“The source of love is deep in us and we can help others realize a lot of happiness. One word, one action, one thought can reduce another person’s suffering and bring that person joy.”
― Thích Nhat Hanh
We all think we need something (at least most of us do).
We want to find "the one" to make us whole.
We want to do some great thing so that we feel valuable and worthy.
We want to acquire something grand so that we feel our life is complete.
No matter what it is, it's us wanting to acquire or do something to "fill ourselves up".
I'm no exception. For years I wanted to accomplish greatness and become something amazing so that I would be successful and admired by others.
But after a while of consistent meditation practice, and making the effort to live with mindfulness, I realized that I was only striving for that because I felt inadequate, and wanted to acquire a sense of self-worth.
But striving to "fill ourselves up" isn't the way to what we want, it only leads to more striving.
We continue to look for a cure and continue to feel "incomplete", spinning around like a hamster trying to beat the wheel.
This isn't the way.
The way to feeling whole, to being happy in our own skin, is LOVE.
But the word love has been greatly overused in modern times to mean everything from romantic attachment and attraction to the way you care for your family and friends, to something you have a passion for or even just something you really like.
So the rest of this post is dedicated to clarifying exactly what this means (and making it crystal clear) and showing you clearly and simply how you can begin to truly live and apply this wisdom in your everyday life.
The Universal Way to Peace and Happiness
"In the universal sense, love is the divine power of attraction in creation that harmonizes, unites, binds together." - Yogananda
The Buddha, Jesus Christ, Rumi, Yogananda, Krishnamurti, ancient Indian (Hindu) wisdom, Native American wisdom, and great modern teachers such as The Dalai Lama, Pema Chodron, Thich Nhat Hanh, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr...
Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Yoga, Hinduism, and independent thinkers and mystics all around the world and of various (and many times completely unrelated) parts of the world...
What do they all have in common?
They all preach that love is the WAY.
But this isn't the typical image of romantic love we think of when we hear the word love, the kind of love based on clinging and grasping to "fill" ourselves up and feel whole again (ultimately, a pursuit of the ego). This type of love isn't love at all.
True love is boundless and universal, it's a state of being which doesn't discriminate between white and black, us and them, or even you & I.
In true love, we realize the lines which once existed to us were mental formations, imaginary constructs in our mind, all along. And as these lines begin to blur, we realize not only our own true nature but the true nature of the world around us (as well as the relationship between the two).
In many ways, love is a state of being, the very essence of life, because it's the energy we feel when we come in contact with things in a very deep and authentic way.
Our true nature is that of an interwoven tapestry, both interconnected with all living and non-living beings and interdependent upon so many various conditions that you'd be unwise to say we exist independently, separate from the rest of existence.
We can see this clearly in our everyday lives if we take the time to look.
For us to come to exist now in this moment we depended upon various factors, such as our parents coming together.
We even depend on factors in this very moment just to be alive, such as access to food, water, and medicine.
We also depend on factors to live the lifestyle we're living now, while not necessarily affecting our ability to live, still directly affecting the way we live each day of our lives in significant ways. This includes cars, electricity, and the Internet.
This is the nature of the world, of all existence. Of you, me, the plants, the animals, and even non-living things.
We're all interconnected, like one great big interwoven tapestry.
This isn't just some amusing thing we can spot in our everyday life, though.
Many sages both past and present have preached that TRUE love, the love we feel when we look deeply into ourselves and the world around us and both realize and directly experience the deep connection we share, is the way to fully realizing our true interconnected nature and realizing our inherent "wholeness".
It's the very energy we feel as a part of that interconnected nature.
"The mind can pursue sensations, desires, but it cannot pursue love. Love must come to the mind. And, when once love is there, it has no division as sensuous and divine: it is love. That is the extraordinary thing about love: it is the only quality that brings a total comprehension of the whole of existence." - Jiddu Krishnamurti
So true love isn't based on possessing or acquiring something, it's in realizing that there is no separation between you & I.
The best real-world example of this authentic love? Yogananda, the great 20th century Yoga teacher, described the love that a student on the spiritual path has for his teacher, or guru, as being the best example of authentic love.
The Dalai Lama, and Buddhist wisdom in general, agrees with this in saying that the best place to start in cultivating true love for all beings isn't to start with just anyone you love but with someone you greatly respect as well (a spiritual teacher being one of the best examples of this).
Another great example is the love a mother or father has for their child. No matter what that child does, the mother still loves her child. Unconditional love is absolutely an aspect of true love.
This isn't the best example because even a parent can sometimes attach to a child in a way that better fulfills their desires or insecurities, but it's still a great example when that isn't in the way.
