Heart Like a River
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. So the big question is: how do we help our hearts to grow?
Understanding is the Nature of Love
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.
Love Is Expansive
In the beginning of a relationship, your love may include only you and the other person. But if you practice true love, very soon that love will grow and include all of us. The moment love stops growing, it begins to die. It’s like a tree; if a tree stops growing, it begins to die. We can learn how to feed our love and help it continue to grow.
The Four Elements of True Love
True love is made of four elements: loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. In Sanskrit, these are, maitri, karuna, mudita, and upeksha. If your love contains these elements, it will be healing and transforming, and it will have the element of holiness in it. True love has the power to heal and transform any situation and bring deep meaning to our lives.
The first element of true love is loving kindness. 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.
The second element of true love is compassion. Compassion is the capacity to understand the suffering in oneself and in the other person. If you understand your own suffering, you can help him to understand his suffering. Understanding suffering brings compassion and relief. You can transform your own suffering and help transform the suffering of the other person with the practice of mindfulness and looking deeply.
The third element of true love is the capacity to offer joy. When you know how to generate joy, it nourishes you and nourishes the other person. Your presence is an offering, like fresh air, or spring flowers, or the bright blue sky.
The fourth element of true love is equanimity. We can also call it inclusivesness or nondiscrimination. In a deep relationship, there’s no longer a boundary between you and the other person. You are her and she is you. Your suffering is her suffering. Your understanding of your own suffering helps your loved one to suffer less. Suffering and happiness are no longer individual matters. What happens to your loved one happens to you. What happens to you happens to your loved one.
To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love. To know how to love someone, we have to understand them. To understand, we need to listen. That person may be our partner, our friend, our sibling, or our child. You can ask, “Dear one, do you think that I understand you enough? Please tell me your difficulties, your suffering, and your deepest wishes.” Then the other person has an opportunity to open their heart.
Nourished by Joy
Learn to nourish yourself and the other person with joy. Are you able to make the other person smile? Are you able to increase her confidence and enthusiasm? If you’re not able to do these small things for her, how can you say you love her? Sometimes a kind word is enough to help someone blossom like a flower.
Goodwill is not Enough
Your good intentions are not enough; you have to be artful. We may be filled with goodwill; we may be motivated by the desire to make the other person happy; but out of our clumsiness, we make them unhappy. Walking, eating, breathing, talking, and working are all opportunities to practice creating happiness inside you and around you. Mindful living is an art, and each of us has to train to be an artist.
What Love Needs to Survive
The Buddha said that nothing survives without food, including love. If you don’t know how to nourish and feed your love, it will die. If we know how to feed our love every day it will stay for a long time. One way we nourish our love is by being conscious of what we consume. Many of us think of our daily nourishment only in terms of what we eat. But in fact, there are four kinds of food that we consume every day. They are: edible food (what we put in our mouths to nourish our bodies), sensory food (what we smell, hear, taste, feel, and touch), volition (the motivation and intention that fuels us), and consciousness (this includes our individual consciousness, the collective consciousness, and our environment).
The Beauty of the Body
The human body is one of the most beautiful things that we can see. We need to practice treating such beauty with reverence. Perhaps we’re afraid to contemplate beauty and that’s why we don’t treat our bodies and the bodies of others with respect.
Don’t say, “Love, compassion, joy, and equanimity are the way that saints love, so since I’m not a saint, I can’t possibly love that way.” The Buddha was a human being, and he practiced as we do. At first, love can be tainted with attachment, possessiveness, and the desire to control. But with the practice of mindfulness, concentration, and insight, we can transform these hindrances and have a love that is spacious, all-encompassing, and marvelous.
A Sleeping Child
There are times you may sit and look at a child when she’s sleeping. While the child sleeps, she reveals tenderness, suffering, and hope. Just contemplate a child sleeping and observe your feelings. Understanding and compassion will arise in you, and you will know how to take care of that child and make her happy. The same is true for your partner. You should have a chance to observe him when he sleeps. Look deeply, and see the tenderness that is revealed, the suffering, the hope, and the despair that can be expressed during sleep. Sit there for fifteen minutes or half an hour and just look. Understanding and compassion will arise in you, and you will know how to be there for your partner.
Many of us wait until it is too late to see what really matters to us. Sensual desire can feel so overwhelming that it’s often not until later that we see the many important things that have needed our attention. Everybody makes mistakes, but you can’t keep asking people to forgive you again and again. For example, instead of just saying, “I’m sorry I shouted at you,” you can train yourself not to shout so often. Instead of a quick apology, take the time and make the commitment to practice seeing the roots of your behavior.