To love unconditionally, cultivate presence, patience and lovingkindness.
God, it’s a mad world out there. I just started a unit on social justice with my eighth graders. We’re studying things like human trafficking, the cycle of poverty, gang culture, political corruption and environmental destruction. This, after having read the graphic novel Maus and studying the Holocaust last fall. Clearly, we are in deep shit. There’s a lot of negativity in the world. Hatred. Theft. War. Injustice. Locura. Madness.
At the same time, life is full of paradoxes. Along with the ugliness of modern society, there’s beauty, wonder, grace and gratitude—and overwhelm—at nature, at relationship, at the marvels of the universe and at being able to access all the great spiritual teachings of pretty much all cultures and lineages.
I do not claim to be an expert on love by any means, but I will share some tidbits I have learned about it so far. By love, I mean the underlying heartbeat of life, our amazing ability to feel and to express devotion to one another, to ourselves and to life itself.
Unconditional love doesn’t mean romance or lust or any kind of specific attraction. They can be easily confused in the heat of passion.
Be here now.
I’ve been blessed to study the teachings of the Buddha and practice his prescribed meditation methods, for the past eight years, in addition to my nearly twenty year love affair with yoga. I really do think it all boils down to being here now, which means letting go (of the past regrets, wounds, fractures and releasing the need to know or control the future by clinging to expectations, assumptions and concepts) in order to totally embody the present. Obviously, the past got us here and is important. The future is the reason why we’re planting seeds of goodness today. Yet, power is in el momento presente. To be present is to let go of everything that is not present.
Step One: Breathe in. You are present. Welcome to your life.
Presence means paying attention, experiencing your life as it happens, interacting with the holy unfolding moment. To be fully present is to be enlightened. To be aware of your breathing is to be present. Simple as that.
Enlightenment is ordinary. We constantly forget to remember that.
Hence, the next ingredient, Step Two: practice patience.
Whatever your livelihood, it inevitably requires and benefits from patience.
Step Three: Give metta.
Metta is lovingkindness. First, we must learn to be present and patient. Then we can turn our focus to specific techniques: forgiveness practice, mindfulness practice, metta practice.
May I be safe, healthy, happy and free from suffering. May I live with ease.
Buddhist teacher and author Sharon Salzberg writes:
Metta means equality, oneness, wholeness. To truly walk the Middle Way of the Buddha, to avoid the extremes of addiction and self-hatred, we must walk in friendship with ourselves as well as with all beings.
When we have insight into our inner world and what brings us happiness, then wordlessly, intuitively, we understand others. As though there were no longer a barrier defining the boundaries of our caring, we can feel close to others’ experience of life. We see that when we are angry, there is an element of pain in the anger that is not different from the pain that others feel when they are angry. When we feel love there is a distinct and special joy in that feeling. We come to know that this is the nature of love itself, and that other beings filled with love experience of this same joy.
The Buddha promised eleven particular benefits that come from the caring cultivation of metta:
- You will sleep easily
- You will wake easily
- You will have pleasant dreams
- People will love you
- Devas [celestial beings] and animals will love you
- Devas will protect you
- External dangers [poisons, weapons, and fire] will not harm you
- Your face will be radiant
- Your mind will be serene
- You will die unconfused
- You will be reborn in happy realms