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Lions Roar : July 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2006 62 Awareness Is Ripe”: when I knew how to love the doors of my heart opened wide before the wind. / Reality was calling out for revolution. That spirit of revolution, that call to practice transformative love captured my critical imagination and merged with my longing to find a loving partner. WHEN LECTURING ON ending domination around the world, listening to the despair and hopelessness, I asked in- dividuals who were hopeful to talk about what force in their life pushed them to make a profound transformation, mov- ing them from a will to dominate toward a will to be compas- sionate. The stories I heard were all about love. That sense of love as a transformative power was also present in the nar- ratives of individuals working to create loving personal rela- tionships. Writing about metta, “love” or “loving-kindness,” as the first of the brahmaviharas, the heavenly abodes, Sharon Salzberg reminds us in her insightful book Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness that “In cultivating love, we remember one of the most powerful truths the Buddha taught ... that the forces in the mind that bring suffering are able to temporarily hold down the positive forces such as love or wisdom, but they can never destroy them.... Love can up- root fear or anger or guilt, because it is a greater power. Love can go anywhere. Nothing can obstruct it.” Clearly, at the end of the nineties an awakening of heart was taking place in our nation, our concern with the issue of love evident in the growing body of literature on the subject. Because of the awareness that love and domination cannot coexist, there is a collective call for everyone to place learning how to love on their emotional and/or spiritual agenda. We have witnessed the way in which movements for justice that denounce dominator culture, yet have an underlying commitment to cor- rupt uses of power, do not really create fundamental changes in our societal structure. When radical activists have not made a core break with dominator thinking (imperialist, white suprem- acist, capitalist patriarchy), there is no union of theory and prac- tice, and real change is not sustained. That’s why cultivating the mind of love is so crucial. When love is the ground of our being, a love ethic shapes our participation in politics. To work for peace and justice we begin with the individual practice of love, because it is there that we can experience first- hand love’s transformative power. Attending to the damaging impact of abuse in many of our childhoods helps us cultivate the mind of love. Abuse is always about lovelessness, and if we grow into our adult years without knowing how to love, how then can we create social movements that will end domination, exploitation, and oppression? John Welwood shares the insight in Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships that many of us carry a “wound of the heart” that emerged in childhood condition- ing, creating “a disconnection from the loving openness that is our nature.” He explains: “This universal wound shows up in the body as emptiness, anxiety, trauma, or depression, and in relationships as the mood of unlove.... On the collective level, this deep wound in the human psyche leads to a world wracked by struggle, stress, and dissension.... The greatest ills on the planet—war, poverty, economic injustice, ecological degrada- tion—all stem from our inability to trust one another, honor differences, engage in respectful dialogue, and reach mutual understanding.” Welwood links individual failure to learn how to love in childhood with larger social ills; however, even those who are fortunate to love and be loved in childhood grow to maturity in a culture of domination that devalues love. Being loving can actually lead one to be more at odds with mainstream culture. Even though, as Riane Eisler explains in The Power of Partnership, our “first lessons about human relations are not learned in workplaces, businesses, or even schools, but in parent–child and other relations,” those habits of being are not formed in isolation. The larger culture in our nation shapes how we relate. Any child born in a hospital first experiences life in a place where private and public merge. The interplay of these two realities will be constant in our lives. It is precisely because the dictates of dominator culture structure our lives that it is so difficult for love to prevail. WHEN I BEGAN, years ago now, to focus on the power of love as a healing force, no one really disagreed with me. Yet what they continue to accept in their daily life is lovelessness, because doing the work of love requires resisting the status quo. In Thich Nhat Hanh’s most recent treatise on the subject, True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart, he reminds us that “to love, in the context of Buddhism, is above all to be there.” He then raises the question of whether or not we have time for love. Right now there is such a profound collective cultural awareness that we need to practice love if we are to heal ourselves and the planet. The task awaiting us is to move from awareness to action. The practice of love requires that we make time, that we embrace change. Fundamentally, to begin the practice of love we must slow down and be still enough to bear witness in the present mo- ment. If we accept that love is a combination of care, com- mitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust, we can then be guided by this understanding. We can use these skill- ful means as a map in our daily life to determine right action. When we cultivate the mind of love, we are, as Sharon Salzberg To work for peace and justice we begin with the individual practice of love, because it is there that we can experience firsthand love’s transformative power.