One of the most precious gift we have been given is our ability to love. Our love may encompass the big and small, our love may encompass the beautiful and ugly, our love may encompass ourselves and everything around us. Think about the many layers of your love; the romantic love for someone special, the love for something you like to do, the love for your family, the universal love which drives your desire to help those in need and protect everything in creation from harm.
Love is a central tenant of many world religions. In Christianity both the love of worshippers for God and Jesus as well as the love of God and Jesus for worshippers are often repeated themes. Likewise worshippers are encouraged to love one another and others:
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.
1 Thessalonians 3:12
In Buddhism love or loving-kindness is known as one of the four immeasurable minds. It is in essence the strong wish that all sentient beings be well and happy:
Radiate boundless love towards the entire world — above, below, and across — unhindered, without ill will, without enmity.
Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Discourse on Loving-kindness
While we should practice our ability to feel this kind of love in every action and thought, the following practice may help us to become more mindful of our ability to love and strengthen it:
- Take five deep breaths
- Think of the love you feel for someone close to you, such as your partner, parents, pets, children or friends.
- Think of someone who was wronged you – do you have the capacity to feel love for them?
- Think of yourself, with all your faults and shortcomings. Can you find love for yourself?
- Think of all of humankind, every single living soul. Can you find love for each and every one?
- Think of all sentient beings. Cows grooming their calves; lion brothers fighting for their territory; elephants wondering together. Can you find love for each and every one?
- Think of existence as a whole; every particle in the universe, every field and power, seemingly endless time itself. Can you find love for this vessel in which we exist?
Love just like gratitude and forgiveness is a powerful, deep emotion. We have a natural ability to love and using this ability may make us stronger and wiser. Unfortunately in times when we are weak, it is often difficult to find love, and much easier to find hatred and self-pity. If we find ourselves unable to love easily, we may follow some of the other practices to help us be stronger and unlock our ability to love unconditionally again.
Image credit: Dan Sudermann
I think it is human nature that we are constantly disappointed with ourselves and others. One fundamental driver for this is our struggle between altruism and selfishness. We are programmed to be supportive and helpful to those around us but we are also programmed to look out for our own interests. Which ones of these directions we follow is a constant source of uncertainty for us and, if we inevitably choose the path of selfishness occasionally, we are bound to be disappointed with ourselves. Likewise, we are disappointed with others if we observe them doing the same.
Given this constant struggle and disappointment, I believe it is critical for us to embrace forgiveness in order to keep a balanced and happy mind. Thus I have developed the following very simple practice that may aid us in being more forgiving.
- Breathe in slowly and deeply until your lungs are filled with air. Hold your breath for three seconds and then slowly exhale. Repeat for three times.
- Forgive yourself for all the things you have done wrong, said wrong or thought wrong today or in the past. Remember that you are worthy of love, even if you make mistakes or are misguided.
- Forgive others who you feel have wronged you. Like you, they are worthy of love, even if they make mistakes or are misguided.
- Forgive existence for providing us with little guidance as to what our purpose is. You have been given this life; treasure what has been given to you.
Forgiveness for me is powerful since it is not only something we do through our thoughts but experience as a deep and revealing emotion. If I was angry with myself or others and I allow myself to forgive, I feel the relieving emotion of forgiveness washing over me. Maybe you do not experience this in the same way but I believe that we are all able to feel forgiveness as something special. For instance, think about how fundamental forgiveness is to Christianity: Yes, we may have sinned but God and Jesus will forgive us (the latter possibly more so than the former). If we truly believe this, this is bound to be a powerful emotion.
The practice above however does not assume that we will be granted forgiveness by a higher power. We ourselves forgive. And this matters. To be full of forgiveness is critical for journeying on the path of enlightenment, and we must not only forgive others but also ourselves. We are bound to be disappointed again and again, but the more disappointed we get, the more we need to forgive.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matt. 18:15–22)
Image credit: Wikimedia