Love - The Gift of Peace
Love is not something you do,
Love is a way of being.
And more than that.
It is simply being,
Being with another person, however they may be.
Holding no judgments, having no agendas,
No desire to control,
No need to prove your love,
No intrusion upon their soul.
Nothing but a total acceptance of their being,
Born of your acceptance of yours.
Unconditional love is not unconditional approval of anothers actions, irrespective of their effects upon others. It is unconditional love of the being behind the action. It does not depend upon how a person thinks, feels, or behaves. It does not pause to assess whether or not another is worthy of affection. It recognizes that beneath all our various appearances and activities we all want to feel loved. In this we are all united.
Unconditional love recognizes that we are all to some extent, caught in the belief that our inner satisfaction is determined by what goes on around us. We all feel the need for security, control, recognition, approval, and stimulus to varying degrees, we all feel threatened from time to time by things that seem to stand in the way of our fulfillment; and we can all make mistakes
The Love of God
This unconditional love is the love of which the great religions have spoken. It is the love of God. If God (and we each have our own interpretations of that word) exists and loves us, It does not love us because of something we have done. God does not judge us as good or bad. Such judgments stem from our own needs, not Gods.
Nor does the love of God depend upon how earnestly we worship God. That is merely another projection of our needs. The love of God is a love for our being, for the inner essence that dwells within us all.
This is the love we each seek. And this is the way we want others to love us. We want to be loved just as we are, warts and all.
Moreover, it is the way we would prefer to love others. To know the love of God is to have unconditional love in our own hearts. We want to be able to love in this way because inside we know that it is lasting and more deeply satisfying than conditional love.
But how do we attain such a love? That is the eternal challenge! How do we learn to love our neighbor as we love ourselves?
The best neighbor we have to practice the art of loving with is the neighbor we are already in close relationship with, the person we share ourselves most intimately with. Whatever we may each be thinking, saying or doing, we always have one thing in common. Each and every one of us wants to feel loved and at peace within.
It is easy to forget this. And when we do, we may find ourselves thinking the other person has said or done something bad. That is when we should try to step back for a moment and appreciate that they too, in their own way, are looking for love and seeking to find some peace in this ever-changing world. Where we differ is in how we set about satisfying this quest. When others try to find peace and love in ways that appear to conflict with our own attempts to find fulfillment, we may feel angry or frustrated or frightened or resentful or distant or some other less than loving emotion.
Forgiveness is letting go of the belief that the other person did wrong. It is not saying I know you committed a sin, but I will not hold it against you. It is a recognition that we are each seeking the same goal, but caught as we each are in our ego-mind, we may act in ways that are short-sighted and self-centered, and not in the best interests of other people. Forgiveness is acknowledging that I too, given the same history and circumstances, could easily have made a similar mistake.
The same sentiment is expressed in the New Testament. The Greek word that we translate as forgiveness, aphesis, means to let go. And, as we saw earlier, the Greek word for sin means to miss the mark, to be seeking inner fulfillment in the wrong places. To forgive others their sins is to recognize they have merely missed the mark. It is to let go of the judgment that they have wronged us; and to recognize instead that they are just as caught up in illusions as we are.
Forgiveness is also a letting go of the belief that another person has upset us. It is to take responsibility for our feelings of distress, and recognize that whatever the other person may have done or not done, the feelings we have are our own creation.
This was brought home to me very clearly several years ago when I discovered that a business associate had been lying to me about progress on a project we were working on. What made it worse was the fact that I had already expressed to him my concerns that he was being less than honest; but he had told me not to worry, that he was indeed telling me the truth. When the truth finally did emerge, I was livid. Not so much because the deal had fallen through, which in itself was a blow, but more because, despite his promises, he had been lying to me all along.
Two weeks later I was still upset. So much so that merely thinking of him late at night created sufficient distress to prevent me from going to sleep for another hour or two. Then I realized something. He was not making me upset; I was. He was not doing anything to me now. If I was angry now, it was my own responsibility. I was creating feelings of anger and hostility by the thoughts I was having. There was a conflict between the situation at hand -- what I call the what is -- and what I think should be. In this case the should was that when someone promises you they are telling you the truth, then they should do so. It was this that was upsetting me. There was a conflict between my personal values, and the fact that someone else had not lived up to them.
As I began to explore the issue more fully, I put myself in his shoes. I saw that here was another human being, struggling to get by in life, who, for one reason or another (who knows what had happened to him in the past), had tried to alleviate a difficult situation by not telling me the truth. And the deeper hed got into the mess, the more hed been forced to keep up the pretense. This is not to say that I thought his actions acceptable, or that I pushed my own values aside. I still hold that if someone promises they are telling the truth, then they should. Most of us hold this value; thats why we ask people to swear under oath, and why we consider perjury a serious crime. But I could understand how he had got himself into that situation. And from that understanding came forgiveness.
I did not make him right, or absolve him of his unacceptable behavior. But I did stop making myself upset. I was free to go to sleep at night in relative peace.
When anger arises it is real. And we should not suppress it. That is only likely to make us stressed and sick. But we do not need to carry the anger around with us long after the event. Holding on to grievances only results in an unnecessary disturbance of our inner peace.
Forgiveness is not an easy practice. As anyone who has trodden this path knows, it requires commitment, vigilance, and patience.
It also requires continual self-reminding. Once someone or something has triggered one of our inner vulnerabilities it is all too easy to forget our higher goal. We forget our practice -- only to remember later how we could have seen things differently.
On those occasions when we do remember that it is our interpretation of events that determines our reaction, we can help ourselves by pausing to ask our hidden observer whether it can suggest another way of seeing the other person. As ever, you have to watch out for the ego-mind and its distortions, but if you listen carefully you can sometimes hear the small, quiet voice of the inner self. And what it usually says -- though maybe not in words -- is that here is another being, like you, seeking love.
