Once we admit it is difficult to sustain love then we can forgive ourselves for the times when we have been unable to feel or be love. Let me be the first to say I have had difficulty with love. The idea of it sounds fantastic but being love has often been an unsuccessful mission. It required a suspension of what and whom I like or dislike. It required dropping all negative references to anything and everyone. It required an exhausting amount of energy to hear or see something that brings forth anger and simply walk away from it all in the name of love. In essence, all my innate or usual responses to challenges, be it difficult people, places, or things, were not conducive to arousing love. In the end, I had justification to blame others for my grief, ultimately feeling hopeless in my attempts at love and a failure at developing loving relationships.
According to Louise Hays, a well-respected mind, body and spirit teacher, much of the pain in our bodies stems from the voids in our spiritual well being. In our society life-threatening heart diseases have been on the rise for the last two decades. I suspect such an increase has to do with our level of spiritual wellness. In my own life, I have experienced a great amount of physical pain and I am certain that it has a direct relationship with the extent of which I have struggled with love.
So, I have been on a life-long exploration of this deep desire to be well. And I do not believe that I am alone on this journey. Many unconsciously walk this journey filling the road up with pretty things, money, jobs, and people hoping to find the wellness already within.
What’s Love Got to Do With It?
I love music and I love to dance. Many times I have danced in my car seat listening to the radio, singing along as if I were on stage. I especially liked singing along with Bob Marley trying to sound like a Rasta. And sometimes I pretended to hit the notes with Whitney Houston trying to capture her soaring heart. When I would hear Tina Turner sing What’s Love Got to Do With It, I’d turn up the volume because I love Tina. But every time after the second run of the chorus, I would stop singing and hear myself answering the question “What’s Love Got to Do With it?” My answer, “Love has everything to do with it, my sister. Everything!
I did not feel love was a second-hand emotion as the lyrics suggest. I felt love as an ancient primal way of existing as living beings. Mostly we are not aware of such love because of our preferences, desires, and emotions. Everyone one loves everyone but we just don’t know it. We can’t feel it through our pain, distrust, and our ever-vigilant ways of protecting ourselves from one another. And many of us have given up on love because the journey of finding it has failed.
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken, Tina sings from the very heart she is questioning. We need a heart, if only to say, “My heart is broken.” We need a heart to ask why is my heart broken, what has happened? We need a heart to say, “I am well again. I’m good.”
Once in a meditation class someone asked me, “Why are you only talking about love in a universal way and not about the intimate love between two people, you know, relationship? My answer, “Isn’t it the same? How can you love one person or two without loving everyone and everything? How can you possess love and give it out like a reward to this one, that one and not that one? If we are only choosing certain people to love we are not in act of love but rather an act of infatuation, preference or favoritism.” She was puzzled because she needed some guidance on being in relationship with her beloved. She wanted some answers to the challenge of love and lovemaking. Perhaps she wanted love to be defined so that she could know it, grab it, or maybe use it to her personal benefit.
I believe the greatest question of all the centuries in which human beings have existed is “What is love?” It is our deepest desire to touch others’ hearts and be touched. We want to feel love. And of course this would be our deepest desire. Once we are born, we are held in the arms of someone at least our entire first year on Earth. Babies who are not held, tend to die according to many researchers. Breastfeeding is not only about being fed as much as it is about the baby being held while adjusting to the world hopefully feeling safe in someone’s arms. So we may go about life looking for that experience again and again for love in that expression. However, what we have forgotten is that the baby arrives filled with love, before even falling asleep in the arms of another. And the guardians of that child, responds (or not) to that love the baby arrives with. It is the parents that are learning about love through the infants and the education can be challenging for the adults. I predict that when the desire for love and visibility arises within our collective hearts and minds there is a rise in birth rates. On the other hand I predict, when there is a gross lack of love the homicide and suicide rates increase.
At church in Sunday school, when I was a young girl, our assignment was to memorize a verse from the Bible and recite it when we came to class. Because of my fear that I could not memorize a long verse I would arrive many Sundays with the simple verse, “God is love.” Although, the teacher would look at me with much disappointment expecting more from me, I felt satisfied with the simple words rolling off my lips. Those three words gave me a deep sense of comfort for some unknown reason.
