Monday, January 13, 2014

Love For Dummies

I caught myself withholding love at the Whole Foods checkout. Right there, in between the bag of carrots and my favorite chocolate, I noticed my mind whispering, "she's not in the to-be-loved category, don't bother". The young woman taking care of my groceries happened to be a stranger, and there was not enough love in my heart for her, or at least my mind thought so. Love needed to be saved for those few deemed special people in my life. Of course, such thought is a product of the deluded, ordinary mind.

Learning to love starts with paying attention to such moments when we deny ourselves the possibility of loving another, whoever that may be. We see the mind's intervention and its effect on the closing of the heart. If we have more time to dwell, we also get a chance to feel the pain involved for ourselves. Heart closing, equals constriction, equals stress. The first time I got a chance to find this out for myself, literally blew my mind away, and I started to truly understand love. From understanding love to actually loving, lies a big stretch, a path made up of trials and errors, and bumping against the limitations of the mind-created self. It takes time for the self to let go of its hangups, and only sustained mindfulness can chip away at the heart's tendencies to close itself. 

Whenever I contemplate love, Ayya Khema's talk about 'Metta' [unconditional love] comes up, and I need to take yet another look at her wise words. Here we go:

There are six billion of us, so why diminish ourselves to one, two, or three? 

Once we understand that everybody can be the object of our love, not just our family and friends, the love possibilities are endless, and we can approach our life with a renewed sense of ease and boldness. No need to worry any longer. The Whole Foods clerk is as worthy of love as my children, that is the truth. The whole world can become a love fest, if we allow it.

The whole problem lies in the fact that because it is attachment, we've got to *keep* those one, two, or three in order to experience any kind of love. We are afraid to lose them: to lose them through death, through change of mind, to leaving home, to whatever change happens. And that fear discolors our love to the point where it can no longer be pure, because it is hanging on.

Indeed, not only do we have to put all our love in one basket, we also place it under extreme, unrealistic conditions. This is where grief comes in, grief of our idea of what love should be as enacted in a particular relationship. Hanging on to my mom's life last year, hanging on to the closeness once experienced with my children when they were younger, hanging to expectations about what my relationship with my husband should be in my mind, hanging on . . . Keeping the heart open without any strings attached is not easy. And yet, that is what is called for in this journey towards love.

The loving quality of the heart remains with us whether there's anybody in front of us that we can actually extend that love to or not. 

Yet another revelation that I am still taking in . . . Understanding that love is within me, not outside. Love is not to be gotten from anyone, but rather found inside the heart and offered to others. This turning of love on its head has given me a great sense of security. The garden of love is always there ready for me to wander in, at anytime, within my heart. It may be overcome by weeds at times, but still, the potential is there, and the beautiful flowers are never far beneath.

That quality of the heart needs to be cultivated.

Love doesn't just happens. In keeping with the garden metaphor, love is a quality we need to uncover, and then cultivate. I have found the best way to cultivate love is to notice the times when it is not present, as with the Whole Foods clerk. When prickly weeds overtake the garden, we can experience what it feels like in our heart. Indifference, pettiness, grudges, hate, anger, opinions, projections are some of the ways that we denies ourselves the possibility of love. 

That decision [to love or not] is made in the mind; it's not made in the heart -- all decisions are made in the mind.

We feel what we think. Thanks to mindfulness practice, we get to see up close the way the mind influences the actions of the heart. Thoughts in our mind are what closes or opens the heart. And we know from practice, that thoughts can be replaced at will. Once we know our thoughts, and we see the connection with the heart's actions, we are empowered to act, either towards love or its opposite. It is of course not so simple! There are a few people in my past and current life whom I know I do not love, and for whom, 'I' is not ready to relinquish its unloving thoughts towards them. We need to be patient with the 'I' in ourselves that is attached to such thoughts. Like any other mind fabrication, we can turn it into the object of our investigation and see where it goes . . . 

