Updated: Feb 14
Ooh love. To me, love is this complex thing that I can never understand.
Whenever I meet married people, I think: wow, that's amazing. That is incredible! How do people commit to loving each other like that...forever.
The amazement I feel when I'm sitting on the beach, watching the sunset, and being in awe, is the same amazement I feel when I look at married folks. Because love, to me, is the most difficult thing you can do in this world.
You could get a PhD, with ease! (Jk. Getting a doctorate is so hardt). But, try loving someone unconditionally! FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE! At least a PhD ends after some years! Ha!
Seaux, how do we love? How are people doing this? What skills have they learned that others may have not? That's something we'll explore in this post.
Why focus on love? Well, as I get older, love is becoming an important value to me. I want to learn how to practice loving myself more, loving animals, loving the earth, loving family members and friends, loving romantic partners, loving people I dislike or people I'm in conflict with, or loving people who have different political beliefs than me. I am learning that, unfortunately or fortunately though, that it takes a lot of work to practice love. A. Lot. Of. Work! And, patience. And, failure. And, disappointment in myself. And also, incredible beauty and presence and fun.
One of the ways that I try to learn how to love better is by listening to people who are smart :D I went to listen and be in community with a meditation teacher today -- Evelyn Williams. I am beyond grateful that I got to be present with her and many others who were in the room with me.
She discussed how love is conceptualized in Buddhism. There's affectionate love-- the kind of love we feel that's, more often than not, unconditional. We may feel this love when we see a baby or a dog, or for those who are super connected to nature, when they see trees or the ocean. I tend to feel affectionate love for my breath. It amazes me to feel my belly falling and rising, to feel myself coming back to stillness and awareness, and to even feel anxiety decreasing the more I focus on my breath.
There's cherishing love. Here's where maybe love starts to get difficult for many of us. Williams says that this looks like us letting go of our "I" statements and really practicing to focus on others. Only on others. There's less of a "I deserve," "I want," "my needs are," and more of "how can I support you?" "what do you need?" "How can I help?" You love someone so much; you just want them to be happy, and so, you focus on how you can meet their needs.
What's important here is that we practice letting go of our attachments and desires. We practice letting go of reciprocity (e.g., if I love you, then you have to....take out the trash for me; if you don't call me everyday, then you don't love me. If you look at someone else in a desirable way, then you don't love me).
It sounds like accepting the other person for who they are and letting go of our expectations. She told this incredible story of a father continuing to show his son love even after his son killed his mother/the father's wife. We can also think about parents still loving their babies even after they poop all over the bathtub. Also, how folks continue to love their dogs even after they eat everything in their home.
There's also wishing love. She didn't say a lot about this type of love, but it reminded me of loving kindness meditation, where those who practice, wish others and the universe peace, happiness, safety, connection, and all the good things that this world can offer.
Practicing these ways of loving is difficult, but can you imagine how powerful it would be if, as we walked down the street, we wished everyone and everything we encounter peace and safety and wellness. We don't attempt to practice this only on February 14th, but everyday. Everyday is now Valentine's Day or Valentine's Moments. Where, as often as we can, we practice noticing or acknowledging feelings, thoughts, judgments, hatred, jealousy, envy, and we practice coming back to love. It's saying to ourselves: I'm noticing that I'm jealous of you right now, and that's painful to notice. I'm going to choose instead to practice loving you, accepting you, and being happy for you.
We acknowledge where we are and what we're experiencing or feeling. We may empathize with our difficulties, and we come back to love. Williams says to ask ourselves: how can I practice affectionate love in this moment? How can I practice seeing beauty in this person?
We come back to love as often as we can throughout the day.
Tara Brach, a psychologist and a meditation teacher, discusses how we get in a trance often. Something triggers us! And boom, we leave the present moment and go into our heads. We may start to have narratives in our minds (e.g., why am I like this? I'm so unworthy. I'm never gonna change. I'm such a disappointment). We may start judging others because they don't meet our standards or expectations. We may be rushing because we're late or because that's just how our society trains us to be. Brach also mentions being in a trance when engaging in addictive behaviors -- scrolling through Instagram, binge eating, binge drinking, having sex with folks we don't really care for, etc.
This is all OK. This is what it is to be human. But when we notice our human-ness, can we practice coming back? For those of us who don't practice coming back to the breath, to our bodies, to our senses, or to love, can we imagine what that would be like?
The Power of Self-Love
I want to end on this because I think practicing self-love is GORGEOUS! :D I tear up so hard when my clients move from the self-criticism narratives (e.g., I'm not good enough) to the self-love narratives (e.g., I'm enough. I'm OK). It's just so beautiful and important. No matter how often you practice other-love, I think it's crucial to come back to ourselves, as we live with ourselves 24/7, and to practice self-love.
Maybe it's selfish or self-centered or narcissistic, but damn it, I'll be all those things! Fudge it! Lol! During these Valentine's Moments, I do hope you practice self-love. This means that you can show yourself this affectionate, cherishing, and wishing love.
With loving kindness meditation, you typically start with you. You wish yourself all the good things that the world can offer and then you move outwards. It's similar to the self-care advised on airplanes: put your oxygen mask on first before you put others' oxygen masks on. If you don't have oxygen and you can't breathe, how can you help others?
And, I do think that the more we practice loving and accepting ourselves, the more easily and readily we can practice loving others.
There's a differentiation between attached love and pure or real love in Buddhism. In attached love, we have expectations and we don't accept others for who they are. We want others to change according to our liking, so that we can feel that they do love us.
We talk of love languages, and the importance of speaking each others' love languages. There are gifts and words of affirmation love languages, for example. So, if we want those things from our partners to feel loved, that can be an example of attached love. I think it can be OK to practice attached love, in the same way that it can be OK to experience anger or hatred. Again, we're human, and these feelings and wants are just part of being human. These wants come with cons (e.g., disappointment, frustration, heartache, or suffering). A possible pro of exploring these love languages, though, is that it can help loved ones know how to practice cherishing love.
But! Pure love-- where we expect nothing, where we still practice giving loved ones all the love, kindness, and care we can muster even when they don't speak our love languages-- sounds brilliant. Imagine if we felt that kind of pure love towards ourselves. When we're caught in self-judgment, self-blame, and self-hatred, we can pause, and ask ourselves: how can I practice affectionate and cherishing love towards myself in this moment? Is it possible to practice self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, and self-kindness in this moment? What do I need? How can I support myself in this moment? I imagine someone who practices that kind of self-love as someone who just radiates light and beauty and calm and joy. We see them and we're just in awe; they take our breath away.
I was listening to Tara Brach's talk this morning, and I love this Robert Hall poem that she shares. I hope you love it too; it touches on pure self-love. If we're married to ourselves, what kind of marriage do we want to have? What can we start doing differently to be happier in this marriage?
Here's to you.
Here's to love.
Within the body you are wearing, now,
inside the bones and beating in the heart,
lives the one you have been searching, for so long.
But you must stop moving and shake hands.
The meeting doesn’t happen without your presence,
The same one waiting for you there
is moving in the trees, glistening on the water,
growing in the grasses, and lurking in the shadows you create.
You have nowhere to go.
The marriage happened long ago.
Behold your mate.