Dear Still Water Friends,
I used to believe that mental formations like joy, happiness, and loving kindness simply arise and pass on their own, without my participation. Though I had heard Thich Nhat Hanh say "we can generate the energy of loving kindness" many times, until recently I didn’t really understand what he meant. Some days I just felt cranky, and didn’t have patience for other people or myself, and other days I felt more spacious and friendly. It didn’t seem like I had much control over my ability to find happiness in the moment or be friendly to others when I "didn’t feel like it."
Over the years, it has started to make more sense to me. Generating wholesome mental formations like mindfulness, happiness and loving kindness is a practice, not a concept. Just like yoga or dance or playing the piano, the more we do it, the more facility we gain with it. Generating these positive states is not the same as suppressing difficult emotions, nor does it mean that we will never suffer. The mindfulness and loving kindness we generate can embrace and co-exist with our painful mind states. Feelings like sadness or anger will be with us until they have been thoroughly heard and transformed. And in order to transform them we need mindfulness and loving kindness.
The more we generate the energy of loving kindness in ourselves, the more we are able to receive the joy, peace, and love of the buddhas and bodhisattvas throughout the cosmos. If you are too lonely, it is because you have closed the door to the rest of the world. –Thich Nhat Hanh, Mindfulness Bell, August, 1995
As bell hooks says: "Love is a verb, not a noun." It’s an action and a choice. But many of us have been conditioned to believe the story that happiness and loving kindness will come and go on their own. The best we could do is sit and wait for a day when our happiness would return and we would feel friendly again. What Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, and what I have discovered in my own practice, is that we don’t have to wait for love, we can generate it on the cushion.
This Thursday after our sitting meditation we will have a chance to practice generating loving kindness together through a guided body-centered version of metta practice. We will create a familiarity with our body sensations when we generate loving kindness so we can more easily access our loving kindness when we most need it.
After this practice, we will have time to share about our experience of the practice. We can also consider: Did we grow up with a story about happiness and loving kindness? Where and when might we want to generate loving kindness? Have we ever been able to generate happiness and loving kindness during difficult or challenging moments?
Looking forward to seeing all of you.
A Q and A with Thich Nhat Hanh about Waiting for Love is below.
Wanting To Be Loved, And To Love
Thich Nhat Hanh, from a Dharma Talk 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.
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 understand 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.