What Love Is


Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres….And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

~~1 Corinthians 13

 

Today’s post is a direct cut and paste from What Love Is, by Ayya Khema, a Dharma Teacher.  Born in Berlin of Jewish parents in 1923, Ayya Khema escaped Nazi Germany in 1938  to Glasgow. She joined her parents two years later in Shanghai, where the family was put into a Japanese POW camp  in which her father died.  Four years after her camp was liberated, Ayya Khema emigrated to the United States where she married and had two children. While traveling in Asia from 1960 to 1964, she learned meditation and in 1975, began to teach. Three years later she established Wat Buddha Dhamma, a forest monastery in the Theravada tradition near Sydney, Australia. In 1979 she was ordained as a Buddhist nun in Sri Lanka. She is currently the spiritual director of BuddhaHaus in Oy-Mittleberg, Germany, which she established. She has written numerous books in English and German, including Being Nobody, Going Nowhere and When the Iron Eagle Flies.

I’ve thought a lot about “love” lately and what it means to really love and love well.  I wrote some thoughts on this a few months ago in a post entitled Love is Kind.  You can find that here if you are interested.  More and more I realize it is only middle and upper class people who demand to pray or meditate in clean, “spiritual” places.  People have prayed and felt love in concentration camps, mine shafts, wide open prairies, ghettos and slums since the beginning of time.  Love has always been with us and can always be if we choose it.  I find a great deal of inspiration from Jesus, Buddha, Mother Theresa and many other teachers, but honestly at times they seem very removed from my daily life, perhaps “not understanding” what I might be up against.   Reading teachings by Ayya Khema and others who have come through experiences like hers somehow makes distant teachings seem more present, accessible and real.  There is no real new information here…all of the great teachers and sages tell us the same things again and again.  But today, when our country spends millions of dollars on cheap chocolate and Hallmark, I thought I might pass along a wonderful reading on What Love Is.  Enjoy!

~~~~~

MOST PEOPLE are under the impression that they can think out their lives. But that’s a misconception. We are subject to our emotions and think in ways based on our emotions. So it’s extremely important to do something about our emotions. In the same way as the Buddha gave us the Four Supreme Efforts for the mind, he also outlined the Four Emotions for the heart.  The Four Emotions–lovingkindness (metta), compassion (karuna), joy with others (mudita), and equanimity (upekkha)–are called the “divine abodes.” When we have perfected these four, we have heaven on earth, paradise in our own heart.

I think everybody knows that above us is the sky and not heaven. We have heaven and hell within us and can experience this quite easily. So even without having complete concentration in meditation and profound insights, the Four Divine Abodes enable us to live on a level of truth and lovingness, security, and certainty, which gives life a totally different quality. When we are able to arouse love in our hearts without any cause, just because love is the heart’s quality, we feel secure. It is impossible to buy security, even though many people would like to do so. Insurance companies have the largest buildings because people try to buy security. But when we create certainty within, through a loving heart, we feel assured that our reactions and feelings are not going to be detrimental to our own or other people’s happiness. Many fears will vanish.

Metta–the first of the Supreme Emotions–is usually translated as “loving kindness.” But loving-kindness doesn’t have the same impact in English that the word love has, which carries a lot of meaning for us. We have many ideas about love. The most profound thought we have about love, which is propagated in novels, movies, and billboards, is the idea that love exists between two people who are utterly compatible, usually young and pretty, and who for some odd reason have a chemical attraction toward each other-none of which can last. Most people find out during the course of their lifetime that this is a myth, that it doesn’t work that way. Most people then think it’s their own fault or the other person’s fault or the fault of both, and they try a new relationship. After the third, fourth, or fifth try, they might know better; but a lot of people are still trying. That’s usually what’s called love in our society.

