Dear Still Water Friends,
This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, I would like to explore with the community two linked notions:
- When we are established in mindfulness, we are nourishing our capacity for true love.
- When our words and actions are motivated by love, we are nourishing our capacity for mindfulness.
Let me begin with what mindfulness and love mean to me.
Mindfulness is a set of practices that helps me focus my attention on the present moment. I become more aware of what I am experiencing. I become aware of what is going on outside of me, and also, what is going on inside of me. When I eat a peach, I am aware of the smell, taste, texture, sight, and sounds associated with each bite. And I also become aware of my internal energies and mind states
To some degree mindfulness is inevitable. As long as I am breathing, I somewhat aware of my experiences. However, with practice such as sitting and walking meditation, and through mindfulness in daily life, I can deepen my mindfulness. I am more present. My mind is less likely to quickly take me from experience to thoughts and distractions.
Mindfulness creates a felt sense of connection. When I establish my mindfulness, I feel more alive. I feel more a part of the stream of life. It is a pleasant, satisfying feeling. It is not like an ordinary pleasure or happiness. It feels deeper and calmer.
When I am mindful, my mind is more expansive. There is less focus on “I, me, and mine.” There is more awareness that each precious passing experience is a node of an interconnected chain of events that began long ago and will continue into the future. I am so much more than the I of my conventional self-identity. And when this awareness is present, mind states such as kindness, patience, gratitude, generosity, and compassion arise.
In our culture, it is often confusing to talk about love, because there are so many different meanings and experiences associated with the word. It has been especially difficult for me, because my earliest memories of the word "love" are of it being requested or demanded from me. As a child I was told that I should love certain people, such as older relatives, who I didn’t see very often and didn’t experience as being very interested in or kind to me. I should tell them I love them. I should act as if I loved them, though I didn’t really know how to do that, even if I wanted to. And I was told I was selfish if I didn’t do as I was told.
Later, in my teens and young adulthood, in relation to people my own age, I implicitly developed a notion of love as a fair exchange. “I’ll be nice to you, if you are nice to me. I’ll take care of you, if you will take care of me.” Slowly, over time, other images of love entered my consciousness. When I was twenty years old, a retired Congregational minister who had befriended me explained to me the difference between Eros, romantic or sexual love, and Agape, selfless love.
When I was 25, my son was born. It seemed as if an unexpected hormonal change had come over me. I felt a tremendous caring and a desire to protect him that had nothing to do with a fair exchange.
Later, my Buddhist teachers helped me understand that true love could be something we offer, without expectation of reward. Our reward is in the giving. For me, this attitude toward love is well summed up in the Prayer of Saint Francis, written by an anonymous French priest and printed in 1912 . In part it reads:
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
In recent years I’ve come to realize that not only does mindfulness increase my capacity to love, but the reverse is true as well. Each time my words and actions are motivated by gratitude, generosity, kindness, compassion, and other faces of love, I incrementally lessen my unconscious attachment to a self separate from the rest of creation. I am able to let go of insecurities and cravings for recognition. It becomes easier to establish myself in mindfulness.
This Thursday in our Dharma sharing, we will begin by sharing the ways mindfulness and love are linked in our histories and experiences. You are invited to be with us.
In addition, you are invited to join us this Thursday for a brief newcomer’s orientation to mindfulness practice and the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.
In the Q and A excerpt below, Thich Nhat Hanh advises a young woman looking for love.
Wanting To Be Loved, And To Love
From a question and answer session with Thich Nhat Hanh on June 6, 2006
Student: I am a little embarrassed to tell you about my problem. What concerns me is the pain that I feel from wanting to share my life with someone, but not having a partner to do this with. The ache of this pain is so deep that it sometimes physically hurts. At the same time, I remind myself about how fortunate I am to have wonderful friends and family. But not having a partner makes me very sad. I don’t know what to do with this feeling of loss I have. I don’t know what to do with the heart ache.
Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh): This fear is always with us—-that our desire to love and be loved will not be fulfilled. That we will be left lonely. Everyone one of us want to love and be loved. But we are afraid we will not have a chance to love and be loved. We need to recognize this need within ourself. Our practice is to look deeply into this kind of fear, this kind of need.
To love is to offer understanding and comfort. Yes, we do feel miserable if no one understand us. Because when someone does not understands us, he or she can’t love us. Understanding is the proof of love. You can’t say he loves me, but does not understand me. This does not make sense. Without understanding love is impossible.
We are looking for some one who can show us that they understand and love us. Suppose there is such a person. But first we have to ask the question: whether we are capable of generating understanding and love? Are we capable of offering them what they need and what we need? This is the real important question. If we are not capable of generating understanding and love, nothing will happen.
The teachings of the Buddha are to help us generate the energy of understanding and love. And if we can produce that energy we will first be able to help ourself. And with this capacity for understanding and love we can embrace the people who are with us now. We can make them happy while at the same time we make ourself happy. Because the energy of understanding and love is a very positive energy which has the capacity to nourish, heal and bring happiness.
So the question is not whether there is understanding and love around us, but do we have the capacity to generate the energy of understanding and love. If we can, then maybe we can make everyone our partner. This is the love of the Buddha—-to want everyone to be your partner. True love is like that.
When you love one person, it is an opportunity to embrace that person with understanding and love. But you do not stop there. Just as the Buddha did not stop with loving one person. Although he began with loving one person, he was not satisfied with that. He wanted his love to grow and embrace everyone. We can do that right now. We don’t have to wait, if we can generate the energy, the capacity to understand and love.
So the first question is do you have the capacity to understand and love. If you can succeed with generating this capacity, then your worry and fear about being loved and loving another person will not be there. You will feel wonderful right away. Please reflect on this. It is very important.