As I aged and despite my long walk on Buddha’s path, I found myself still reciting “God is love” as some sort of inner mantra. Finally, when I opened up to the entire verse I began to see the true reason this verse stayed with me throughout my life journey. The whole verse is, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:8).” Love is an act and it is simultaneously a description of the nature of God. When we love, we know God and we know love. And because I prefer to see God as a spirit within me, when I love, whether it is returned or not, I am still love. God is love, so we are love. God is love was the mantra I needed as a child in difficult times.
We come fully equipped. Love is our nature. What do I mean by nature? All beings, all things are nature. All things come into existence and they cease to be in existence at some point—that is the nature of things and beings. We are born and we die. If you spend time in nature, you notice that the spring flowers disappear by summer. The green leaves change from red to yellow to brown in the winter season. It is transformation and magic at it’s finest. Our true nature is to be love and loving from birth until death. It just so happens that such love is detoured by obstructions on the road of life. We end up falling into ditches.
Hate is a distortion of our loving nature. In other words, love is still there but it is distorted. You have to care in order to hate someone or something. Something in your mind, in your much-needed heart is convincing you that the person, people, or thing you hate is taking away your sense of joy and love. Something in your mind says that, “If I am afraid of that person or group of people, it is alright to hate them.” When you say, “I don’t love that person,” you are saying, “I could love that person better if they were more like me—look like me, talk like me, listen to me.” On the other hand there can be an assumption a person does not love you so you hate them sensing at some point you will be rejected. These are distortions of love, a twisting of our true nature into a form to match what we think in our minds. We confuse love with the physical desire to touch and be touched. So, often we cannot imagine being touched by certain people or to touch particular kinds people. Hate comes easy in such a limited understanding of love.
Most of our hatred is directed toward strangers. “I hate that stranger because of this or that.” The funny thing is, strangers, people you have never met, are recognized as being a part of your life when you spend time hating them. The recognition itself comes from your nature of being love. Many years ago, while waiting for a commute train, I once heard a young teen yell out, “I hate fat people.” I looked around because she was loud. And when her eyes glared at me, I realize she was directing her hatred towards me. And that’s how I found out that some people saw me as fat at that time. Of course in the moment of the incident I began to hate the young teen because she was loud and rude. But mostly because she had hurt my feelings, she had tapped into this deep psychic wound I had at that time in my life. And yet, that encounter was an example that in our hating we recognize other living beings as part of our life. The recognition is love itself, but a love that is buried beneath the suffering. Mind you, I am not saying that the words of the young teen were an expression of love. Quite the contrary, her words were a distortion of the love she could not feel for herself. She had to hate me to feel love for herself—even though it was not the deep loving nature of her heart. It was a distortion, twisting in her mind, from her own struggle to remain “thin,” erasing any kindness towards herself and others.
Likewise, violence is distorted love. It is love acted out of feelings of not receiving love from someone or from something. Violence against one another is a distorted act based on the feeling of not receiving love. “I will kill you.” Then the mind justifies it by saying that would be one less person that doesn’t love me. “I will kill myself.” Then the mind justifies the distorted love by saying no one loves me. We can see this clearly in the 21st century with the high suicide and homicide rates among us. We are enraged when we cannot express the very love that is inside us, the love that we are. As I said earlier, everyone loves everyone. We just don’t know it. That’s the reason we need our hearts. We need ourselves. We need to know that everyone loves. We need to sort out corrupt things from our hearts that say there is no love. We have to do such sorting on a daily basis, moment-by-moment.
Zen teacher Sekkei Harada Roshi wrote, “In our lifetime there is only one person we must encounter, one person we must meet as though we were passionately in love. That person is the essential Self, the true Self. As long as you don’t meet this Self, it will be impossible to find true satisfaction in your heart, to avoid feeling that you lack something, or to be clear about things in general. To meet your Self is said to be the purpose of human life. (from his book The Essence of Zen).” Therefore, it is an act of love to study yourself, be honest with who you are, know how you impact others, despite the difficulties with being or feeling close to others. We cannot give up.
