they experience in each other’s presence.

This Thursday and Friday evenings, after our meditation period, we will recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings, read excerpts from Love and Awakening, and focus our Dharma sharing on the interbeing between our mindfulness practice and our closest relationships. We will open the sharing with these questions in mind:

  • In what ways has mindfulness practice helped you to be more present in and deepen your relationships.
  • In what ways have the joys and conflicts in your closest relationships helped you to deepen your mindfulness practice?

You are invited to join us.

Below is an excerpt from Welwood on the difference between a heart and a soul connection, and also the text of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Third Mindfulness Training.

Warm wishes for peace and joy in every moment.

Mitchell  Ratner

Heart and Soul Connections
by John Welwood, from Love and Awakening: Discovering the Sacred Path of Intimate Relationships

Two kinds of deep affinity are essential for a conscious relationship. The first is a heart connection —  that quality of pure, open presence, being to being—which we experience most vividly when we are in love. A reliable indicator of a heart connection is the sense of warmth and nourishing fullness that we feel in another person’s presence.

A heart connection is a universal kind of love, which we can experience with anyone we feel open to, even a passing stranger. Yet it does not account for the special attraction we feel toward certain individuals with whom we sense a deep, unnameable resonance. This is the sign of another type of affinity, which we might call a soul connection.

A soul connection is a resonance between two people who respond to the essential beauty of each other’s individual natures, behind their facades, and who connect on this deeper level. This kind of mutual recognition provides the catalyst for a potent alchemy. It is a sacred alliance whose purpose is to help both partners discover and realize their deepest potentials. While a heart connection lets us appreciate those we love just as they are, a soul connection opens up a further dimension — seeing and loving them for who they could be, and for who we could become under their influence. This means recognizing that we both have an important part to play in helping each other become more fully who we are.

Someone who loves us can often see our soul potential more clearly than we can ourselves. When this happens. it has a catalytic effect; it invites and encourages dormant, undeveloped parts o f us to come forth and find expression. Indeed, we are often most strongly attracted to those who we sense “will make us live—and die— most intensely… Sister souls recognize each other,” as the French writer Suzanne Lilar points out. A soul connection not only inspires us to expand, but also forces us to confront whatever stands in the way of that expansion.

Soul, as I am using this term here, is not meant to indicate some metaphysical entity mysteriously inhabiting the body, but the unique, individual way that our larger being manifests in us, through us, as us. Soul is a way of speaking about the human element in us— that living sensitivity flowing deep within, often felt as a fluid yet definite sense of being oneself, a sense of inwardness, poignancy, or depth. In the words of the Sufi poet Rumi, soul is “a joy when kindness comes, a weeping at injury, a growing consciousness.”


Thich Nhat Hanh’s Third Mindfulness Training:

True Love

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. 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. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.