This past weekend, which coincidentally was a full moon weekend, I attended a powerful retreat in Maui. It was called, “Open Your Heart in Paradise.” Undoubtedly, it was the perfect place to study the power of love and the practice of loving kindness. The retreat facilitators included Ram Dass, Jack Kornfield, Trudy Goodman, Mirabai Bush, Krishna Das, and friends. The focus of the discussions centered on how love and power intertwine and the importance of reminding your heart who you are, even in the midst of what might be a chaotic life.

Buddhist spiritual practice reminds us of the importance of mindfulness and awareness of the present moment for well being. That nonjudgmental consciousness is of particular importance where love is concerned, because it helps us pay greater attention to our opportunities to bestow love whenever possible. No matter who we are, where we live or what are our circumstances, we are all hungry for love and there is no such thing as giving or receiving too much love.

As most readers will already know, love is a primal need and part of Maslow’s essential Hierarchy of Needs. Essentially, we are all born knowing love and how to love. We are love. As Jack Kornfield stated, “It’s not about improving yourself; it’s about coming back to who you are.” Unfortunately, sometimes the challenges we face along the road of life diverts us from the path of love. As we approach our golden years, many have an added understanding and belief that, as Virgil proclaimed, “Love conquers all.” Love can also set us free. Those who have worked in hospice say that often the dying become more loving in their last days, and offer loved ones a beautifully positive perspective on life.

Yet love does not just make itself known to those nearing the end of life. It is with us at any age and in any circumstance. Speaking of the power of love, back in the 1980s poet Maya Angelou gave a commencement speech at Wake Forest University where she said: “Your destiny is to develop the courage to flesh out the great dreams, to dare to love, to dare to care, to dare to want to be significant and to admit it, not by the things you own or the positions you hold, but by the lives you live.”

There were so many magical things about the weekend, including the evening Kirtan sing-a-longs with Krishna Das, an Emmy award-winning performer who has been practicing devotional chantingover 40 years. Simply being in the presence of luminaries such as  Ram Dass and Jack Kornfield was a huge offering. Part of the celebration was a ceremony where Ram Dass sat near the altar with photos of his guru Neem Karoli Baba (Maharaj-ji), and offering mala bracelets to each of the 300 attendees. Each bracelet had a little piece of Maharaj-ji's sblanket woven into it. Simply whispering a special message into Ram Dass' ear and giving him a hug as he smiled from his wheelchair, was a touching and life-changing experience.

While in Hawaii I read Be Love Now by Ram Dass, Ph.D. (born Richard Alpert) is a powerful book, part memoir and part teachings offering insights regarding the power of love and how it is simply a state of being. Ram Dass says: “If you put out love, then you immerse yourself in the sea of love.” I highly recommend it to anyone interested in bringing love into their own lives and those dear to them. It is true that the more love you send out, the more you receive in return. Along with the many other documents and teachings at the retreat, we were given a sticker, saying, "Be Love." Posting this is message is a constant reminder that offering love, even to our enemies, can be contagious.

Many times, our seeming struggle to love others is really a part of the process of learning to love ourselves and coming back to who we really are, our truest nature. In maintaining a mindful, nonjudgmental state, we learn how to be kinder, more forgiving and more compassionate with ourselves which in turn will manifest in all our dealings with others.  If you fall in love and get hurt, it might seem destructive at first, but love never destroys—it creates. In the end, what usually happens is that the loss results in transformation, growth, and a sense of empowerment as you move into the next life phase.

Sometimes the simplest truths are the most difficult to master. Yet it is a fact that the more you love yourself, the more you can accept and love others. We are made of love; it is our common denominator, a flame that we should keep igniting and spreading. It is the fire that can heal.

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