True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart


Thich Nhat Hanh's 1997 book?True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart?is a very short and physically small book (the book only has 108 pages and is a little larger than an index card). The book's physical size is no indication of the breadth of knowledge and thought contained between the covers. Instead, one can stand in amazement at Hanh's ability to write simply about these rather expansive topics. In this book, Hanh gave us the practice of mindfully breathing as a path to true love.

Hanh listed four elements of true love: loving kindness or benevolence (maitre), compassion (karuna), joy (mudita), and equanimity or freedom (upeksha). Experiencing true love with your fellow human involves all four of these elements working together in a relationship. Hanh gave us four mantras to chant while practicing meditative breathing exercises: “Dear one, I am really here for you,” “I know you are there, and I am very glad about it,” “Dear one, I know that you are suffering, that is why I am here for you,” and “Dear one, I am suffering, please help.” If we prepare ourselves by using meditative breathing, we can chant these mantras and begin to incorporate them into our soul. Once this happens, we can connect to others around us in a truly loving manner.

Simply breathing and chanting is not going to take us there, however. We need to embrace meditation as a way to connect our physical and spiritual realms. Although we often view meditation like a statue of the Buddha, it is a practice much larger than that notion. Hanh said, “Whatever you do mindfully is meditation. When you touch a flower, you can touch it with your fingers, but better yet, you can touch it mindfully, with your full awareness” (15). We do not need to be masters in meditation and Buddhism to cultivate the many rewards that come from mindfully meditating.

Meditation is much simpler than many people realize. Hanh said, “In everyday life, deep listening, attentive listening is a meditation” (36). We can listen to our loved ones, nature, or even ourselves. We can listen while mindfully sitting or mindfully walking. I keep saying mindfully because it is the critical piece of loving someone. Mindfulness involves letting go of our notions and assumptions. Once we let go of our agenda, we can look deeply into something and see its true form. We can listen deeply to the words and sounds our loved one is saying and emitting to feel compassion, kindness, joy, and freedom.

Once we let go and become mindful, we change in many ways. Our speech becomes calm and is no longer a barrier to loving relationships. We lose that harsh and confrontational tone that often scares away shy souls. We learn how to engage our negative energy (anger, jealousy, etc.) and transform it to positive energy that contributes to love. Hanh put it brilliantly in this passage:

We have to learn the art of transforming compost into flowers. Look at a flower: it is beautiful, it is fragrant, it is pure; but if you look deeply you can already see the compost in the flower. With meditation, you can see that already. If you do not meditate, you will have to wait ten days to see that. If you look deeply at the garbage heap with the eye of a meditator, you can see lettuce, tomatoes, and flowers. That is exactly what the gardener sees when he looks at the garbage heap, and that is why he does not throw away his waste materials. A little bit of practice is all you need to be able to transform the garbage heap into compost and the compost into flowers. (68)

This passage describes the transformation within one's soul once the practice of mindfulness and meditation is embraced. Mindfulness and meditation bring us to the present moment, where we can interact and be alive with our loved ones. Rather than stress and fear, we now have calm and love to reign over both our own souls and our relationships with other people. Hanh said, “In Buddhism, the greatest relief or solace that we can obtain is that of touching nirvana, were nonfear has become something that is part of everyday life” (95). By living mindfully, everyday at all times, we can become nirvana and live in it with those we love. What a great symbol of peace for a violent world.

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  1. Pingback: 6 questions we always ask — Scott Muskin, author | Minnesota Reads

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