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Lions Roar : September 2017
Sharon Salzberg: That’s a good point. As you’ve been speak- ing, I’ve been thinking that the missing ingredient in the six elements of love you listed is love for oneself. If you give love to others without loving yourself, you’ll be out of balance. You won’t find wholeness. On the other hand, I don’t think loving yourself one hundred percent should become the project before you ever work on loving somebody else. People say that to me all the time: I decided to spend a few years only offering loving-kindness to myself. I under- stand and respect the impulse, but the question is, how do you know when you’re done? What’s the measure you’re looking for? bell hooks: It’s not necessary to get to the point of being able to say I completely love myself. But I do think we must come to that place of wholeness where we are at peace, especially those of us who have unresolved trauma. When you have wholeness and peace, it makes you want to love more. As you say, Sharon, people start off thinking they could never love that much—it’s too daunting. Or they don’t want to, because it would make them too vulnerable. But the more you practice love, the easier it is. It becomes an act of grace. Question from the audience: How do you find the strength to love the other? How do you stop seeing someone as the “other” when they are obviously othering you? bell hooks: The practice of compassion is a pro- found practice of finding space. Can I find a space I can enter with this person who clearly others me, who wants to deny me my humanity? That’s one of the key roles of meditation—finding a space where I have the strength to not be shriveled up by an act of aggression I encounter. As Black people and Brown people, we encoun- ter so much everyday aggression. What may seem like a trivial incident can do real damage, and we end up carrying it around. For me, the alchemi- cal process of meditating, of reflection, allows me not to carry things with me that can paralyze and wound me. Self-care strengthens our capacity to enter into this culture of domination and othering without being constantly wounded. Sharon Salzberg: You’ve already done the hardest part, because you want to reach out to the other. You don’t see that as weak or being in collusion with the other’s destructive view. That’s strength already. That’s your innate dignity coming through. It enables you to look at how that person is “shriveled up,” in bell’s words. You can see the self-imposed prisons they live in, how the choices they’ve made have cut them off. Com- passion can flow from that. Question from the audience: Love was a radical notion to my mother. I realized early that she didn’t know how to love herself, and that meant it was hard for her to love me. I wasn’t shown what it means to love; I was shown what it means not to love. How can I learn through meditation and other practices to con- nect to what it means to love from a positive perspective? Sharon Salzberg: There can be something beneficial that can come out of learning through negation. When you get to see up close what doesn’t work, you can also see what’s left, and you may find something really potent. LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2017 58