“To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love.” ~ Thich Nhât Hańh
I celebrated my first Valentine’s Day when I was 11.
I had a crush on a boy who went to school with me. On February 14th, we exchanged gifts. We both blushed, kissed each other on the cheek, and sank into our little innocent worlds.
This scenario may sound familiar to many people. Since childhood, we were taught that Valentine’s Day is about buying gifts and spending time with our significant others. But the day has become so commercialized over the years that we’ve missed its true essence. And while Valentine’s Day is most often thought of as a day for couples, love is a universal feeling that everyone must praise.
Through Buddhism, I’ve learned how to make every day Valentine’s Day.
The Buddhist teachers I’ve met have also taught me about the idea of authentic love. I witnessed their endless capacity to love and give—and the way they love goes beyond materialism. We can all benefit from their teachings.
Giving gifts to our significant others is a beautiful tradition, but we should always remember that true love speaks through actions. Here are five Buddhist tips to help us move toward genuine love:
The first step toward a conscious and healthy love begins with generating understanding for others. We need to realize that everyone is different—we have different opinions, beliefs, experiences, and ways of dealing with life.
Sometimes, we lack understanding because we focus on ourselves and refuse to look at the issue through another lens. Seeing the bigger image, and putting ourselves in another’s shoes, opens our hearts and minds. Buddhists believe that understanding others opens a door to becoming more compassionate, which is another key factor to a healthy love.
In my experience, most fights occur because of misunderstandings. Communicating with an open mind can solve this issue and help couples generate loving-kindness toward each other.
One of the practices I respect most in Buddhism is how they listen. Whenever I have a conversation with the monks (or watch them having one), I can tell from their facial expressions that they are immersed in the present moment. They don’t reply instantly. Instead, they take a moment or two to consider what was said and respond truthfully.
Listening is a virtue that we often underestimate. To properly love another, we should learn how to listen to them with our entire body.
Moreover, we must practice listening to find our way to true understanding. Listening opens the door to successful communication, allowing us to connect with our partner.
In Buddhism, it is believed that for love to flourish, we need to offer genuine happiness to another. We are often focused on what we’re receiving, since—in our minds—our happiness comes first. Nonetheless, if we wish to authentically love another, we should practice caring for their happiness, too.
It’s not enough to wish someone happiness—we need to be part of it. That said, we also need to appreciate it and feel it in ourselves before giving it to someone else.
If we dig deep down, we will realize that everyone wants to be happy in this world, and we can contribute to it if we wish.
According to Buddhism, true love shouldn’t make the other person feel caged. And neither should we. Love is an exciting experience, and because it is associated with so many emotions, we can sometimes lose ourselves in the process of loving another.
To love in a healthy way, we should be vigilant about not loving with attachment. We should keep a healthy space in our relationships. The secret is to find balance between focusing on ourselves and focusing on our partner. This way, we can love without forgetting about ourselves.
Remember what Thich Nhât Hańh said, “You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.”
“Judge less, accept more,” is the Buddhist way of achieving authentic love. Pre-judging others creates a wall between us and them, and affects our ability to love. We need to understand that the only way we can love is by accepting others as they are.
Whenever we are on the verge of judging someone we love, we should first put ourselves in their shoes. None of us want to be judged. Everyone has a story we don’t know about. Our judgment stems from our lack of knowledge about the facts.
By accepting others, especially our partners, we learn to see each other as equals.
Author: Elyane Youssef
Editor: Nicole Cameron