So, love is the way. The way to realizing this great interconnected nature, our true nature, as well as realizing our natural wholeness and no longer needing to strive to acquire or accomplish.
But why else is it significant?
“When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.” - The Dalai Lama
Imagine yourself as a tuning fork. You're constantly attuned to some sort of signal, and that signal is the greatest influencer of your overall mental and emotional well-being.
By adjusting yourself ever so slightly, a little at a time, you gradually come closer and closer to attuning to your natural state, or true nature.
As you do this, you also become more "attuned" to peace, happiness, and overall greater freedom through having realized great clarity about the true nature of yourself and the world around you.
True love is ultimately the way to peace, the way to happiness, the way to FREEDOM from the cycle of pain and suffering we encounter throughout life (in Buddhism, this is referred to as "Samsara"), and the way to feeling whole again.
"Love is from the infinite, and will remain until eternity. The seeker of love escapes the chains of birth and death." - Rumi
The path of cultivating love for all beings, of realizing true love, isn't the only path, but true love is an important aspect of all paths, and it's the one path and principle which unites us all.
How to LIVE the way of love
"Love is the capacity to take care, to protect, to nourish. If you are not capable of generating that kind of energy toward yourself- if you are not capable of taking care of yourself, of nourishing yourself, of protecting yourself- it is very difficult to take care of another person. In the Buddhist teaching, it's clear that to love oneself is the foundation of the love of other people. Love is a practice. Love is truly a practice." - Thich Nhat Hanh
Like a muscle, love can be strengthened with practice. We can develop our capacity to love, And in doing so come more "in tune" with our true nature and realize greater peace, happiness, and enlightenment.
Living the path, or way, of cultivating love for all beings can sound vague and obscure, but there's actually a lot of practical wisdom you can use right within your everyday life to begin doing this yourself.
Ultimately, when it gets down to it, there are 2 stages to the way of love:
1. Cultivating self-love - This is about cultivating self-love and self-compassion, and it's very much about clearing away the fog so you can experience the truth of love without obstruction because you can't truly love others until you love yourself.
In that way, not loving yourself works as a sort of obstruction to fully cultivating love for all beings, so it comes first before anything else (in loving-kindness meditation, a popular form of Buddhist meditation, you always begin by cultivating love for yourself).
2. Cultivating love for all other beings - This is about developing love for others, or all beings. It's often been suggested to do this through seeing God, the ultimate (whatever you consider that to be), or those you respect greatly in others.
In basic terms, this is about seeing others as being no less significant or important than anyone or anything else in the world (or: seeing them with the same significance).
It's at this point that it's important to point out: This isn't mushy gushy love. This love, in fact, takes great courage and strength, because it involves you stepping outside your comfort zone and often putting yourself into difficult situations.
Cultivating self-love takes courage because you're facing yourself in the process, and can at times be a very difficult task.
Cultivating love for all beings takes courage because you're facing the many mental formations that you've built up over the course of your life: biases, certain attitudes, and various other wrong perceptions.
On both stages of the path, what you're really facing is yourself.
"Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it." - Rumi
Practical ways to live the way of love in your everyday life
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.” - Gandhi
As I mentioned earlier, living the way of love can seem vague and obscure, but there's much you can do that's extremely applicable to everyday life and very easy to learn and understand.
Let's cover practical ways for cultivating both stages of the way of love.
An important note: While cultivating self-love is the first step, you don't need to do one then the other.
Cultivating love for others may depend on developing self-love, but to separate yourself from others is in any way- especially in practice- is a mistake.
Both practices for cultivating self-love and cultivating love for all beings can be done simultaneously throughout your daily life.
As I mentioned a moment ago, because a lack of self-love and self-compassion works as a sort of blockade to fully cultivating love for others, it's the first stage, or aspect, in following the way of love.
Cultivating self-love is very much about gaining clarity about what goes on within your mind, so mindfulness and meditations which turn your attention inward (such as mindfulness of breath) are the first stage and the most important aspect of cultivating self-love.
Since I talk a lot about mindfulness and meditating on the breath, and there really isn't enough room in this article to mention everything I'd like to talk about (without writing a book) I think it's better that I direct you to a great (free) resource that will teach you the basics of mindfulness:
Also, The Mindfulness Survival Guide shows even more clearly how mindfulness (and cultivating understanding through greater clarity) allows you to cultivate self-love and self-compassion.
