True Love

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In movies, love is romantic, overwhelming and above all else, provokes a willingness to give up everything, even oneself, to protect it. This framework births spectacular stories full of drama but the truth is, we cannot love another fully and sacrifice ourselves. We need to honor ourselves while honoring our loved one. True love creates freedom, abundance and joy.

The Buddha describes four elements of true love:

1. Maitre (benevolence & loving kindness) -- Not only the desire to bring joy to the person you love, but also the ability to do so. Positive intentions are wonderful, but they are not enough. Maitre speaks to our capacity to offer happiness to our loved one. To cultivate this capacity, we must look deeply at the object of our love. After all, if we don’t understand what brings them joy, how can we offer it?  Sometimes, all it takes is being able to listen deeply and be fully present. 

2. Karuna (compassion) -- The desire and ability to ease our beloved’s pain. We look deeply to understand the nature of their suffering and help to remove or transform it.  When we have the capacity to stay with the pain, feel it and soothe it with loving support, the transformation happens.

3. Mudita (joy) –Simple and powerful. True love in essence is pure joy, different from the type of joy derived from materialistic things or accomplishments, it is boundless. This is not to say that suffering does not exist within love, but to remind us that happiness is its true nature.

4. Upeksha (equanimity & freedom) -- We must love in such a way that the one we love feels free inside and out, and we too maintain the freedom to be ourselves. In true love there is no enslavement.

With attention and practice, we can transform all the love in our lives to be full, expansive and true. The four elements described above are inter-related, as are all of our relationships. The first step to offering Maitre, Karuna, Mudita and Upeksha to another, is to cultivate them within ourselves. As our capacity to love ourself grows, so too does our ability to love others unconditionally. As each element and each relationship evolves, the others will expand. Intuitively we know, love is limitless and magical!

Happy Valentine's Day :)

To learn more, discover Thich Nhat Hanh’s True Love.

Photo Credit: Howard Hecht

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