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Lions Roar : September 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2011 60 time in the loving-kindness form of passion. If we can do that, then the love inside of us will extend until it embraces the world. GROUNDWORK It is good to start small and simple. What touches your heart right now? What do you love? Who do you love? Maybe you feel you love lots of things, or maybe you feel that you really don’t love anything or anyone. It could be that your focus is more on how to make others love you, and worrying that they don’t or that you will never find your “one true love.” What does reflecting on such questions evoke in you? What emotions? What bodily sensa- tions? What storylines? Going further, it is worthwhile to explore the feeling of loneliness. Can you stay with that experi- ence? Loneliness can feel like a big emptiness inside us that we are desperate to fill in. But can anything really suffice to make it go away? Does it come and go or is it always a part of us? What if we don’t try to make it go away or to cover it up? How would that change how you view others? Speaking of others, how do you divide them up? Which beings and things are “worthy” of your love and affection, and which are not? What are the boundaries of your affection? How limited does your supply of affection seem to be, and how do you parcel it out? When you reach into your little stash of loving-kindness, do old memories and hurts arise? Are you afraid of getting hurt? By asking yourself these kinds of questions, you can make a kind of assessment of your heart, and lay the groundwork for cultivating the capacity to love. It is important to know where you stand, so you know what you have to work with. The idea is not to get caught up in your ideas about what you are supposed to feel about this or that, him or her, this group or that group, this type or that type. Instead, it is to find a starting point that is not theo- retical, but realistic. If you are trying to open your heart and culti- vate greater loving-kindness and compassion, it is good to look deeply at your own situation and to really try to figure out where you are with all this. As you look around, you might only find one thing that evokes a feeling of love or kindness in you right now, and that’s okay. Rather than trying to develop some grand vision of universal compas- sion for all beings, which is tempting and sounds great, you could begin modestly with what is right in front of you, something immediate and par- ticular. Even if what you love right now is on the more pinched end of the spectrum, you can start with that. The underlying seed of kindness may be masked by your fixation or neediness, but it is still there. Similarly, if you have slightly scary flashes of open heartedness, which are intriguing, but make you feel like scrambling to secure your boundaries and protect yourself, you could start with that. MOTHERS AND TEACHERS To help us move along the continuum from pinched or distorted loving-kindness to true kindness and compassion, the Buddhist tradition presents us with examples to emulate and learn from. The first example is that of a mother with her only child. This primary bond is simple and natural, power- ful and true. There are many stories of the way ordinary mothers are willing to put their children’s needs before their own. If there is too little food, the child gets fed first; if there is danger, the mother shields her child even at the risk of her own life. Of course, there are counter examples, but the idea of the loving mother still rings true. The bottom line is that someone took care of us when we were babies; otherwise, we would not have survived. In contemplating the example of the loving mother, it could be helpful to reflect on what distin- guishes this kind of love and why it is a good model to emulate. The example of motherly love reminds us that kindness is a natural human capacity essen- tial to our survival as a species. It shows us that it is possible to put another person’s needs ahead of our own. The example of a mother’s selfless love for her children has inspired countless people throughout time. We long for love that is unfettered and pure. JUDY LIEF is the author of Making Friends with Death: A Buddhist Guide to Encountering Mortality and one of the principal editors of the work of the late Chögyam Trungpa. She lives with her husband in Vermont. PHOTOBYCHUCKLIEF