What does love mean, exactly?
We have applied to it our finest
definitions; we have examined its
psychology and outlined it in
philosophical frameworks ; we have
even devised a mathematical formula
for attaining it. And yet anyone who has
ever taken this wholehearted leap of faith knows that love remains a mystery — perhaps the mystery of the human
Learning to meet this mystery with the full realness of our being — to show up for it with absolute clarity of intention — is the dance of life.
That’s what legendary Vietnamese Zen
Buddhist monk, teacher, and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh (b. October 11, 1926)explores in How to Love (public library ) — a slim, simply worded collection of his immeasurably wise insights on the most complex and most rewarding human potentiality.
Indeed, in accordance with the general
praxis of Buddhist teachings, Nhat Hanh delivers distilled infusions of clarity, using elementary language and metaphor to address the most elemental concerns of the soul. To receive his teachings one must make an active commitment not to succumb to the Western pathology of cynicism , our flawed self-protection mechanism that readily dismisses anything sincere and true as simplistic or naïve — even if, or precisely because, we know that all real truth and sincerity are simple by virtue of being true and sincere.
At the heart of Nhat Hanh’s teachings is the idea that “understanding is love’s other name” — that to love another means to fully understand his or her suffering. (“Suffering” sounds rather dramatic, but in Buddhism it refers to any source of profound dissatisfaction — be it physical or psychoemotional or spiritual.) Understanding, after all, is what everybody needs — but even if we grasp this on a theoretical level, we habitually get too caught in the smallness of our fixations to be able to offer such expansive understanding. He illustrates this mismatch of scales with an apt metaphor:
*** If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we
demand that they change. But when our
hearts expand, these same things don’t
make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform..
*** When we feed and support our own happiness, we are nourishing our ability to love. That’s why to love means to learn the art of nourishing our happiness.
Understanding someone’s suffering is the best gift you can give another person.
Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.
And yet because love is a learned “dynamic interaction,” we form our patterns of understanding — and misunderstanding — early in life, by osmosis and imitation rather than conscious creation. Echoing what
Western developmental psychology knows about the role of “positivity resonance” in learning love, Nhat Hanh writes:
*** If our parents didn’t love and understand each other, how are we to know what love looks like? … The most precious inheritance that parents can give their children is their own happiness. Our parents may be able to leave us money,houses, and land, but they may not be happy people. If we have happy parents, we have received the richest inheritance of all.
*** Often, we get crushes on others not because we truly love and understand them, but to distract ourselves from our
suffering. When we learn to love and
understand ourselves and have true
compassion for ourselves, then we can
truly love and understand another person.
*** Sometimes we feel empty; we feel a vacuum, a great lack of something. We
don’t know the cause; it’s very vague, but
that feeling of being empty inside is very
strong. We expect and hope for something
much better so we’ll feel less alone, less
empty. The desire to understand ourselves
and to understand life is a deep thirst.
There’s also the deep thirst to be loved
and to love. We are ready to love and be
loved. It’s very natural. But because we
feel empty, we try to find an object of our
love. Sometimes we haven’t had the time
to understand ourselves, yet we’ve already
found the object of our love. When we
realize that all our hopes and expectations
of course can’t be fulfilled by that person,
we continue to feel empty. You want to
find something, but you don’t know what to
search for. In everyone there’s a continuous desire and expectation; deep
inside, you still expect something better to
happen. That is why you check your email
many times a day!
Real, truthful love, he argues, is rooted in four elements — loving kindness,
compassion, joy, and equanimity — fostering which lends love “the element of holiness. ”The first of them addresses this dialogic relationship between our own suffering and our capacity to fully understand our loved
The essence of loving kindness is being
able to offer happiness. You can be the
sunshine for another person. You can’t
offer happiness until you have it for
yourself. So build a home inside by
accepting yourself and learning to love and
heal yourself. Learn how to practice
mindfulness in such a way that you can
create moments of happiness and joy for
your own nourishment. Then you have
something to offer the other person.
If you have enough understanding and love,
then every moment — whether it’s spent
making breakfast, driving the car, watering
the garden, or doing anything else in your
day — can be a moment of joy.
Compiled by :Midberry