By: Stephanie Miller
This month we’re exploring the Buddhist teachings of the four qualities or aspects of love.
“Love, compassion, joy, and equanimity are the very nature of an enlightened person. They are the four aspects of true love within ourselves and within everyone and everything.” ~ Thích Nhât Hanh
Maitri/Metta (Loving kindness)
The first aspect of love is Maitri, loving kindness. Loving kindness was a practice taught by the Buddha to develop the mental habit of altruistic or selfless love. The practice always begins with developing a loving acceptance of yourself. If you feel any resistance here, feelings of unworthiness are usually present. Regular practice frees the mind from old habitual negative patterns and allow us to experience the real essence of love. Real love is being able to see through another person’s eyes. To love with no strings attached or no conditions. In this Buddhist practice of loving kindness there are said to be four persons with whom to develop loving kindness towards:
– A beloved, respected person – such as a spiritual teacher.
– A close family member of friend.
– A neutral person – someone you know but have no special feelings towards (a person who serves you in a shop.)
– A hostile person – someone you are currently having difficulty with.
As this practice matures it naturally flows into karuna, compassion. From the roots of love and kindness we can empathize or feel compassion towards another person’s suffering. We can provide strength, support, and hold space for that person in need. “The boundary to who we include in our hearts is the boundary to our freedom.” (Tara Brach).
The second aspect of true love is the ability to relieve suffering in another being. This practice requires a deep understanding of how to transform this energy and not become overwhelmed by the suffering of others. This is a constant practice of mine with being vegan. When I think of all the animals that needlessly suffer and die every day for human consumption I’m overtaken with grief and heartache. When I feel myself shift into that space of despair I try to just sit, be still, and breathe. Otherwise I’m reactive, emotional, and helpless. I do allow myself to cry though when needed, I think giving yourself permission to feel is so vital to our growth and evolution. When your heart is open you’re inevitably going to feel pain, it’s simply part of the cosmic deal. So after a great cathartic cry I come home a little softer, a little clearer, and understand the dance between light and darkness. Karuna is the deep listening, the ability to experience someone else’s pain as your own, and then transforming that darkness to light. That transformation of energy is compassion, using your strength and loving heart to help another in need.
Mudita (Joy and Passion)
The third aspect of love is Mudita; joy and passion. When we’re passionate about what we’re doing we feel an organic sense of joy. A joy for the happiness of others that is filled with peace and contentment. The cultivation of mudita is known as the antidote to envy and jealousy. If we experience a lack of joy or passion this may be the soul’s way of communicating a course or even a career change is needed. The heart’s compass is trying to navigate you back towards your truth. That truth is love, and boundless joy.
The fourth practice of love is equanimity; the ability to see everyone as equal. When we can shed all discrimination and prejudice we’re able to remove all boundaries between ourselves and others. We discover that we’ve unconsciously subscribed to societal myths which create separation and perpetuate our suffering. For example, if we’ve been blessed with money and success we may feel superior to others. If we grew up financially insecure we may feel inferior to others. The practice of equanimity frees us from the illusion that we’re greater or less than and reveals the goodness that lives in all beings. We are always being pulled in one direction or another by conditions or things we either want or hope to avoid. These include success and failure, gain and loss, praise and blame etc. The Buddha said, the wise person accepts all without approval or disapproval. Equanimity is the practice of standing in the middle, of remaining calm, even minded, and centered. It’s remaining in that space of love and compassion.
Suggested Practice: The Circle of Awareness. Throughout the day take a moment to pause, close your eyes and just visualize a circle. Inside the center of the circle is a horizontal line. Ask yourself if your actions or thoughts are below the line or above it. Below the line represents old habits, emotional reactivity; fear, clinging, insecurity, anger etc. Above the line is a state of wakefulness, presence, and love. Enjoy.