Suddenly you see them in an altogether different light. They seem totally changed. And yet they have done nothing; it is only you who have changed.
This is not to suggest that changing our perception will resolve all the difficulties we encounter in our relationships. Letting go of our judgments may make another persons behavior comprehensible, but it does not make them right. However, if we can approach such issues from a genuine love rather than from anger and resentment, the chances of our responding in a constructive manner will be much greater. I know that in the case of the colleague who lied to me, once I had defused my anger I was able to deal with him much more effectively than I would have done had I continued feeling bitter and hostile.
Love In Action
In the previous chapter we saw how relationships can easily turn into a vicious circle of mutual attack. It may be very subtle -- just a withholding of information, distancing body language, aloof tone of voice, cynical comments, or personal criticisms. Or it may sometimes be more overt, leading to arguments, fights or total non-communication. But whatever form it takes, the underlying game is the same. We are trying to hurt each other in some way.
Every attack is a withholding of love. We know intuitively that the other person wants to feel loved, and that by withholding love we can exercise some power over them, and perhaps manipulate them into giving us what we really want. But what we really want is exactly the same as what they really want. We both want to feel loved by the other. And we attempt to make the other behave in a more loving way towards us by witholding our love from them. Seen from this perspective the withholding of love is clearly counter-productive and never going to work. Which is one reason why so many couples end up in therapy or the divorce courts.
This vicious circle can be broken if two people start from the recognition that each wants to feel more loved and more at peace, and then communicate with the conscious intention that the other person will feel loved and at peace, not unloved and hurt. The Buddha called this right speech: If you cannot say something in such a way that the other person feels good on hearing it, then it is better to retain noble silence.
This should not be interpreted as a cop-out. Oh, I have something difficult to say, and I dont know how to say it in such a way that you wont feel hurt, so I shall just keep quiet. We need to get our feelings out, but we need to so in a way that does not initiate the vicious circle of mutual attack. So should retain noble silence only so long as you need to, while you work out how to say what you have to say in a loving manner.
How can we do this? There are several things that can help:
Become vigilant against attacking thoughts, and filter them out before you speak.
Put yourself in their shoes. Try to avoid pushing their buttons, or using words or examples that they might construe as attacking, even though no attack is intended.
When you have something difficult to say, preface it with the reason why you want to say it, letting the person know it comes from a place of love rather than attack. To say: I love you and really value our relationship, and in order to make it even better for both of us, I need to discuss an issue that is difficult for me. Is going to set a very different tone than simply blurting out whatever you have to say. Saying the truth is one thing. How you say it is quite another.
Express your fears. They are also part of the truth, and expressing your fear of rejection, being misunderstood, or whatever, helps the other person appreciate where you are coming from, and can put the other person more at ease -- which, remember, is the goal of this exercise.
Learn what works. If despite your best intentions, the other person feels attacked or unloved from something you said, ask them for suggestions as to how you could have said it better. You will be surprised how much you can learn.
When this practice slips, as it surely will from time to time, and the attacking mode creeps in, apologize. Dont let it start up the vicious circle again; instead own up to your mistake (we are all human after all), and say Im sorry, that wasnt fair, there was an element of attack there. Then try to express it with a more loving intention.
When two people in a relationship share the intention to remove any element of attack from their interaction in order that they may each feel more loved, and more at peace, everything changes. A whole new quality of love descends into the relationship.
In addition to the qualities of eros, the passion of love that we know so well, and the quality of agape, the Greek word for unconditional love, the compassion that we find when we let go of the judgments we hold against others, there comes the quality of caritas, the Greek for caring, sometimes translated as charity, as in Faith, hope and charity. Caritas, or caring, is not so much an emotion as an attitude. It is love in action. When this descends into a relationship, a miracle unfolds. And it all comes from consciously trying to give the experience of peace to the other rather than trying to withhold it.
All Our Relations
Our intimate relationships may be where we begin the practice of this yoga; but it does not end there. The same principles apply to our relationships with people we hardly know, or may have never even met.
To take just one example, I have never met the political leader of my country. However, I have read much about him in the press, seen him on television, and heard some of the things he has said. As a result I have formed a good many impressions of him. And I have opinions as to ways in which he is right, and ways in which he is wrong. But all of this is my projection. I do not know what goes on inside his mind, how he sees the world, and what he knows that I do not know. I do not know what his personal hopes and fears are, or why he makes the decisions he does. I can only surmise that, given his own history, experiences, and conditioning, he is doing the best he knows how.
This does not mean that I agree with his actions. If I feel that certain policies do not serve people as well as others might, I will do whatever seems most appropriate to try to change the situation. On the other hand, I also try not to let my judgment of his decisions become a judgment of him as a person. I try -- and frequently it is not easy -- to see him as another fellow being seeking peace.
We can practice the same with complete strangers -- people we see in the street, on a bus or plane, in a restaurant. We can practice seeing past their actions and appearances, past the judgments we project on to them, and see that invisible part of them that is in so many ways just like ourselves.
Similarly with non-human beings. The dogs, dolphins, and dragonflies we meet are also conscious beings. They may not have developed the same mode of consciousness as we have. They have different senses which give them different experiences of reality; and they have different ways of interacting with the world, giving a different color to their consciousness. Dogs hear sounds far beyond the human range, and their sense of smell is a million times more sensitive than ours; while dolphins with their sonar are aware of altogether different dimensions of experience. Nevertheless, whatever the creature, the essence of consciousness remains the same; it is the essence of being aware, the light behind all experience. Seeing this, seeing that the consciousness within ourselves is the same consciousness within all sentient beings, is the basis of universal love, a love for all creation.