Another important step is seeing, not only that we share everything, but also that our own difficulties need to be treated with compassion. Not with the idea, "I should have known better, I could do better, or somebody else has done it to me." Just compassion. Compassion is a very important entry into love. 

We need to accept our human imperfections. We are bound to screw up, and rather than flagellating ourselves for our mistakes, we are to see them as part of the course. Not too long ago, I found myself uttering words of hate about someone, and it's taken me a while to reconcile with what had happened that day. I went from disgust for myself, to contemplation, and wanting to learn the lesson from that experience. With every overgrown weed in our heart, we run the risk of wrong speech and all its unfortunate consequences. From that incident, I came out with even more appreciation for the need to cultivate love within. That person who did me and many others harm is an invitation to be even more mindful and intent on loving. 

Every situation in life which doesn't work out the way it should have done is nothing but another learning experience. That's what this adult education class is all about, nothing else. That's what we're here for. 

I like the idea of  our life as an adult education class on love. We are all students in the matter. And as it turns out, the curriculum is not that difficult to understand. The challenge is in our willingness to do the homework, day after day, moment to moment, viewing each one of our interactions as another opportunity to practice.


  1. For many many years of my life, I 'thought' I was free from anger, hate, jealousy & such repulsive emotions. Obviously in this state, I had 'thought' that I was filled with such virtues as 'compassion' & 'love'. But now after all these years of 'mindfulness', slowly but surely I have begun to see the roots of the repulsive emotions deep within me. Interestingly, as it is becoming transparent, more often than not I am becoming lighter too. 'Less luggage, more comfort, makes travel a pleasure'.
    anatta in adult education class§

  2. Lovely post, Marguerite. How true that the decision comes from the head, not the heart. I often catch myself not loving someone for some stupid reason or other. I wonder about all the times I don't notice :/

  3. Thanks for the reminder--always a timely one. I find that love is not an easy practice, but always a rewarding one when I manage to get past the limitations I impose on myself--without my even being aware of them. Thus the thanks for the reminder.

  4. I heard an 'un-mystifying' and refreshing talk from a wise person recently. I transcribed this particular piece from the dhamma talk. Here it is!!!
    The myth is that Buddha saw four heavenly messengers – old age, sickness and death. The fourth messanger being a tranquil reninciant. Something about the tranquility and the peace that this reninciant had caught the Buddha to be, his attention. There is another way, that there is another way to peace. Given the contrast and the life where sickness, old age and death is such a big part of it. A friend of mine did yesterday morning. Quite something. I wanted to read to you a passage of the suttas, I find quite touching that scholars believe is the oldest record we have of the Buddha's description of what motivated him to engage in his quest and what he found in his quest. One of the thing that is striking about this is that rather than being presented in mythic elements, the four heavenly messengers, that there is no historical basis for this idea. That the Buddha saw these four heavenly messenger appeared later some 500 years later. It is just a myth, right?! Buddhist like to tell stories! This is considered the oldest. So here the Buddha says:

    Violence gives birth to fear.
    Just look at people and their quarrels.
    I will speak of my dismay and the way I was shaken.
    (we donot think of the Buddha and those ideas, right?)
    seeing people trashing about, like fish in little water.
    And seeing them in conflict with each other, I became afraid.
    (This is the guy up there).
    The world is completely without a core.
    Every where things are changing.
    Wanting a place of my own,
    I saw nothing already taken.
    In the end, seeing only conflict,
    I felt discontent.
    Then I saw an arrow here, hard to see.
    Embedded in the heart.
    Pierced by this arrow, people dash about in all directions.
    When the arrow is pulled out, they do not run and they do not sink.

    So, here is an account not of seeing sickness, old age and death, exactly.
    But seeing a world of violence and conflict and quarrels.
    Many of see that. Many of us grew up ....

  5. Love is an emotion. What the Buddha taught was loving kindness.Its possible to be kind to people without liking them very much or at all. Dislike and aversion are both natural feelings and if we try to stamp on them somehow they tend to rebound--in my experiance-- in more sinister forms.