Cultivating love for others
"To love those that love you is easy. To love those that love you not is not so simple. If you want to change anyone, set a better example. Show more kindness, more understanding, more love. That has a sure effect. To those who are not kind, show kindness. To those who are mean, show bigness of heart." - Yogananda
There are 2 important ways to develop love for others (all beings) that I'd like to cover:
1. Developing understanding
2. Seeing the divine/ultimate/those you love in others
Let's break each down and cover some simple practices for both:
"The essence of love and compassion is understanding, the ability to recognize the physical, material, and psychological suffering of others, to put ourselves "inside the skin" of the other. We "go inside" their body, feelings, and mental formations, and witness for ourselves their suffering. Shallow observation as an outsider is not enough to see their suffering. We must become one with the subject of our observation. When we are in contact with another's suffering, a feeling of compassion is born in us. Compassion means, literally, 'to suffer with.'" - Thich Nhat Hanh
The above quote from Thich Nhat Hanh perfectly sums up the idea here: understanding is the foundation, or essence, of love and compassion.
Moving on from the first stage, cultivating self-love, living mindfully is very important to cultivating a deeper understanding of the world around us because it's the energy of mindfulness which allows us to see more deeply in our everyday lives.
But aside from that, you can also take a more "proactive" role to develop understanding.
I use a simple exercise constantly that allows me to "open up" my mind to possibilities and, while it's not cultivating real understanding, cultivate an environment more conducive to love, compassion, and understanding.
I call it "Healing Through Understanding", and it's a very simple exercise:
- Hold a specific person (and the events) in your mind and brainstorm as many possibilities as you can for their behavior. You don’t even need to know why they actually did it, just brainstorm (think of possibilities).
- By doing so you’ll begin to gain clarity and will develop compassion for the other person if you do the exercise honestly.
- That's really all there is to it, but if you'd like to get more detailed instruction on this meditation (plus 4 other valuable meditations I use daily) you can pick up my free guide, “5 Ways I Use Mindfulness Meditation Every Day to Live More Fully, Freely, and Peacefully in the Present Moment”.
Seeing the divine/ultimate/those you love in others
“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
Seeing the ultimate, or simply someone you respect and have a great love for, and practicing seeing that/them in others is a simple yet extraordinarily powerful meditation.
This is very much an active meditation you can use throughout every moment of your daily life in which you meet and interact with others.
This is a short excerpt from a lecture by Ram Dass, a teacher whom I deeply respect. This is taken from his blog and website at ramdass.org:
"It is his response to a question from an audience member “What did Maharaji say about love?”
Maharaji on Christ:
“Christ said love all beings as children of God, serve them. Give everything to the poor, even your clothing. Give it all away. Jesus gave it all away including his body.
How did Christ meditate, Maharaji? He was lost in love. He was one with all beings and he had great love for all in the world. He was crucified so that his spirit could spread throughout the world. He was one with God. He sacrificed his body for the dharma. He never died. He never died. He is atman living in the hearts of all. See all beings as the reflection of Christ.
Maharaji, what can I do to gain pure love for Ram? You will get pure love for Ram by the blessings of Christ. Hanuman and Christ are one. They are the same.
What is the best method of meditation? Do as Jesus did and see god in everyone. Take pity on all and love all as God. When Jesus was crucified he felt only love.
Maharaji, who are you? Everyone is a reflection of my face."
If that sounded a bit cryptic, let me offer a more straightforward version of the meditation.
For this meditation, you're simply looking deeply into another and seeking to identify those precious universal qualities in them.
In many ways, you're pretending the other person is something to fully realize that significant quality in them which you know is true, but which you don't yet fully see clearly.
Seeing Love in Others meditation
1. Choose the object- Depending on your tradition, you can choose God, the ultimate, or simply someone you have great respect and love for as your object of the highest significance.
Depending on the object you picked, this may sound difficult, but it's really just about getting the right idea, holding it in your mind, and treating that person as such.
2. See that person in everyone. If your object is someone you respect and love deeply, imagine that each person you meet is that very person. If you respect and love Gandhi, imagine everyone you meet is Gandhi. How that changes the way you act when interacting with others!
It's really that simple. This is absolutely one of the most powerful meditations I've ever practiced, and can definitely be a major (even your single major) practice in your efforts to live the way of love.
Following the way of love
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." - Jesus Christ
Following the way of love is a lifelong path, a way of life that isn't always easy (what is?).
But turning our attention from "me, me, me" to having compassion & kindness for and helping others has an interesting ability to transform our challenges and difficulties into peace, happiness, and freedom through deepening our understanding of the world around us and bringing us more "in tune" with our true, interconnected, and interdependent nature.
Live the way of love diligently in your everyday life- small steps, one step at a time- and before long you'll begin to experience the transformative power of love throughout your life.
As the Buddha said, “with dripping drops of water, the water jug is filled.”
“Ceasing to do evil, Cultivating the good, Purifying the heart: This is the teaching of the Buddhas.”
- The Buddha