“Love is a mind that brings peace, joy, and happiness to another person. Compassion is a mind that removes the suffering that is present in another.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
There are many kinds of love: romantic, family, friendship, affiliation, admiration, compassion, aesthetic, awe, reverence, and they all have in common the experience of an expanded and extended sense of self in a joining with the object of the love. Another way of understanding this expanded and extended sense of self can be as presence – not mere physical presence, but something much more. To truly love requires combinations of physical, mental, emotional, even a kind of spiritual presence. The space that is occupied by me expands and extends, and I am one and fully present in one or more of these dimensions, merged with the object of my love.
This is an experience we have all had. We know this to be true. Our moments of clearest and most unambiguous love are ones in which our sense of self as separate from all else dissolves, expands and extends to include this person, or this object of our perception, this affiliation, this idea, this experience. Our presence in existence now includes this “other” that is no longer wholly other. The consciousness teacher Stephen Levine, in the book he co-wrote with his wife Ondrea, entitled, Embracing The Beloved, calls this experience “The Beloved.”
“The Beloved is neither a person nor a place. It is an experience of deeper and deeper levels of being, and eventually of beingness itself – the boundarylessness of your own great nature expressed in its rapture and absolute vastness by the word ‘love.’”… The Beloved isn’t what you know, it’s what you are. It isn’t anything you think. It is that in which thought floats. And that which goes beyond thought. It is the heart of being where pure awareness and pure love are indistinguishable…That sense of presence, of simply being, when investigated brings one toward the experience of the Beloved.
When in presence, in pure awareness beyond thought, we experience that we occur within that space. We exist in connection and sharing with all else in the space of the moment, and here we discover the realm of Being. It is here that we can realize that our essential nature is love. And when that awareness is focused on another, encompassing another, then what dissolves is the sense of self and other as separate, and that space is love and compassion. It is simply what we all seek, whether in relationship, spirituality, or, as Zen identifies, life itself.
This is not to be confused with the experience called love that is really ego-identification and possession. This is not a merging of presence, but rather an incorporation, a capturing and possession of the other by the self that is the ego. In other words, it is an owning and its purpose is to make more of “me,” and “me” is still basically separate. There is no recognition of the true reality, beauty, worthiness, uniqueness of the other, every bit as important and inviolable as me, but rather, it is the making of the other into a possession of me. This is not love, and certainly it is not compassion. Unfortunately, too much of what is called love is this ego-possession, and is why rather than a source of alleviation of suffering, this pseudo-love is a source of so much suffering.
In our world, unhappily, there exists a deficiency of real love, and our relationships, all too often, suffer from a deficit of real love. We lack the capacity for real love because we lack the capacity for real presence, for real compassion. It’s not our fault, and no one is to blame, for it is rare to have experienced or been nourished with the love that is not conditional and with no ego-strings attached. We tend to love as we have been loved, and few have been loved in an enlightened and free manner. The capacity is, however, within us all, buried under the pseudo-love we learned as children and see all around us in society.
Sadly, what begins as true love, an expression of the Beloved, all too often gets lost in this ego-possession because our society does not support or train people in living in loving, compassionate presence. Quite the contrary, for our society, being materialistic, generates superficial, ego-based relationships, even within families. People get caught in their cultural/psychological conditioning, and this is why people who truly do love each other become sources of suffering for each other. Then, peace, joy and happiness are lost. This is why parents and children, spouses, lovers, and friends so often are hurtful to each other. The shared awareness and presence is lost in emotional distance caused by conflict of egos, and then physical proximity becomes painful, all the more so because the idea of supposed love remains the context. We find that loving confuses and hurts.
When Thich Nhat Hanh talks of love and compassion, it must be realized they are inextricably related. Love can only flourish in the presence of compassion and compassion is the truest love. They are both the expanding and extending of the sense of self to include another, and, he is correct; love and compassion bring peace, joy, happiness, and remove suffering. They are both expressions and natural results from what the Zen Master Dainin Katagiri called “wholehearted presence.”
To heal relationships, the irreplaceable elements that must be restored are compassion and real presence. We must be able to expand and extend the sense of self to include the other. We must see and experience that we are one in the space of Being, and that what has caused our separation is our conditioning into this ego-self, isolated in existence, that only knows how to possess, to judge, to incorporate others into its own idea of self. We must enter into wholehearted presence where love inhabits the space, where the Beloved abides.
This is true for healing personal relationships, and importantly, it is true for the more abstract relationships we have with our fellow anonymous humans and the natural world. All destruction and suffering are caused by this lack of ability to expand and extend our sense of self to include the other. In this void, compassion cannot live. Only in the expanded and extended sense of self, in realizing the Beloved as the truth of “the boundarylessness of your own great nature,” can we begin to heal not only our personal relationships, but our relationships as a human society in the vast greatness of Nature. Only then, can we become love embodied, The Beloved.
Possession and ego-identification are the antithesis of love. Yet this is what our society primarily teaches us of love – you can see it everywhere on TV. Naturally and deeply, however, every one of us knows the truth of love and the necessity of compassion. We came into this world with it. It is the boundarylessness between mother and child. It is the boundarylessness natural to a child who loves so easily and completely, albeit naively. Mature love is the wisdom to understand and apply the appropriate and necessary discerning boundaries that will not allow the violence that is ego-possession to appropriate and violate us, while extending, being-to-being, the sacred space of presence in which the Beloved holds sway and heals. Presence – total, non-judgmental presence – is the miracle quality and gift we must apply to heal ourselves, each other, and the world. This is the truth of compassion that removes suffering, and this is the truth of love that can and does bring real peace, joy and happiness.