In reality, love is a quality of our heart. The heart has no other function. If we were aware that we all contain love within us, and that we can foster and develop it, we would certainly give that far more attention than we do. In all developed societies there are institutions to foster the expansion of the mind, from the age of three until death. But we don’t have any institutions to develop the heart, so we have to do it ourselves. Most people are either waiting for or relating to the one person who makes it possible for them to feel love at last. But that kind of love is beset with fear, and fear is part of hate. What we hate is the idea that this special person may die, walk away, have other feelings and thoughts-in other words, the fear that love may end, because we believe that love is situated strictly in that one person. Since there are six billion people on this planet, this is rather absurd. Yet most people think that our love-ability is dependent upon one person and having that one person near us. That creates the fear of loss, and love beset by fear cannot be pure. We create a dependency upon that person, and on his or her ideas and emotions. There is no freedom in that, no freedom to love.

If we see quite clearly that love is a quality that we all have, then we can start developing that ability. Any skill that we have, we have developed through practice. If we’ve learned to type, we’ve had to practice. We can practice love and eventually we’ll have that skill. Love has nothing to do with finding somebody who is worth loving, or checking out people to see whether they are truly lovable. If we investigate ourselves honestly enough, we find that we’re not all that lovable either, so why do we expect somebody else to be totally lovable? It has nothing to do with the qualities of the other person, or whether he or she wants to be loved, is going to love us back, or needs love. Everyone needs love. Because we know our own faults, when somebody loves us we think, Oh, that’s great, this person loves me and doesn’t even know I have all these problems. We’re looking for somebody to love us to support a certain image of ourselves. If we can’t find anybody, we feel bereft. People even get depressed or search for escape routes. These are wrong ways of going at it.

IN THE spiritual path, there’s nothing to get, and everything to get rid of. The  first thing to let go of is trying to “get” love, and instead to give it. That’s the secret of the spiritual path. One has to give oneself wholeheartedly. Whatever we do half heartedly, brings halfhearted results. How can we give ourselves? By not holding back.  By not wanting for ourselves. If we want to be loved, we are looking for a support system. If we want to love, we are looking for spiritual growth.  Disliking others is far too easy. Anybody can do it and justify it because, of course, people are often not very bright and don’t act the way we’d like them to act. Disliking makes grooves in the heart, and it becomes easier and easier to fall into these grooves. We not only dislike others, but also ourselves. If one likes or loves oneself, it’s easier to love others, which is why we always start loving-kindness meditations with the focus on ourselves. That’s not egocentricity. If we don’t like ourselves because we have faults, or have made mistakes, we will transfer that dislike to others and judge them accordingly. We are not here to be judge and jury. First of all, we don’t even have the qualifications. It’s also a very unsatisfactory job, doesn’t pay, and just makes people unhappy.

PEOPLE OFTEN feel that it’s necessary to be that way to protect themselves. But what do we need to protect ourselves from? We have to protect our bodies from injury. Do we have to protect ourselves from love? We are all in this together, living on this planet at the same time, breathing the same air. We all have the same limbs, thoughts, and emotions. The idea that we are separate beings is an illusion. If we practice meditation diligently with perseverance, then one day we’ll get over this illusion of separation. Meditation makes it possible to see the totality of all manifestation. There is one creation and we are all part of it. What can we be afraid of? We are afraid to love ourselves, afraid to love creation, afraid to love others because we know negative things about ourselves. Knowing that we do things wrong, that we have unhappy or unwholesome thoughts, is no reason not to love. A mother who loves her children doesn’t stop loving them when they act silly or unpleasant. Small children have hundreds of unwholesome thoughts a day and give voice to them quite loudly. We have them too, but we do not express them all.

So, if a mother can love a child who is making difficulties for her, why can’t we love ourselves? Loving oneself and knowing oneself are not the same thing. Love is the warmth of the heart, the connectedness, the protection, the caring, the concern, the embrace that comes from acceptance and understanding for oneself. Having practiced that, we are in a much better position to practice love toward others. They are just as unlovable as we are, and they have just as many unwholesome thoughts. But that doesn’t matter. We are not judge and jury. When we realize that we can actually love ourselves, there is a feeling of being at ease. We don’t constantly have to become or pretend, or strive to be somebody. We can just be. It’s nice to just be, and not be “somebody.” Love makes that possible. By the same token, when we relate to other people, we can let them just be and love them. We all have daily opportunities to practice this. It’s a skill, like any other.

….I hope this finds everyone resting in Big Love today!!!! 🙂

 

Advertisements

Smile at Fear


Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future…

