Be Love Now
Think of those friends and family you enjoy spending time with. Think of those people you admire, that you find beautiful, interesting, funny and kind hearted.
Bring to mind the faces of these people. See their hair, eyes and lips.
Now imagine them smiling. Hear them laughing.
Take a moment now to carefully imagine this.
Did you smile? Love is the happiness we feel at the thought of others happiness. How do we develop such positivity for everyone?
Our Happiness Is Love
A true cause of happiness will only make us happy, never make us unhappy, and will make us happier the more we have of it.
Do our worldly enjoyments meet this definition?
In Finding Satisfaction we looked closely at how money, possessions, food, sex, and relationships fail in many ways to make us happy.
To summarise the points we made – we’re never satisfied by them for very long. They do not always make us feel the way we expected. Often having too much causes problems for us. And last but not least, they’re based on changing causes and conditions outside of our control.
When we relate to something as if our happiness or peace of mind depends on it, we become attached. That makes us take the finding, and keeping of what we desire very seriously.
But we’ll never be completely satisfied so long as we rely on external things to make us happy. Why?
Because a perfect unchanging life situation in which we always get what we want doesn’t exist.
We’re looking for that thing that can always make us happy, which is totally reliable. Since our life’s circumstances are changing all the time, this needs to be something we can take with us from one moment to the next.
Love is such a thing. However, it is important to understand that it is only our loving others, not our being loved, that will make us happy.
This is very good news, since it means our happiness is our responsibility – and within our power!
Why we want to be loved and why being loved cannot solve our problems is discussed in What The Love.
How Love Is Developed – In Summary
Attention —> Appreciation —> Gratitude —> Love
In order to appreciate anything, we must be capable of paying attention, and capable of contemplation. Appreciation is developed through familiarity when we focus on something’s beauty, value, complexity, simplicity, immensity, subtlety and so on.
We naturally feel grateful for people and things by appreciating their power to fulfil our wants and needs, and the wants and needs of those we care about.
If our gratitude for others is to become love, we must come to value their happiness as we value our own.
The only way to value others as we value ourself is to develop equanimity.
To develop equanimity we must come to regard our similarities as meaningful and our differences as meaningless.
In order to recognise our differences as meaningless we have to stop identifying with them as “part of who we are”.
It’s absolutely necessary that we refine our sense of Self. We must find a sense of “I” common to all beings, beyond all the labels of man, woman, young, old, rich, poor and so on. What do we all have in common? How are we connected?
Self-awareness and appreciation both depend on our ability to pay close attention. Our ability to pay attention is developed only through the practice of mindfulness and meditation – so all good qualities, like love, depend on mindfulness.
For The Love Of Mindfulness
If we were never to take notice of something’s beauty, simplicity, complexity, and so on, we would never develop any interest in it, let alone any love for it.
At any given moment there are countless things we could pay attention to. However, our attention is directed primarily through the force of habit.
That is why we often find ourselves thinking and reacting negatively to the same things over and over again.
By cultivating an awareness of what our mind is doing, we gain the freedom to direct our attention in ways that are beneficial to ourself and others.
Not knowing the relationship between what we think and how we feel, we tend to blame other people and external things for our painful feelings.
Without the self-awareness provided by mindfulness, we’ll never recognise the cause of negativity as arising from our own way of thinking.
It will also by quite difficult to recognise the exact moment in which our mind has become negative or how long our mind has been dwelling on such negative thoughts and feelings.
Turning the tide of our habitual, conditioned ways of thinking and responding to life’s events means recognising quickly what our mind is up to.
By making mindfulness and meditation a regular part of our life, we become more aware of our thoughts and how they effect us.
We’re more likely to notice the moment our attention shifts uncontrollably towards something negative. And in time, we’ll have the understanding and concentration necessary to transform our thoughts and redirect our attention.
Mindfulness is so important that I encourage you to read the Meditation Basics series.
If you want something very simple, with little commitment, check out this article on Mindfulness in Daily Life.
The Joy of Affectionate Love
Affectionate love is a tender, joyful feeling we experience in the company of someone we like.
We only come to like those people we appreciate. Our appreciation for them has developed over time. All our friends, and family too, were once strangers to us.
Every stranger has friends and family who know and appreciate them. The only thing preventing you from liking them and everyone else is your ability to appreciate them.
We don’t need to wait for this appreciation to develop through the course of time if we know how to direct our attention in the right way.
The quickest way for us to develop an appreciation for others is by paying close attention to their good qualities and to our similarities.
Developing our appreciation can require a great deal of self-awareness. Why?
Because our mind is very quick to say “I like” and “I don’t like” based on our conditioned way of thinking.
It’s through the force of mindfulness we become aware of these thoughts and how they effect us.
We don’t need to believe everything our mind has to say. Just because our thoughts and feelings of like and dislike come on quickly and without effort does not make them “part of who we are”. They occur spontaneously through the force of habit and familiarity.
It’s important to remember, “I am not my thoughts”. Yet our thoughts and beliefs are what ultimately shape the way we feel about ourself, other people and what is happening around us.
If we really understand how we feel to be determined by our thoughts, would we choose to be judgemental and critical, knowing it would cause us to feel bad?
Remember, someone else has more patience and affection, and understanding of that person than you do. They experience happiness and peace of mind as a result of their loving perspective toward them.
This experience of peace and resilience is what you really wish for. So you must recognise any negative way of thinking or feeling you experience spontaneously as nothing but an unwanted habit.
Don not consider negative thoughts or feelings as an essential part of you. Acknowledge them however as something you are experiencing. And when it is appropriate, follow the trail of thoughts to understand their origin – some deeper hope or fear you have.
