December 1, 2022 7:00 to 8:30 pm Eastern time
followed by mindfulness trainings preparatory class 8:30 to 9:00 pm
Dear Still Water Friends,
This Thursday Evening we will explore the third of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, 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 mutual consent, true love, and a deep, long-term commitment. I resolve to find spiritual support for the integrity of my relationship from family members, friends, and sangha with whom there is support and trust. 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 interrelated, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and to cultivating the four basic elements of true love – loving kindness, compassion, joy, and inclusiveness – for the greater happiness of myself and others. Recognizing the diversity of human experience, I am committed not to discriminate against any form of gender identity or sexual orientation. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.
For me, this beautiful training has been made even more relevant by the update released this past summer by the monks and nuns of Plum Village. The revised training includes the addition of the word “consent,” as well as language that is a clear call for LGBTQIA+ acceptance and inclusion. It reminds us that are many aspects to true love beyond admiration and affection, including responsibility, protection, inclusiveness, and mutual consent.
As I re-read the new version of this training, I was reminded of a recent newspaper advice column. An aggrieved uncle wrote in complaining that his 3-year-old nephew was “allowed” to refuse to hug him. The advice columnist responded that it is essential for children to be able to set bodily boundaries for themselves. The columnist also encouraged the uncle to consider that his nephew may wish to give and receive affection differently than his uncle, maybe with a high-five instead of a hug.
In the book How to Love, Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) encourages us to deeply consider the wants and needs of our loved ones:
To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love. To know how to love someone, we have to understand them. To understand, we need to listen.
I hope that uncle can listen and learn from his nephew so that he can express his love in a way that helps promote connection rather than hurt or domination. I believe many of us could also learn more about our loved ones and how to effectively convey our love to them. Like the letter writer, I often have a strong desire to express affection physically to the children in my family. I realize that this impulse stems from my own habits and expectations and may not reflect the most effective way of experiencing genuine closeness with my young relatives. As Thay explains:
Often, when we say, ‘I love you’ we focus mostly on the idea of the ‘I’ who is doing the loving and less on the quality of the love that’s being offered.
Reflecting on the new version of this training on True Love, I recommit myself to increasing my understanding of those around me, so I may be more able to connect authentically and not be lost in my own urges and expectations.
This Thursday, after our meditation, we will explore the Third Mindfulness Training, beginning with these questions:
- Reflecting on this training, what do you observe about how you express love?
- In what ways has your mindfulness practice affected how you express love?
I look forward to seeing you on Thursday.
A related passage from Thich Nhat Hanh about true love appears below.
From Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
by Thich Nhat Hanh
We really have to understand the person we want to love. If our love is only a will to possess, it is not love. If we only think of ourselves, if we know only our own needs and ignore the needs of the other person, we cannot love. We must look deeply in order to see and understand the needs, aspirations, and suffering of the person we love. This is the ground of real love. You cannot resist loving another person when you really understand him or her.
From time to time, sit close to the one you love, hold his or her hand, and ask, ‘Darling, do I understand you enough? Or am I making you suffer? Please tell me so that I can learn to love you properly. I don’t want to make you suffer, and if I do so because of my ignorance, please tell me so that I can love you better, so that you can be happy.” If you say this in a voice that communicates your real openness to understand, the other person may cry.