A few months ago, I attended a celebratory gathering of friends that buzzed with delectable food, aromatic teas, and live music featuring guitar, ukelele, tapas, harmonium, and djembe.
Midway through the evening, a Hawaiian kumu (teacher), adorned with waist-length gray hair and a colorful tunic, suddenly appeared. As her tiny feet took the floor to speak, the man next to me whispered, “This is going to be a $1,000 presentation.”
Yes, the kumu’s words made a positive impression on me. But, it was the mesmerizing movements of her hula dance that split open my heart.
As my tears tumbled, the world expanded. I felt an uncontainable love as the magical life force of sacred, old style hula (hula kahiko) touched and opened me in unspeakable ways.
In that moment, I knew “love” would be my guiding word for 2015.
The expansive ambiance that had penetrated and surrounded my being lasted for awhile, but it gradually faded over the next few days.
Naturally, I felt disappointed. But, I understand how an authentic spiritual teacher can mysteriously lift us up into a higher, more loving perspective. And I know it doesn’t last.
All our ordinariness will return, at least for most of us, but still there’s a difference because we’ve received a glimpse into our true potential. Now, it’s up to us to do the nitty-gritty necessary to cultivate and eventually sustain such an exquisite expression of love.
The Truth About True Love
I believe this profound ability to be love lives within each and every one of us. But there are some important things to know in order tap into your inner spring of love.
1. Love Requires Diligence
Most every bona fide spiritual teacher I know – and I’ve had the good fortune to meet many – has spent years in solitary retreat, taming their thoughts and emotions, training their mind in positivity and truth, and expanding their understanding of reality.
I realize such an endeavor might be or feel impossible given the reality of your life.
You might have kids to care for, an elderly parent to assist, or trouble just keeping up with the bills. This isn’t old Hawaii, Tibet, or India, cultures in which spiritual dedication inspired admiration rather than distrust. Let’s be honest, we live in a materialist culture that doesn’t encourage spiritual inquisitiveness.
But that doesn’t mean you have to give up on love or higher insight. We must find a way to embody spiritual qualities like love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and understanding despite the frantic pace of modern life. Because love is the only way to genuine happiness.
Diligence doesn’t necessarily mean a stress-filled, nose-to-the-grindstone approach either Diligence can be infused with joy when it’s inspired by the knowledge of the beautiful benefits we are sure to receive.
So enjoy every moment of cultivating love. Don’t make it an arduous task!
2. Love Is Not Just a Floaty Feeling
You may have an experience, like I did, when a teacher introduces you to the vastness of your own mind and heart. But like Dudjom Rinpoche has said, “Experiences are like mist. They evaporate.” The more you hold on to any spiritual experience, the more it will prove to be an obstacle on your path.
Let go of experiences, let go of expectations, let go of concepts.
Genuine loving awareness means being present to whatever is, not just choosing the feel-good way. Genuine loving awareness means extending yourself when it’s not easy and loving when it’s hard not just when it feels bubbly. Genuine loving awareness means being willing to let go of someone so they can pursue what’s best for them, even though you would rather hold tight.
Every one of us has the capacity to love unconditionally, transcendentally, without limits. Love is the only way to go because the alternative is fear and suffering.
Really think about this deeply and see if it rings true for you.
So, how do we get there? How do we grow immeasurable love?
Here are three practices I use to grow love. You can use each one as a formal practice each day or as often as you can. You can apply any one of them in life as well.
How to Kindle Love from Within
Your days may be filled with busyness – endless tasks, external demands, and eternal worry. Love may be at the end of your very long to-do list.
Or maybe you’ve had a childhood in which love was a foreign word, never spoken or expressed so it’s largely an unknown experience for you. You feel frozen in time and space, unable to connect with any sense of love within.
Whatever your situation, start gingerly.
Here’s how: Recall a time when you personally felt a strong stream of love flowing to you. Choose a memory that feels especially vivid. It could be your grandmother lovingly baking cookies for you, an affirming smile from a school teacher, or the kind help of a neighbor when you scraped your knee.
If your childhood is devoid of any such experiences, scan your adult life for any moment of genuine love. It could even be a sweet love you witnessed between others.
Now reflect on the warm feeling this memory brings, placing your attention on your heart. Mentally fan it like you would kindle a fire so it grows more radiant, rich, and warm. Notice how you naturally feel love and gratitude when you think of the original kindness. Amplify that. Let this spark of love grow so that it gradually fills your heart. Then simply rest in the glow of this love.