Understanding that your happiness is at stake will give you the strength of mind necessary to question these reactions and find a more wholesome and positive way of thinking about others.
Love Depends on Appreciation
How we develop our appreciation for people and things is covered in detail in the series on Appreciation.
When we separate our opinions from physical sensations, we are left with unique sounds, sights, smells, textures, flavours and so on.
The sense we have of things being pleasant or unpleasant, although it appears to be instantaneous, is in fact, arising after we have formed an opinion and not before.
Appreciation takes us beyond petty likes and dislikes. Through appreciation we’re able to direct our experience of people and things by focusing on them in a particular way.
It is possible to experience a different feeling, without changing anything, by simply regarding the situation differently.
When we see garbage in the street and immediately think “that’s disgusting”, or “people are so inconsiderate” – the unpleasant feeling we experience is not coming from the garbage. It’s coming from our judgement.
The garbage in itself has no power to “make you feel” anything at all. If we were to regard the garbage as mere shapes and colours, they may very well be beautiful.
There is no standard scale for what we can or cannot appreciate. Our appreciation’s not limited to what is conventionally perceived as good and beautiful.
Since our appreciation arises from our point of view, it is found to be an inexhaustible source of joy, as in any given situation, at any given time, it is possible to take an appreciative view of whatever’s happening.
This doesn’t make us stupid, of course, we can appreciate cleanliness as well. Only now, free of our judgement we can happily walk by, or happily clean it up.
Similarly, when it comes to other people, we must take notice of and refuse to accept any negative thoughts we may have as representing the way those people actually exist. That negativity’s just one of many ways of viewing them.
We only judge and condemn what we do not understand. If we do not understand others it is because we do not understand ourselves.
If we can pay close attention and come to appreciate their unique beauty, their way of thinking, how they feel, where they come from, what they want and what they are afraid of, we will begin see ourself in them.
Appreciating others, whether they are friends, enemies or strangers, is easy when we contemplate our similarities.
Everyone wants to be happy and free of suffering just like you. And what do you know about happiness and suffering? Hopefully you recognise that you can’t be angry, hateful, resentful, vindictive, or defensive and be happy at the same time.
What are you like when you’re happy? How do people behave when they are happy? They tend to be quite open and friendly. They are easy-going, willing to listen and compromise.
So when you encounter people who are rude, angry, defensive, conceited, and so on, you must remember – they want to be happy and they aren’t. If they were, they wouldn’t be like that.
Thinking in this way will ensure we do not cling unnecessarily to the negative opinions we have formed of other people. Through thinking in this way we’ll begin viewing negative thoughts, feelings and qualities as a disease – rather an considering them “part of who we are”.
I explain how I came to realise this in a personal story I have shared called There Are No Bad People.
Cherishing Love – Viewing Others as Precious
Cherishing love is a wish to help and nurture those we care about.
Part of feeling grateful is a wish to give. Our wish to help and nurture others arises from our gratitude.
Our gratitude for others is developed by perceiving others as generous, and as having given something valuable.
The ‘something valuable’ is not objective, it is anything we consider valuable. It may be food, shelter, protection, time, attention, support, inspiration…love.
It is only by appreciating the value of what we have received that we understand the value of what we have to give.
A Love Born of Gratitude
There’s no standard scale for what we can or cannot be grateful for. Our gratitude’s not limited to what is conventionally perceived as valuable.
Gratitude is not a “thing”, it is a way of looking at the situation. There are an infinite number of perspectives, opinions and felt responses we can have to any given situation. However, few of these perspectives have the effect of making us happy.
When we come recognise that being grateful makes us happy, we’ll have the motivation necessary to develop this perspective, and be grateful for all things.
In Gratitude (coming soon) there’s a beautiful contemplation on the many ways in which other people give to and support us. In contemplating it carefully, we’ll discover a whole new perspective that keeps our hearts open and full of appreciation.
But for the sake of this article I will give a different example.
When we consider carefully what the necessary components are to developing our love (which is the source of our own happiness), we realise, one of those components is other living beings.
When we realise that our happiness comes from and depends on loving others, we become even more grateful for them. For without them as the object, as the recipient, of our love and affection, how could we develop it?
No one benefits from our judgement, our rejection, our condemnation, our anger or our hatred, least of all ourself. It is not possible to be happy and experience such negative thoughts and feelings at the same time.
Therefore it is in our interest to be grateful for all living beings, as they provide us with an opportunity to experience the joys of appreciation and gratitude by serving as the objects of our love and affection.
Loving Others As We Love Ourself
Wishing love is the happiness we feel at the thought of someone else’s happiness.
This love is developed by regarding others happiness as important as our own. It is a selfless wish for others to be happy for their own sake.
Not only do we wish they had everything they wanted, but we wish they would experience perfect peace and happiness.
This is a very special love and that which has the power to make us very happy.
If we want to feel as grateful for other peoples happiness as we would our own, we must develop equanimity.
To develop equanimity we must see ourself in others. In order to do that we must find our sense of Self in something which is common to all living beings.
Right now it’s likely we identify with many different labels, such as male, female, young, old and so on. Thinking of ourself in this way creates a sense of separation and causes us to perceive meaningful differences between ourself and others where none actually exist.
Developing this love is a journey of self-discovery. In Love Connects Us (coming soon), we contemplate the many ways in which we are intimately connected to others, and furthermore, how we are in fact, the same.
In the series Discovering Yourself, we undergo the journey of recognising labels, and de-conditioning ourselves.