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Lions Roar : January 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2013 47 down, and I will support you when you feel stressed by giving you space to go back to the present moment.” True love, the third mindfulness training, is about making a deep, long-term commitment to a partner, like the one Ian and Raphaelle share. It is not a heavy-handed law forbidding sex out- side of marriage, nor is it a list of appropriate sexual acts or a judg- ment regarding sexual orientation. Instead, this training declares that the proper context for sexual relations is a serious commit- ment made known to one’s family and friends. While at Plum Village, I spoke with Will Stephens, who for several years has been attending the summer retreat with his family. “Through this practice,” said Stephens, “I’m beginning to learn what true love actually is.” It is not, he explained, “I love you if you meet my needs.” It’s about helping the person you love to be free and happy. “I believe I wouldn’t be with my wife now without this practice. I wouldn’t have had the clarity to see it wasn’t my wife that was the problem. It was my own problem.” In this post-sixties world, Stephens said, people find it dif- ficult to embrace the training of true love because they like to be able to have sexual relationships without committing long-term. “But in my experience, damage is done to myself and the other person if we have that level of intimacy without commitment. It’s an intrusion into that person’s and my own psyche.” “I had the experience of sexual relations outside of my mar- riage,” Stephens admitted, “and that caused a lot of pain to myself, my wife, and the other person.” It’s important to remember that sexual desire is not love, and sometimes cravings for sex actu- ally stem from a deeper need to connect or to validate the self. “For me,” said Stephens, “sexual desire has often been motivated by loneliness, so when my relationship has not been strong, my loneliness has been intense.” But, as the third mindfulness training states, “Sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others.” It can only ever be a band-aid to loneliness. Living true love isn’t easy, Stephens acknowledges. “We have to work at it.” The real key is “taking care of the true love, so that the sexual commitment takes care of itself.” These days, he and his wife regularly take time to appreciate each other and to com- municate any hurt or difficult emotions that they’re experienc- ing. Now there’s a lot of love in the relationship; there’s fidelity. The wedding at Plum Village ended with hugging medita- tion—the bride and groom in each other’s arms for a long time. Then, outside the meditation hall, they smiled as the guests showered them in flower petals. 4. Loving Speech and Deep Listening Sister Chan Khong has been working side by side with Thich Nhat Hanh for more than fifty years and is recognized as a major force in the development of Plum Village. She’s also a gifted teacher and, during my retreat, she came to New Hamlet one afternoon to teach a practice called Beginning Anew. It’s a practice that supports the mindfulness training of loving speech and deep listening. A four-step process, Beginning Anew involves looking deeply and honestly at yourself and improving your relationships through Above left: Sister Peace (left) with Sister Chan Khong, who has been Thich Nhat Hanh’s invaluable collaborator for more than fifty years. Above right: The Plum Village tradition includes a large repertoire of songs celebrating various aspects of mindful living, including walking, sitting, breathing, eating, and enjoying the present moment. PHOTOSBYANNIEGRUYER(LEFT),DAVIDNELSON(RIGHT)