Dear Still Water Friends,
There is so much each of us could say about love. We have so many experiences, so many stories. How as children we were sometimes loved and sometimes not loved. How our understanding of what it means to love has grown and changed. Most likely, there have been times when we have been giddy with love, times when we have been disappointed, and also times when love has come unasked and transformed our lives.
You are invited to join us this Thursday evening, four days before Valentine’s day, to share what you have learned and how you now practice love.
In my early years, although there was caring and affection in my family, we rarely talked about love. Many of my memories are painful, times when love was demanded of me, as in, “Tell your grandmother you love her.” I simply froze. Unable to say the words, and aware of the pained awkwardness of my lack of words.
Later, as a teenager, I came to associate love with physical attraction, and the activities one did (or longed to do) with someone one was attracted to. It was a love that was strongly felt, and, sadly, rather shallow. “Did you get to second base?”
I was fortunate when I was twenty to have tea from time to time with a wise man, a retired Congregational minister named Allan Hunter. He explained to me one day that his wife had entered a nursing home and that his love for her was transforming from Eros, passionate love, the love of the body, to Agape, pure love, the love of the soul.
I wish I could say that his words had a great impact on me, right then and there, but I was too callow, too focused on myself. I heard what he said, something stayed with me, but it took several decades before I fully appreciated his candor and his gift to me.
My current understanding of love is greatly influenced by the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. Usually Bodhichitta, the aspiration and orientation of a Bodhisattva, is translated as the the deep wish to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. Thich Nhat Hanh translates it simply as the “Mind of love.” In Teachings on Love he explains that true love has four aspects.
maitri, the intention and capacity to offer joy and happiness.
karuna, the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and lighten sorrows
mudita, joy. True love always brings joy to ourselves and to the one we love.
upeksha, which means equanimity, nonattachment, nondiscrimination, even-mindedness, or letting go. . . . You climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other. If your love has attachment, discrimination, prejudice, or clinging in it, it is not true love.
How do we practice the Mind of Love, each of us in our own way? Daniel Ladinsky offers some specific suggestions in his loose translation of a poem by Hafiz, the great 14th century Persian poet:
Go for a walk, if it is not too dark.
Get some fresh air, try to smile.
Say something kind
To a safe-looking stranger, if one happens by.
Always exercise your heart’s knowing.
You might as well attempt something real
Along this path:
Take your spouse or lover into your arms
The way you did when you first met.
Let tenderness pour from your eyes
The way the Sun gazes warmly on the earth.
Play a game with some children.
Extend yourself to a friend.
Sing a few ribald songs to your pets and plants –
Why not let them get drunk and wild!
Every rung we’ve climbed on Evolution’s ladder.
Whisper, "I love you! I love you!"
To the whole mad world.
Let’s stop reading about God –
We will never understand Him.
Jump to your feet, wave your fists,
Threaten and warn the whole Universe
That your heart can no longer live
Without real love!
I hope you can join us this Thursday. We will warm up for our discussion by practicing a Loving-Kindness meditation for the final fifteen minutes of our sitting.
Also, please consider attending Settling into Silence, the Still Water Practice Retreat on February 18 to 20, at the Charter Hall Retreat Center. Some places are still available.
True Love by Thich Nhat Hanh,
from a Question and Answer Session in June of 2006.
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.