~~~Fulton Oursler

Because we are afraid, we develop all kinds of habits which over time lead to addictions.  Human beings are funny like that–We look for strength in the things that weaken us…

~~Pema Chodron,  Dharma Teacher

I took this picture over Labor Day weekend while hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in New Mexico.  For those of you with eyes over 40, that is a cow patty with flowers growing out of it. Lovely, isn’t it? 🙂

You have to understand the enormity of the canyon and the area in which we were hiking to fully appreciate this image–ginormous doesn’t begin to capture it.  The CDT runs from Mexico to Canada, it’s hundreds of miles long.  We were in the Rio Chamas Wilderness section, just a few miles from the CDT trail head in New Mexico.  There are countless acres and square miles in which this flower could have planted itself, but it chose to land in cow poo and stay there, to use the inherent qualities of the excrement for fertilizer and grow just a bit taller and stronger than the surrounding flowers.  Let us take some instruction from this brave little wildflower– it was not afraid to get down in the muck and take root in order to grow and thrive in an otherwise harsh desert environment.

This is the area in which we were hiking…gorgeous, yes.  But fully sunny, hot and dry during the day, chilly at night.  Deep in canyons surrounded by mountains in the Chamas River Wilderness Area, about an hour outside of Santa Fe, 13 miles back on a red dirt road then walking toward Ojitos Canyon on the CDT…Desolate but full of Life, a blank slate on which nature and Life can assert itself to grow and thrive.

So that little flower could have inserted herself anywhere.  But Life doesn’t necessarily choose what is easy, Life chooses what is Life-Giving.  And let’s face it: sometimes Life acknowledges that shit makes great fertilizer.  But the truth is that as humans, we fear the pain, the stink, the stickiness, appearances of “how this will look,”  so we go for what seems easy in the moment, rather than what might actually feed us and give us more life.  But choosing the easier, softer way may not always be life-affirming; if we are not discerning, it can also lead to addictions and much more pain.  Fear can make us choose things  which in the moment seem easier–it seems easier in the moment to avoid tears and pain.  But in doing so, we often strengthen habits which just lead to more pain and fear and so on and on the cycle goes.  The biggest obstacle to true healing is our fear, because what usually happens in the middle of big healing experiences is that our fear arises and we shut down or check out.  Yet we can also use that same fear to move us forward or feed us, to strengthen us and lead us to seeking out a new way of being.  Discernment is the key here.   (I  wrote a more in-depth post on this concept called Spiritual Fruits or Just Nuts? You can read that here if you are interested. )

There is something really powerful and encouraging about knowing that since the beginning of time, humans have felt fear and elation, grief and joy, happiness and sadness, compassion and rage, resentment and forgiveness, hope and despair.  The list of feelings and their opposites could go on and on, but the truth is we are not so different than our ancestors.  All of the Religions of the Book and all of the sacred scriptures of each religion address this…each time the Angel of God comes to a prophet or recipient of Divine Love or Intervention, the first thing the Angel says is, “Be not afraid.”  Not, “Hey Joe, it’s your lucky day!”  But, “Fear not!”  Fear is natural and human, but so is love.  So is compassion.  So is forgiveness and grace.  It’s all true at once, and so we have to choose.  We have to choose to heal.  We have to choose to love.  We have to choose to move forward in our fear, which of course  is the hardest time to choose something.  But it can be done and you don’t have to do it alone.