Yet still you may ask, “What is this love? It would be a mistake to define love, sit back and say that’s it. For sure we would leave out what it has meant, what it means in the present moment, and its meaningful experience of tomorrow. Every time I have defined love, the meaning, the essence eventually morphs or slips away. Like water, you can cup it with you hands or place it in a bowl but eventually it will disappear and you will have to gather it once again. You can point to a river, an ice cube, tears and say it is all water. As water is an element of nature, it’s presence changes as does the seasons. Love is a part of this ever-changing transformative nature. It is practically impossible to define that which cannot always be touched or seen but can be experienced within our lives. Perhaps we can evolve as a species back to an ancient all-pervading sense of love between us without a definition, without being definite. Perhaps we can learn to draw this life force we call love, back into our souls the way the ancients did centuries ago—through ceremony and ritual. Perhaps this love is as elusive and accessible as our breathing. Perhaps it is our very breath.
A better question might be how is it to be love? What I can say about love without definition is that in being it I feel close to another others. I feel connected to those around me, to the mountains, the ocean, the tress, and the birds. I am unafraid. I feel all is well. There are no worries, just peace of mind and heart. In this place I feel close to everyone and everything. The heart stops racing, the blood pressure goes down. The intimacy is celebrated. Then, I can say something I call love has welled up inside me.
There are other times when this kind of intimacy arises. One of those times is during silent sitting meditation. Meditation is core to the awakening that has occurred in my life. In the silence, an unshaped love is seen and felt. It is where I see my true nature as love. When I sit in meditation an intimacy with my own life prevails. In the silence of meditation, I am reacquainted with relationships including beloveds, friends, family, and community. I am reminded of loss and separation or the joys of sharing my life with others. I ask, “How can I take love that arises on the meditation cushion, into the world I live?” In this next part of the book I share four paths of being love that have come to me during my walk on the path of awakening. I tried on love as a way of life and it brought wellness to me. I share these four simple paths with you in an effort to help us all forgive, reconcile, and reunite. And to help us remember that primal caring for one another. Peace in these times is dependent on our falling back in love with each other and all other living beings.
First Path of Being Love: View love as moment by moment.
We are funny beings. We want love to last forever but we run the first chance we get when love erupts inside of us. I remember as a young child trying to imagine being married to someone for as long as my parents had been married. By the time I was ten years old they had already been together for over thirty years. That seemed like forever. Yet, I witnessed the tears of my parents as they struggled in hope, resistance, and faith, engaged in the lifelong pursuit of wellness and the good life in America. They worked harder perhaps than necessary, yet remained close to God. They worked to ensure that their three daughters would not suffer to the extent that they had. What kept them together through the ups and downs? I will never know precisely because I never asked. Yet, I imagined that they had to commit again and again to exploring love each day, year after year. They did not present to my sisters and I the romantic love as seen in movies or written in romance novels. What they did show us was staying together through thick and thin. They knew love from a place no one could see with the eyes.
If we can imagine a society based in love, then the commitment is being love in one moment. Not forever, not love in the past or the future, but for the moment. Each moment then links to the next one, eventually a month goes by, then a year, another year, and perhaps a lifetime like my parents.
Second Path of Being Love: Remember every life was born with love.
What can soften your heart? Remember that you came into the world with love. No matter what your birth story, love was a part of it. There may have been difficulties in your environment, motherlessness, absent or abusive parents and guardians, or neglect and yet you still arrived with your gift of love. Go back and reclaim it. It is important to do so in order to be love and connect with others.
When you are struggling with others see what stories you are cultivating about your beloved, your family, friends, or co-workers. Then see what stories you hold in your consciousness about yourself. Can you see the moment you separated from your beloved, family, or community? Can you see that that moment of separation has ceased to exist? Can you see another chance for closeness but you’re afraid to take it? If you have experienced catastrophic events that have separated you from people then an act of love would be to seek help from professionals and/or healers who work with paralyzing trauma lodge in the body.
