“To love without knowing how to love, wounds the person we love.” I had come across this quote a little while back and found myself nodding. Turns out it belongs to the Zen handbook that I happened to read now, called ‘How to Love’.
The thing about Zen handbooks is that they tell you quite simply what you need to do- they distill the most complex of human phenomena into formulaic steps that any individual must take, who wishes to achieve balance and equanimity in their lives. Such a distillation allows applicability of deep philosophical insight for everyone- each person doesn’t have to go through deep intuitive and experiential process individually before they can know what needs to be done. It is a separate matter that each step by itself can take a lifetime to master. But that’s how it is- elementary in concept, and advanced in implementation.
For instance, this book outlines the four elements of true love:
- Loving kindness: Being able to offer happiness
- Compassion: Understanding the suffering in oneself and in the other person
- Joy: Knowing how to generate joy that nourishes oneself and the other person
- Equanimity: Loss of boundary between self and the loved one
The crux of the matter is that true love is a feeling of deep joy in our hearts- if it is not that, it is not true love. So many other emotions and states that we identify with love- whether towards our parents, children, partners etc.- may have nothing to do with love, but may rather be a contamination of other things like neediness, control, dependence, addiction.
The joy, happiness and understanding which constitutes true love towards a partner emanates from the capacity of the individual to be full of joy. One cannot give what one does not have. And if one thinks about it, one can be happy only when thinking about giving- Am I joyous? How can I share my joy with my partner? As opposed to that, there can only be disappointment in thinking- is my partner giving me joy? Nobody can give you joy- true love is not an accident, one doesn’t quite ‘fall into it’ after all it seems. But it is a capability- to be whole, and to be happy. And then the capability for happiness and compassion towards the self extends and expands to another. You can then truly understand their suffering, and try to alleviate it.
It does not imply that you do not suffer yourself. Rather, you are truly attentive to own suffering, and compassionate towards yourself- requesting your partner for help to reduce your suffering. There is no separate self or ego- one’s own suffering is not less important or more important than any other’s.
The book mentions the importance of having a spiritual dimension in one’s life- without the balance and equanimity of the spiritual practice, one cannot sustain the ability to love. It also emphasizes the role of a strong community (in addition to mindfulness and deep listening/ loving speech) in sustaining a relationship- it doesn’t typically go into why- but one can guess it’s because nothing sustains without being a part of the whole.
So what is the other stuff that goes on? The heartbreak, toxicity, melancholy? These may result when the mind latches on to another as a distraction to escape its inherent suffering or feelings of emptiness- which becomes a crush or an addiction. Or these may be a result of dependence e.g. constant fear of losing someone. Doing everything someone says so they stay in your life is not love. You must say ‘no’ to the one you love if saying ‘yes’ tramples upon your needs- compassion towards self being the foundation of love.
It is all things one has heard before perhaps, but it becomes powerful when you ask yourself the tough questions as you read through- do you know how to love? The book is short, easy to revisit, and has a set of 20 questions at the end, to ask yourself to look into your relationship.
Overall, it reinforces the idea which I had read/ heard often before, and have begun to understand more and more- that there is ultimately only one relationship- the one you have with yourself. Everything else is a reflection of it.