This might be hard at first so be gentle with yourself. You might begin with just a tiny, flickering flame. But nurture it, protect it, and allow it to expand. Gradually, more love will fill your heart.
Avoid the urge to judge your efforts as imperfect, impossible, or inane. When thoughts and emotions arise, notice them with bare awareness but don’t follow after them. Allow them to naturally dissolve.
The first step then is to be able to truly feel love within your own heart.
Practice arousing love in this way for a brief time everyday, at least 5 -10 minutes would be a good start. Then begin to allow that field of love to move with you throughout your day and night.
Of course, you’ll probably hear a voice that warns, “This is silly, this is stupid, I should stop.” Don’t pay attention to any negative voices in your head. We have eons of fear-based habits to dissolve so love can prevail.
Practice for a month, two months, three months. Love is well worth the energy you invest. Take the time to embed the practice in your heart until love becomes your default.
See Everyone As Another You
The ability to see everyone as another you stems from the fundamental truth that everyone wishes to be happy and no one truly wants to suffer. But they’re confused about what brings happiness, and they don’t know how to avoid suffering.
So a good part of the time people – wittingly or unwittingly – make a mess. They might be unreasonable, unhelpful, or even unkind.
If you can look beyond their actions to the core of their humanity – to see another you with all the fears, hang ups, and conditioned patterns that seem impossible to escape – you will begin to connect with others in a more loving, open, and non-defensive way.
This does not condone negative behavior, but it honors each person’s essence and potential. By doing so, you’ll create the possibility for deeper connection and maybe even positive change.
Read more about this practice in my post The Secret of Equanimity: Everyone Is Another You.
Cultivate Loving Kindness
The practice of loving kindness employs simple phrases to unlock your heart and expand the circle deserving of your love.
These are the traditional phrases I use, when I’m cultivating self love:
May I be well.
May I be happy.
May I be safe.
Start by taking 5-10 minutes each day to sit quietly by yourself. Sit comfortably with your back straight but not rigid, allowing for its normal curve. Take in a full breath and slowly release it. Do this a few times, allowing your body to relax.
Then begin to quietly or silently repeat the phrases to yourself at a slow, soothing pace.
May I be well.
May I be happy.
May I be safe.
Continue to repeat the phrases to yourself again and again.
All sorts of stuff might come up from feelings of guilt to embarrassment to unworthiness. Anger or resent might be sparked too.
Whatever arises, just be aware of it and let it float away. By choosing to stay with love, you’ll slowly melt away those negative thoughts and feelings.
Just keep softly repeating the phrases to yourself.
Remember, loving yourself is not selfish unless that’s all you do. The more you awaken love for yourself, the more you’ll automatically share a tender energy with others until there’s no difference between loving yourself and loving others. It’s all love.
Do this for a long time too – a few weeks at least! It takes time to establish a new habit in ourselves. And, please don’t skip over sending love to yourself. You’ll never be able to give genuine love to others until you’re able to love yourself.
After you have established a good foundation of self love, the next step is to slowly extend your love to others by using your imagination and these phrases:
May you be well.
May you be happy.
May you be safe.
You begin by imaging a single person you feel close to and then repeating the phrases keeping him or her in your mind. Always begin by focusing on individuals and moving from one person to the next. Slowly, over several weeks, expand your circle by sequentially wishing love to those:
- you feel close to
- you feel neutral toward (like a checker at the grocery store)
- who irritate or anger you
- and finally to all beings in this world
Read more about how to cultivate loving kindness in my post: How to Practice Loving Kindness. There’s much more there!
As you already know, you’re not going to become a love bunny overnight. Irritation, annoyance, distrust – all these feelings will continue to arise for a time. Here’s wonderful news: you can also apply loving kindness to any dark emotion that arises in your mind.
Gradually – if you keep with the practice – love will prevail.
Use the month of February to strengthen your heart and expand your love. Love is the antidote to anger and hatred and it just feels right and good. Love will ease and possibly transform the suffering in your life. Love is the only way to break the circle of anger, greed, and envy that causes so much despair in our world today.
These are some of the practices I’ll be doing in February and all year long too. Please join me. Let’s immerse ourselves in love.
Note: I originally received these teachings orally from Sogyal Rinpoche and other Tibetan Buddhist teachers, but they apply universally. I’ve shared them with you in a simple way so they’re easy for you to do.
Thank you for reading. Be happy! Be well! With love, Sandra
P. S. Please help me spread the love and goodness by sharing this post on your favorite social media site.