In the meantime, start where you are. “I release the fear that I am not capable of love.” “I acknowledge that I am love but somehow I didn’t believe it.” “I have been looking for someone to love me because I can’t and the truth is I am the love I’ve been looking for.” “I may be holding love hostage inside my pain. I can release love now.”
There is no need to push for anything. See your loving beingness exploding out like a rush of water. Watch for those times when your thoughts shut off the valve. Place love in your hands and not in the hands of others.
Third Path of Being Love: We cannot give love. We can only be it.
At one time in my life, I cracked under the weight of holding love back from others. I had been enraged (in-rage) for many years, feeling the weight of my life. I blamed everyone and everything for my misery. I thought others were responsible for my joy. Eventually, I realized that withholding love was an unconscious punishment for those around me. However the largest revelation was that it was not mine to hold. I could not give “it.” Some of us turn to buying and giving gifts to re-enforce our love. We turn to saying things that sound like we are expressing love or may act in accommodating ways to please others. We do all we can until we grow tired of showing proof of our love and dwindle into apathy. In essence, many of us think we are giving love but we cannot give it. Love cannot be possessed. Like we do not truly own the land we live on, or the water we drink. When the earth ceases to give water or land slips away into the ocean we become keenly aware that nature is not ours to give and take. We don’t own the people we love simply because we love them. When we feel we own that which is nature, such as love, we misuse the resources nature gives. A consciousness of owning, becoming property to one another can lead to abuse, disregard, distrust, and rage.
I have learned that I can only be “it”, BE LOVE and then give of myself. To give of myself was frightening. Would I disappear?
As uncontrollable emotions and illnesses manifested, I knew it was time to trust my own capacity to be love or my disappearance would be more imminent than ever. During a stay in a Buddhist monastery, and meditating for nearly seven hours a day for six months, I planted my feet on the floor of the forest. Just in facing the fear and being willing to let go of my fear and distrust, I was flooded with unleashed love from within. It was so overwhelming the mere drop of a dead leaf from a nearby maple tree brought me to tears. I hid my face, my eyes in this vulnerable state. I was turning back into love. The late Venerable Ayya Khema, in her book Visible Here and Now, wrote, “The more often we remember that all our heart has to do is love, the easier it will be to distance ourselves from judgments and condemnations. The spiritual path is a path of purification of heart and mind.” The purification process takes place each moment. If we commit each moment to let our hearts love then we are forever in love rather than in rage.
Love is not dependent upon who loves us and who doesn’t, including whether we can love ourselves or not. Our nature is love. It is not what we do but what we are.
Fourth Path of Being Love: Love is for the benefit of everyone around us, not only to satisfy our personal desires.
Love is the nature of us all and it cannot be used only for our personal benefit. The best we can do is to acknowledge one another by truly looking into each other’s faces with genuine warmth and affection, setting our judgments aside. In many ancient West African traditions, one did not say hello to a person until it was acknowledged that they see you first. “I see you,” one says and then greets with a hug or handshake. In some cultures perhaps it is a bow or the tip of a hat to honor the presence of another. In other words, we can express a nature of love by recognizing that same nature in others. The Vietamese Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, says the greatest gift we can give another living being is our presence. “I am here for you. I know you are there for me. I know you suffer; I am here with you. I am a practitioner, practicing to be in the true nature of love.” These words may ring louder and go in deeper than the words, “I love you,” or “You’re mine.”
If we see suffering as something that we all share then we can see the love we all share. We are to realize our interrelationship with one another without fear, hope and manipulation. The interrelationship of love between us is the foundation to our living together. With that understanding we are able to let go of trying to hoard love for ourselves. Perhaps we can hold the intention of letting go of the stories that keep us from loving one another. Try on your nature. Smile without needing one in return. Tip your hat. Acknowledge with a nod. Say, hello to the spirit of love, the expression of love embodied in the one before you. Be Love!
May the heavy become light,
May what’s ill become well,
May what’s violent become peace,
May rage be settled,
May the idea of enemy be banished,
May actions be filled with sincere purpose,
May wellness be illuminated,
May gifts be recognized,
May all that we know to BE LOVE,
pour out and overflow
wherever it is needed.
—Zenju Earthlyn Manuel