Understanding a Tornado
Love, I think, is a sustained openness to another person. --Alva Noë Dear Friends,
I meant to get this out by Valentine's Day, but oh well... talking about love is always relevant, isn't it?
Thich Nhat Hanh teaches about love like this: Love is Understanding. If we don't understand someone then we cannot truly love them.
I find this very challenging. Understanding would be easier if it were a one-time, static thing, but it's not. It's a practice that we do every moment. Just because my partner likes to walk one day, it doesn't mean that he won't want to take a taxi next time. When we understand someone in a static way, we put them in a box. If I were to assume, based on several situations, that my partner prefers walking to taxis, then I would be limiting who he can be in any moment, and not really understanding him. So how can I truly understand him?
And who is my loved one anyway? If we look deeply we see that he isn't just his physical form, and he isn't just his thoughts or feelings or perceptions. He is an ever-changing combination of all of these things. He is made up of the air he breathes, the food he eats, the experiences he has had, and the genetic predispositions he came with. If we took away any of these things, he wouldn't be the same person.
Though we can't find one thing that he "is", if we look really deeply we see that he contains everything in the cosmos. If we need to understand in order to love, how can we understand the entire cosmos? If we think of our beloved as a static entity "a man who likes to walk places", "a tall person", or "a father", we are understanding little bits of who he is. But perhaps this is the only way to understand-- bit by bit, moment by moment. In this moment, my beloved wants to walk.
So if our beloved is the entire cosmos made up of bits and pieces of momentary thoughts, feelings, longer lived genetic predispositions and memories, then how do we use this understanding to love them more skillfully? If we think about how we love the world, it gives us clues as to how to love them.
When we have a sunny day, we are very happy and grateful. Why? Because we know that the universe is unpredictable and alive. We are not in control of the weather, and so we appreciate when we have a lovely day. And when we are sitting in the hot sun, and a cool breeze passes our way, we say "ahhh..." and revel in the momentary coolness that we feel. We don't try to cling to that cool breeze because we know it is just a passing joy. And when it rains or even when a tornado hits, we may suffer, but we don't usually take it personally. We may try to find the conditions that caused the tornado so that we can protect ourselves next time one hits.
When we truly understand that our child, parent, sister, partner, or friend is more than what we see, that he or she is truly the entire cosmos unfolding in each moment, then we can start to truly love each other. Rather than having expectations about who they are, or who they should be, we can relate to them the way we would the sunshine, the cool breeze, or even the tornado, knowing that they are manifesting their own conditions uniquely in thisunder moment. To understand doesn't mean that we will be happy about every tornado. We can enjoy their pleasant actions and seek to better understand the roots of their unpleasant actions. It's a never ending process of discovery in each moment.
And each moment is all we really have together anyway. By paying attention, we can understand our loved ones in this moment, and that is enough.