The Buddha taught that the path to developing the capacity to love begins with oneself. In order to cultivate love and expand its reach, I believe it is essential to first direct our tenderness inward. How beautiful would it be if we could approach our inner wounds and self-perceived flaws with love and compassion, and extend that same kindness to others? What does it take for us to acknowledge our own worthiness of human warmth and offer it to others?
How beautiful would it be if we could approach our inner wounds and self-perceived flaws with love and compassion, and extend that same kindness to others?
Allow me to introduce you to the Brahmaviharas, a set of four virtues or qualities that hold great significance in various Buddhist traditions. These qualities are often referred to as ‘divine abodes’, as nurturing them within ourselves can lead to a state of mind akin to that of the divine or heavenly realms. The Brahmaviharas consist of loving-kindness (Metta), compassion (Karuna), empathetic joy (Mudita), and equanimity (Upekkha).
In this article, I would like to delve into the first virtue: loving-kindness.
What truly matters?
Whenever I find myself in quiet reflection, contemplating what truly matters in life, the answer that always comes up is love. I feel this deep longing to be kind, to embody genuine love towards myself, others, and all beings on this earth. To have enough space within me to truly listen to life and everyone I encounter, so that I can be of service. This longing emanates from the heart, and when we connect with it, we begin to experience an expansion of consciousness – a sense of embracing all aspects of life – and with it, a profound feeling of happiness.
Take a moment to reflect upon this:
How would it be if we could live our lives guided by love? What if we were in touch with the wisdom that love holds, enabling us to respond with love to our own challenges, as well as the difficulties faced by others? It is important to understand that love, too, can set boundaries. By nurturing love, we can still care for ourselves and our loved ones while seeking ways to minimise harm to others. We acknowledge the interconnectedness of all life, recognising that the same life force flows through our veins and those of others. Love comprehends our inherent unity.
What is loving kindness?
Loving-kindness, or Metta, involves developing an authentic and unconditional love for all beings. It entails extending goodwill and wishing well-being and happiness to others, regardless of their background or circumstances. This practice encourages the cultivation of a warm-hearted and benevolent attitude towards others.
However, why is it that we don’t always feel this way? What prevents us from fully embracing our capacity to love? Rumi says: Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it, and to love these barriers into healing.
What blocks loving kindness?
There are a few factors that can block our capacity to love. The first is a sense of safety. To truly experience love, we need to feel safe – safe enough to acknowledge the goodness within ourselves, others, and life itself. When we don’t feel safe, our nervous system shifts into a defensive mode, preventing us from accessing the state of love.
The second factor is gratification. When we feel that our needs are not being met, we may become consumed by a constant pursuit of pleasures, which distracts our attention and blinds us to the inherent goodness of life.
Lastly, attachment plays a role. Our longing to be seen and liked often leads us to seek approval from others, as it offers a sense of security and care. Consequently, we may find ourselves preoccupied with others’ opinions rather than being fully present in the moment
3 ways to develop loving kindness
So, how can we develop our capacity to love? I have already emphasised the importance of offering love and kindness to oneself. Now, let me describe three more ways. (Though, of course, there are many other approaches as well.)
1. Practice full presence
One powerful method to enhance our capacity for love is to cultivate a practice of full presence. This involves being fully present and aware in each moment, embracing the richness of our experiences without judgment or distraction. By training our minds to be fully engaged in the present, we create the space to connect deeply with ourselves and others, fostering an environment where love can flourish. This practice requires mindfulness and conscious effort, as it allows us to let go of worries about the past or future and instead focus on the beauty and possibilities of the present moment. Through full presence, we can access the source of love within ourselves and authentically express it to others.
2. See the goodness
Another way to nurture our capacity for love is to train ourselves to see the inherent goodness in ourselves, others, and the world around us. It is easy to get caught up in negative judgments, criticism, and cynicism, which hinder our ability to experience and express love. By consciously shifting our attention to recognise the positive qualities, strengths, and potential in ourselves and others, we open ourselves to a more compassionate and loving perspective. This practice involves cultivating gratitude, appreciation, and a genuine curiosity to understand the experiences and perspectives of others. When we acknowledge the inherent goodness in ourselves and others, love naturally emerges and expands.
3. Express love
Expressing love is another vital aspect of developing our capacity for love. Often, we may feel love within our hearts but hesitate to express it openly and sincerely. This can be due to various reasons, such as fear of rejection, vulnerability, or simply the habit of withholding affection. However, love thrives when it is expressed and shared. By actively expressing love through kind words, gestures, acts of service, and genuine care, we create a ripple effect that nourishes not only our own hearts but also touches the lives of those around us. It is important to remember that expressing love does not require grand gestures; even small acts of kindness and compassion can have a profound impact. As we cultivate the habit of expressing love, it becomes a natural and integral part of our being.
Love with your whole being
Thich Nhat Hanh wrote that when you say, “I love you,” with your whole being, not just with your mouth or your intellect, it can transform the world. When we express love, our whole body becomes filled with it, activating and energizing the love within us. Love becomes more full and abundant. So, let us not only feel love but also express it openly and sincerely, allowing its transformative power to spread throughout our lives and the world.
Incorporating these practices into our daily lives can gradually expand our capacity to love. By embracing full presence, seeing the goodness in ourselves and others, and actively expressing love, we tap into the boundless reservoir of love within us and contribute to a more compassionate and harmonious world.
Watch my recorded Satsang
A while ago, I gave a Satsang about this subject. I discussed it, shared inquiry exercises, and led a meditation on loving-kindness. If you are interested in watching it, here’s the link.