Writing about love, by myself in particular, is absurd. Though I have read extensively on it, though I have tried numerous experiments in the practice of love, it remains a difficult concept to grasp and practice. Many claim to know what is healthy and unhealthy in the realm of love, but I often doubt anyone does, and wonder if they aren’t just projecting their own beliefs (see “Your Dream World”). But that won’t stop me from expressing a few thoughts about it, and to encourage others to become more loving.
“Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.” A.A. Milne said this as Winnie the Pooh. This quote relates to a passage in the book, “Gift From The Sea” by Anne Murrow Lindbergh. In her closing chapter of the book, which is about love and relationships, she addresses a more “planetal awareness”. She discusses how “The interrelatedness of the world links us constantly with more people than our hearts can hold”.
Ms. Lindbergh has an excellent point. Caring too much is painful. In response many people withdraw into themselves, and attempt to ignore the pain and suffering in the world. Others discuss the discord of the world to avoid the pain of their own problems. Her point is that the beginning of change starts with one’s relationship with herself, and then moves into the relationships with others. Change begins at home. Gandhi said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.”
The idea of loving oneself and branching that out to others is not a new idea. Ms. Lindbergh wrote of it over 60 years ago. Leo Buscaglia is credited with the quote “To love others you must first love yourself” in his book “Love”, published in 1972. Bertrand Russell wrote of needing to feel secure within oneself (a consequence of loving oneself) in “The Conquest of Happiness” in 1930. And the idea remains alive and well today.
For some this is difficult. Many have trouble with self-acceptance, and instead berate themselves and have difficulty with self-love. There may even be a bias against self-love. Someone who “loves himself” may be seen as narcissistic. Abraham Maslow, in discussing obstacles to self-actualization, discussed how there is a tendency to deny ones greatness for fear of this (Feist, 2013). Yet loving oneself is often considered the first step in creating love in general.
The next step is to overcome the fear of the pain that accompanies love. This is a difficult task. As I wrote in “Love’s Tug Of War
”, love can be a battle between our innate desire to give and receive agape, or unconditional love, and our ego’s desire to protect us. Fear and pain are a part of love. In fact, it is fear of pain that often keeps one from loving fully.
This isn’t only true of romantic love. Think for a minute about any issue related to humanity you care about: the environment, starving children, animal neglect or abuse, war; they all have pain attached. To have these issues in awareness brings empathy for those suffering. When you care and someone or something suffers, you suffer. It becomes easier to withdraw, to stick a head in the sand and try to ignore the problems elsewhere, or to talk incessantly about them and avoid the problems in your own relationships. As Ms. Lindbergh suggested, it often seems more than one can handle. Ms. Lindbergh’s suggestion: be more present, more focused on the moment.
Another book that addresses being present is “Peace Is Every Step” by Thich Nhat Hanh. As many of you know, he is a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk whose focus is mindfulness. There is a section of the book devoted to love, and expressing it more effectively. In a chapter entitled “Blaming Never Helps”, which relates to being angry with a loved one he says: “When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look into the reasons it is not doing well.” Thich Nhat Hanh advocates understanding, compassion, and learning to love one another better. He purports that sowing the seeds of positive emotion in oneself will create a more joyous and happy life, and that this is the root of a good community. Again, the point is mindfulness of the present, a focus on love and compassion beginning with oneself and spreading outward.
Another way to accomplish this is through meditation. There is a meditation focused on Metta that some engage in for an entire month. The Metta Meditation begins with a focus of love for oneself. After a few days, it moves to loved ones. After a few more, neutral individuals, then to those you have issue with, then to groups. By the end of the month of meditation your focus is loving the world and everything in it. But it all begins with you.
Copyright William Berry, 2013
Buscaglia, Leo; 1972; Love.
Feist, J; Feist, G; Roberts, T; 2013; Theories of Personality
Lindbergh, Anne Morrow; 1955; Gift From The Sea.
Milne, A.A; Quote retrieved from: http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/1225592
Nhat Hanh, Thich; 1991; Peace Is Every Step.
Russell, Bertrand; 1930; The Conquest of Happiness.