How to Love

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been slowly making my way through a book of passages by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh called How to Love; slowly, because that’s the only way to take it in.  Instead of reading it like I would a book, I read two or three passages a week – one at a time – and think about how that passage applies to my past and present and how I can incorporate its teachings into my future.
There are a few passages I keep coming back to – passages that have profoundly changed the way I perceive myself and my loved ones, the ways in which I interact with others, and the way I see the world around me.  I wanted to share one of these because it’s had a personal impact on my current relationship:
Rediscovering Appreciation (p. 55)
When a loved one is suffering a lot, she or he doesn’t have enough energy to embrace you and help you suffer less.  So it’s natural that you become disappointed… If you’re patient and you practice taking care of yourself and the other person, you may have a chance to discover that the elements of goodness and beauty in the person you love are still there.  Taking care of yourself, you can support your loved one and re-establish the joy in your relationship.
I love this passage because it emphasizes the importance of compassion – putting yourself in your loved one’s place and feeling their suffering – and patience (which I’d argue people have less and less of in an age of overstimulation and rapid access to everything).
How to Love talks a lot about finding joy in your life outside of your relationships in order to share that joy with your partners (to nourish their hearts and minds); this passage reinforces that idea.  When we’re hurting, we often react out of anger or fear; we blame our partners rather than considering their suffering and looking at the bigger picture; however, as Franklin Veaux says, just because we feel bad doesn’t mean that someone did something wrong.  Through self-care, compassion, mindfulness, having an active, joyful, and full life outside of our romantic partners, and having a supportive community of friends, we can take better care of ourselves and help our partners when they need it.

My sweetheart is going through a stressful and extremely busy time right now; he feels overwhelmed, working three jobs and doing an online master’s degree.  This means that he has less time to spend with me; when that hurts me (and it does), I go to this passage and focus on how I can support him emotionally.  I ask him what he needs, and that’s been a really big deal to him.  I tell him that when he’s done with all the things he needs to get done, I’ll be here, loving him, full of funny stories to share with him, and waiting with a healing touch.  Practicing loving kindness and compassion can be transformative; if not for the other person you are being kind to, then for yourself.   
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