Can you feel the love?
Keeping Elton John out of this, when the emotional bank account is low, drained from winter and children and parents and life, I find consolation from the Vietnamese teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. In his book How to Love, the Buddhist monk and author informs us that there are four elements of True Love. In Sanskrit these are maitri, karuna, mudita, and upeksha. (How to Love, Thich Nhat Hanh book link)
The Buddhist concept of suffering referred to does not equate to torture, though that can be an example; suffering arises from deep dissatisfaction whether that is physical, emotional, or spiritual.
Maitri – 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 an joy for your own nourishment. Then you have something to offer the other person.
Karuna – Compassion
Compassion is the capacity to understand the suffering in oneself and in another person. If you understand your own suffering, you can help him to understand his suffering. Understanding suffering brings compassion and relief.
Mudita – Joy
When you know how to generate joy, it nourishes the other person. Your presence is an offering, like air, or spring flowers, or the bright blue sky.
Upeksha – Equanimity
We can also call it inclusiveness 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 . . . what happens to you happens to your loved one. (How To Love, Hanh)
These remind me of the Buddhist maxim that if compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete. Compassion must start with the self, and even though I can and do influence those around me, I must first nourish my own happiness.
Understanding, deep understanding and practice of the four elements of love is a little like chess: you can learn the rules in an afternoon, but it takes a life to master the game. The problem I have is looking for peace outside of myself, from someone else or from somewhere else, a failed move every time.
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. (Hanh)
The beauty of Hanh’s work is its simplicity. Reading his words are comforting and bring peace and I find myself reading it again and again.
Here is his parable about love.
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.
Too often the heart is like a cup. Hanh titled this story, Heart Like a River.