“There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.” — John Steinbeck in a Nov. 10, 1958, letter to son, Thom, on his first love
Dear Still Water Friends,
On Valentine’s Day we usually focus on those we love and on getting expressions of love from those who love us. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that love begins with understanding and accepting ourselves before we can authentically love another. To me, Thay’s teaching is mirrored in Steinbeck’s words to his son: if our love is based on needing love, on wanting to possess, and on lacking self-understanding, then we are likely missing out on something quite wonderful. According to the teachings, true love comes from being fully present to ourselves and our situation and from there embracing the realness of those we love using the appreciation and respect that we’ve developed for ourselves.
Pema Chodron explains in an excerpt below that working to understand and embrace ourselves is not an indulgence or self-help technique; instead, she says it is the key to being able to truly embrace and love those around us as well as the heart of mindfulness practice.
Developing self-understanding and compassion is easier said than done. My experience is that it’s a life’s work, not a practice to master after a short course of study. Lovingkindness or Metta meditation has been a very helpful, long-term practice for me that keeps on changing and offering new insights even after some 15 years of practice. In this approach, we generate understanding and tenderness towards ourselves and gradually expand this circle to those we love, those we know, and those we dislike. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s version, each phrase of the meditation begins with an aspiration to develop lovingkindness and understanding, which implicitly acknowledges that we are trying to cultivate this capacity and are not necessarily able to embody its aspirations in that moment. This approach in itself seems to me to be a kind of lovingkindness towards our own changing edges.
This Thursday we will practice Thich Nhat Hanh’s version of Metta meditation for ourselves and ask how we can make the aspirations in the meditation real as well as asking what is keeping us from acting on them. Are there words that trigger resistance; are there words that open our hearts? What does this tell us about our path forward in the practice?
Below are Thich Nhat Hanh’s Love Meditation and an excerpt from Pema Chodron. I hope you can join us.
Love Meditation from the Plum Village Chanting and Recitation Book
May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May I be safe and free of injury.
May I be free from anger, afflictions, fear, and anxiety.
May I learn to look at myself with eyes of understanding and love.
May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.
May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.
May I be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May I be free of attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.
from Living Beautifully
You build inner strength through embracing the totality of your experience, both the delightful parts and the difficult parts. Embracing the totality of your experience is one definition of having loving-kindness for yourself. Loving-kindness for yourself does not mean making sure you’re feeling good all the time—trying to set up your life so that you’re comfortable every moment. Rather, it means setting up your life so that you have time for meditation and self-reflection, for kindhearted, compassionate self-honesty. In this way you become more attuned to seeing when you’re biting the hook, when you’re getting caught in the undertow of emotions, when you’re grasping and when you’re letting go. This is the way you become a true friend to yourself just as you are, with both your laziness and your bravery. There is no step more important than this.”