True Love: Working with the Immeasurables
What is true love? What is pure love? What is love? Do I have love? Hallmark cards, roses, chocolates, and I love yous bring us only so far in our expressions of love. As an often single woman living in this commercialized Western world, Valentine’s Day can be incredibly lonely and isolating. A few years ago I decided to approach the celebration of love in a different way, and, I must say, my approach is finally feeling authentic. I am really quite thrilled to be celebrating love this week.
In the midst of my depression-driven rebellion against Valentine’s Day in 2011, I took to the internet for some very quick research on the history of the holiday. It appears that there is really not a whole lot of factual information. Many of the records that would detail the life of Saint Valentine are assumed to have been destroyed. Simply put, however, Saint Valentine is an early Christian martyr who is celebrated by various Christian denominations with a holy feast day on February 14th.
Now, of course, legends surrounding Saint Valentine have easily helped fill the void of historical fact. According the stories, Valentine was a priest of Rome who was imprisoned for supporting many persecuted Christians and for performing clandestine Christian weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry. Apparently as part of his ministry, he would cut out paper hearts and give them to persecuted Christians and soldiers to remind them of their vows and of God’s love.
Somehow this little analysis of the history and legend behind Valentine’s Day began to help me reframe the sickeningly sweet holiday into a reminder of the spiritual side of relationship and love. Suddenly the holiday seemed to hold something sacred—the celebration of the truth of love. Since having this insight, I have been on an ever-deepening journey into the meaning and experience of this idea of God’s love (or what I now like calling true love).
As my journey has unfolded since 2011, I’ve realized the importance of celebrating that each and every one of us human beings is both worthy of accepting and of offering true love. To take on this holy Saint Valentine’s Day as a reminder that we are deeply loved regardless of our chronic single status, our paralysis following a string of heartbreaking romances, our frustration living with an unfulfilling relationship, our doubts, our desires, our mistakes, our guilt, our shame, our fear… we are love and loved regardless of it all. So, let us celebrate!
As we get the celebration underway, it is also important to recognize that realizing, practicing, and having faith in this idea of the presence of true love is really hard work. Whether we are seeking the experience of true love within ourselves, in relationship to others, or in relationship to all of humanity, God, or the universe, knowing and experiencing true love is a practice and orientation of the heart and mind.
In Buddhism, true love is taught as a dwelling place for the heart and the mind out of which our thoughts, words, and actions may flow. Personally, I have found much depth and comfort in the teachings around the idea of true love in Buddhism. In the teachings, true love has four aspects, often called the four immeasurable or divine conditions of the mind—loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity or freedom.
Today, as you celebrate, I offer you the following overview and articulations of these four aspects of true love. Think of it as my love letter to you this Valentine’s Day. If you feel stress, tension, discomfort, or resistance in turning true love outwards right now, I encourage you to start a true love relationship with yourself.
My hope for us all is that we may come to know and celebrate true love this year.
In true love, we cultivate our intention and capacity to extend joy and happiness to ourselves and others. True love allows us to offer loving-kindness in good times and bad, always calling on us to look deeply into the wholeness of ourselves and others.
“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” –Dalai Lama
In true love, we cultivate our intention and capacity to lighten pain and transform suffering within ourselves and others. This deep compassion moves beyond the simple desire to remove discomforts into the depth of what it means to see, understand, accept, and immerse in the truth of the experience of suffering so that it may be transformed.
“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other - not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” –Nelson Mandela
In true love, we recognize and honor the peace and contentment within ourselves and others. We experience the joy embedded in true love as simultaneously rooted and winged—joy solidly grounds us and lightly lifts us with an openness to ourselves, others, and the unknown.
“With an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things.” -William Wordsworth
Equanimity (or Freedom)
We have all heard the saying that love will set us free. In true love, we let go of the attachments, prejudices, and fears that bind and imprison us in order to honor and understand the wholeness of ourselves and others. True love cultivated with equanimity allows for the preservation of our freedom as well as the freedom of those we love.
“You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free, not only outside but also inside.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
So, these are the immeasurables. The four divine conditions of the mind that together may help us realize true love in our lives and in the world. Whatever the belief or tradition you hold dear, consider this question of true love (God's love, unconditional love, authentic love)—what conditions of mind and/or heart comprise this experience of love? In celebration, may we tend to those conditions today.
Perry is the Director of the Institute for Spiritual Formation & Society at Still Harbor. She believes words have the power to transform for good if they are used with reverence to the sacred nature of all things. She hopes that you feel inspired by the meditations and reflections she and Still Harbor share. She is certainly inspired to share them because of you.