Do not be afraid to love. Without love, life is impossible. We have to learn the art of loving. Love by the way you walk, the way you sit, the way you eat. Learn to love yourself and others properly. ~Zen poet Thich Nhat Hanh
Decided I’d treat myself to a pizza the other day not knowing that thoughts of love would be a surprise ingredient. Cycled to the nearby Papa Murphy’s which prepares pizzas (veggie supreme), then it comes home for extras (added garlic, hot chili) and baking. During the few minutes of waiting I sat and watched ingredients tossed into colorful patterns on dough. Out from the young worker’s boom box was a hip hopping pop song with strong beats. Best I could tell the words were something like, “ooowhee my baby girl, my earth, my sky, my world, you’re everything to me, I’ve got everything you need.” Eyes closed I imagined someone speaking, and really meaning those words. “Ooooeeeh, baby girl…” Perhaps to an infant or young child. Music and beat suggests it is marketed at teens and young adults. Admittedly I haven’t kept up with popular music so I’d be hard-pressed to find that tune again. For my confused, inner teen this message has some resonance. “You’re everything to me.” For the older, slightly mature me those words don’t comfortably fit, poetically or metaphorically. Especially to say to another young or older adult. How could another actually mean everything to me? Be my earth, sky or world? Can I really offer everything someone else needs to feel loved inside? Could someone actually believe those words are true? Somehow I’ve been there, done that; failed. Cycling home, pizza strapped securely, reflecting on my heart’s history and what it means to love. And how, over time I’ve learned to express that powerful feeling towards myself and another with mindfulness. A hint: My experience relates to John Lennon’s “Love” a bit moreso than most other love songs.
Before birth I must have felt unconditionally loved, as it’s our inherent nature. All needs simply cared for – warmth, food, quiet and safety. A living being, fearlessly feeling connected to a universe supporting its fragile existence. But coming out into this world, grasping for that first breath, feeling jarred, perhaps my first jolt of fear; fearing for my very survival. This living being’s will to live at one, instinctually from the heart, without thought, challenged, coming out into this bright, loud world of the living. A breath, then a cry to greet the world. After more breaths, being held close, warm, and fed; returning to feeling love and connected. But also a first glimpse or experience of separation and fear.
For an 18-year-old young woman, untrained, insecure and without much support, I must have been both a bundle of joy and an instant difficulty. Despite my mother doing her best, she had much unhappiness that she passed on, along with love. Neither she nor I look happy in those frayed black and white photos. She left and divorced my father when I was 5. The little boy wanted, but did not feel loved much of the time. It was not so common or popular to grow up in a single parent family in the 60’s. Friends did not come to visit me at home, and I felt alienation. Love became an ideal, somewhere far away, if attainable, but seemingly worth struggling for like civil rights or ending the war. Being involved with social struggles and causes watered many seeds of anger and discontent, with only occasional flickers of love and contentment.
As an adult I fully experienced the love from another, best I could. For so many years her love helped me get in touch with my own heart’s capacity to love. But I still had the habit of suffering inside from childhood that limited my ability to give and receive love. As much as I loved her, there were hurtful things I must have said or did, unintentionally, that caused her to go away after many years. This sad loss forced me to make a grand effort to change my ways of viewing love. It has taken over a decade to understand inner pain, heal that 5 year-old inside, forgive others and myself and nurture heart’s innate capacity for love. With gratitude I was able to choose self-love over self-medicating and self-destruction.
A simple, yet powerful definition of love that now inspires and informs my life comes from Thich Nhat Hanh. His words say what we’ve experienced at times, that the word “love”, having been used so superficially, needs clarification and healing. Can loving a pizza or fries be a similar feeling or wish to loving your infant or partner or life itself? Once known, love is something deeper than a like or quickly passing want. True love, as taught, has four essential elements: friendship, deep caring, joy, and openness. True love is a deep practice of friendship and is not about sex, necessarily.
Friendship is offering happiness to ourselves or others. There are so many kind words and activities that bring a happy smile. When successful, our friend actually feels happiness and love in his or her heart. We can see it on their face and the way they respond. Often expressed as loving-kindness, this deep unconditional wish takes courage, but results in much good-will.
Caring or compassion is offered to help ease pain, discomfort and suffering. We know what it is like to hurt, and that insight helps us recognize that others, also, do not want to hurt. When we hurt, often we behave as a victim and hurt others. It takes time to heal our hurt and change that habit of reacting. Can we listen to another’s pain with only the intention to help them and not feel hurt ourselves? Our compassion has succeeded when the other feels less pain in their body, mind and heart. Caring deeply helps counter cruelty in thoughts and deeds.
Joy or sympathetic joy is to rejoice at another’s happiness and good fortune. With joy one feels contentment and ease. This is a counter to sadness and jealousy. Imagine being able to say, “your joy is my joy” and really mean it.
Lastly, openness, inclusiveness and balance; often called equanimity. To love with equanimity is like holding a bird gently, with an open palm, so she feels free to fly, not feeling judged or possessed. She stays enjoying the warm rays of being loved. Not having an attitude of superiority or inferiority. The sun and rain come down on everyone, demonstrating equanimity, offering themselves to us all without discrimination.
Over these past several years I’ve succeeded at living with love in my heart much of the time. Kindly offering myself a way of living and understanding of all four elements. I’ve been more sincere and skillful at showing love to others. Every morning waking up with gratitude for another day, wishing for the well-being and feelings of love for all. If I can succeed, then I’m sure you can too. It does take time, patience and being ready to forgive mistakes and negative acts that occur accidentally or on purpose. But the inner feeling of happiness and freedom is so worth it. Stepping purposefully towards true love can save your relationship.
Now it’s time to get the pizza out of the oven and enjoy it in mindfulness.
ps: My song to support feeling happy and safe with others (in a 70’s new age, folk-style) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myHezLesTPI&feature=em-subs_digest