By Richard Johnson
The recent passing of Valentine's Day had me meditating on the mystery of love. We can only meet this mystery by making it real in our own lives, not by our concepts about love but by taking the wholehearted leap into love as an experience. By showing up, we enter the dance of life.
Love radiates naturally from our hearts. A mother loving her little ones is proof of this natural bond. We can look at love as a bridge. In couples, we meet and something tells us that we want to build our lives together, to bridge the separations we so often experience from others. Over time we can strengthen this bridge by establishing a firm foundation on each shore, from each partner in this ongoing endeavor. We need to love our partner deeply, and we need to love ourselves deeply.
All of us who have chosen to love a partner for life know that we encounter many obstacles to loving fully: fear, jealousy, anger, frustration and many other reactive patterns in our lives. Returning to the image of the bridge, the obstacles are impurities in the bridge which weaken it, leading at times to a complete collapse of a couple’s relationship. But as both partners deepen their commitment to this bond, their love tempers the steel of the bridge and makes it stronger and stronger.
Understanding <-> Love
We need to understand our partner to strengthen this bond. We all need someone in our lives who understands us. Yet as we mature, we also learn to seek to understand others before we expect them to understand us. Understanding another person, or “standing under” them, means to play a supporting role on the stage of their lives. What does this role ask of us? It invites us to hold another’s heart with the same tenderness and open-hearted care with which we would hold a baby bird. In that holding, we open a space to facilitate understanding between and within both people.
Understanding is a deeper way to know someone than having knowledge about them. Understanding means to bring them into our hearts and minds, holding them in awareness. Having knowledge about someone is more a surface experience, possessing information or developing perceptions about them. Knowledge by itself can get in the way of true understanding. When we’re mindful, “open, kind, and discerning,” understanding can well up inside us. Suddenly, we understand something or someone in a new and often arresting way.
As Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “Understanding is love's other name. If you don't understand, you can't love.” We can understand our partner in many ways, but as he emphasizes, “Understanding someone's suffering is the best gift you can give another person.” Loving someone and understanding their suffering, and wanting to relieve their suffering, that is compassion . We enter into compassion naturally, simply by being aware that it dwells within us.
A belated happy Valentine's Day,
Richard Johnson, Senior Teacher