Humans have always divided off into groups or tribes and have always liked to talk about how civilized we are and how that group over there is so wrong or bad…you can see it now between Christians and Muslims, Muslims and Jews, Republicans and Democrats and on and on.  But the real enemy, if there is an enemy at all, is our fear.  Our fear of change, our fear of loss, our fear of success, our fear of failure, our fear of abandonment, our fear of getting what we want or not getting what we want, fear of really living, fear of what “they” will think, fear of how it will look if we ask for help or tell the truth of our lives, and on and on it goes.  But if we get down to the basics of life, a Muslim parent in Afghanistan wants the same health and safety for his children that an American Baptist parent wants for his kids.  We all want to be loved, to be nourished and to have happiness and freedom from want or suffering.  We all want to be free of the things that bind us, we all want to feel safe and happy and know those whom we love are  safe and happy as well.

There is always something in the press about 9/11 and our fear based reactions to that date, to that event.  What people fail to remember is that Iran was the first country to send condolences to the United States after the Twin Towers fell.  Yes, Iran.  Not Great Britain or Israel, but Iran.  They were the first country to hold a prayer gathering and other Muslim countries quickly followed suit, because in that moment we were not enemies without official relations, we were all just human beings, all feeling the horror of the enormity of that loss.  Human compassion was able to override fear and mistrust and bring forth compassion and prayer.  Mistrust reigns again, but in the deepest moments of need, compassion can always take root.  Like that flower, Life can always find a way to grow through the pain, through the fear, through what looks like shit, and come out smelling like a rose on the other side.  Life just does that, because Life is rooted in Love, in our Oneness, in our connection.

The danger comes when we decide to root into our fears and just create more fertilizer in our life without ever really planting good seeds of compassion, growth, love or humility.  The seeds we plant will always grow–of this there is no doubt.  And poo makes great fertilizer regardless of the seeds, but as any gardener knows, too much fertilizer can also kill the plant.  So when in fear, I have some choices…Will I ask for help?  Will I be discerning about which seeds I am sowing?  Resentment seeds seem to germinate faster than seeds of compassion, but both need fertilizer to grow.  So which seeds am I planting today, which seeds am I feeding? What do I want this garden of my life to look like in a few months?  Because have no doubt–the seeds you plant today will be harvested tomorrow. You can call it karma or what comes around goes around, you can call it fair or unfair, you can call it what you want and what you call it won’t change what it is:  your responsibility.  It us up to each of us to choose which seeds we will nurture and feed, because we all carry the seeds of hate and love, fear and faith, hope and despair within us.  We can choose.  I can choose.  You can choose.  It is not always easy, but it is always possible.  This does not mean shutting off feelings, but really honoring them, inviting them in like a wise guest and accepting the gifts they offer us.  It means we can choose which seeds we will cultivate over time, what we will feed, what we will harvest in the future.  If you plant apple seeds you are not going to get pear trees, that’s just a fact.

The Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron speaks of smiling at our fear and of embracing it, and speaks of the Buddhist saying,

Place your fearful mind in the cradle of loving-kindness…

It is a beautiful image of holding our own pain and fear with the same gentle loving-kindness we would extend to a beloved child.  Fear is not the enemy.  The “other” is not the enemy.  What we truly wrestle with is our own inner demons, our own fears, our own sense of inadequacy.  Our fear of not having enough makes us cheat or lie, steal or withhold, go too far or not far enough, hold back or shut down, hurt ourselves and others.  Interestingly, the definition of a fully enlightened being is one who is fearless because they are intimate with their fear.  Not that they don’t have fear, but that they have smiled at it, befriended it, invited it in like a wise teacher and discussed its gifts over a cup of tea.  The enlightened ones are fearless because they know the nature of fear and no longer fear their fear, not because they have managed to shut it down or off permanently.  This I like very much, this I find tremendously encouraging.

So today, like that little flower, we can choose to plant seeds of growth and abundance, of rooting down into the people, places and things which help us grow, regardless of how it might look from the outside.  Today we can choose to plant seeds of compassion and love, of forgiveness and loving-kindness and just stay with it, even if it feels or smells like shit in the moment.  Today we can smile at fear.

If you would like to watch Ani Pema Chodron talk about Smiling at Fear, you can see a snippet of that video below.

Wishing everyone peace and blessings and the peace and joy that comes from knowing we are all One, even in our fears.  Have a great day.

%d bloggers like this: