Healing from addiction, trauma and the suffering of life entails coming into the fullness of love. While it is in our truest nature to love, realizing our true nature requires intentional practice. Each of us has a default way of being that can be either disregarding of Life or even downright destructive. We make automatic, unconscious choices to be humane, inhumane, or neutral towards ourselves, towards others and towards all of Life.
The good news is that we all have choices. We can choose to cultivate love in our lives. We can choose to act with wisdom and compassion towards ourselves and others. We each have a choice to stop acting on default urges and thoughts and to instead live mindfully and intentionally, choosing to love moment-by-moment.
Since it is in our highest nature to love, true happiness and fulfillment come to those who intentionally practice behaving with wisdom and compassion—the two arms of love. To do so, we must each practice two things. The first is to recognize and resolve the destructive emotions that continuously arise within us that prevent us from loving. The second is to intentionally cultivate our capacity to love.
Resolving destructive emotions and cultivating love both require a persistent, consistent, chosen, intentional, unselfish commitment to behaving with wisdom and compassion under all circumstances. It is a high ideal that none of us can fully realize. Yet this ideal can guide our actions and bring us both healing and the deepest fulfillment.
Hindrances to Loving
Several destructive emotions and habits of mind hinder us. Most of them are rooted in fear.
|Anxiety and Fear||Faith and Simplicity|
|Anger, Negativity, Irritability, Resentment||Forgiveness|
One of them is inattention, or “mindlessness.” You cannot love if you are not paying attention. Love requires connection, something we miss when we are not present and are lost in thought. The antidote to inattention is mindfulness—paying close attention to this present moment without judgment. It is a daily, moment-by-moment practice.
A second destructive emotion is anxiety, or fear. We fear loss, rejection, or harm. We cannot engage and embrace life if we are emotionally withdrawing from it. One antidote to fear is faith—faith that we are good and whole. Faith that we can take care of ourselves. Faith that things are perfect exactly as they are, even with the inevitability of the harms and losses that befall all of us. The other antidote to fear is simplicity. If we live simply, there is less to lose, and less to worry about.
A third destructive emotion is anger, which is rooted in fear and pain. Anger can arise as irritability, negativity, or resentment. Rather than moving away in fear, however, in anger we move destructively towards what upsets us. When hurt, our default is to hurt back. The antidotes to anger are humility and forgiveness. Humility in realizing that Reality does not operate solely to our liking, and forgiveness in realizing that we are all imperfect beings who all act unskillfully to some degree in our attempts to get by. While most of us have a choice, it helps to realize that if we had someone else’s genes and their life experiences, that we might well have acted just as they did. It also helps to contemplate the many ways we have hurt others out of our own ignorance and destructiveness.
A fourth destructive emotion is greed. The antidote for greed is the practice of generosity.
A fifth destructive emotion is entitlement. We become habituated to our many blessings and take them for granted. The antidote to entitlement is the practice of gratitude.
A sixth destructive emotion is envy. We want what others have. The antidote to envy is contentment. We realize that this moment is abundantly enough. A good practice is to ask ourselves, “What is wrong with this moment?” Spiritually, there is never anything wrong. Cultivating our reverence for Reality and for this sacred moment of existence, we feel content with the “enoughness” of the Now.
The Practice of Loving
In addition to the intentional practices of neutralizing destructive emotions, there are the intentional practices of cultivating positive, loving ways of being and behaving. Dr. William R. Miller, in his book, “Lovingkindness,” lays out twelve choices we all make, usually unconsciously and automatically. These choices are to either love, to disregard, or to destroy:
What does it mean to be compassionate, empathic, contented, generous, hopeful, affirming, forgiving, patient, humble, grateful, helpful, and yielding? To answer this fully, I recommend you read Dr. Miller’s book. In brief:
To be compassionate is to wish to lessen the suffering of another and enhance their well-being. Begin by showing yourself compassion. Wish for your well-being and cultivate kindness towards yourself. Then reach out at least once a day to help someone else who is suffering or in need. To be compassionate is loving because it aims to reduce the suffering of others.
To be empathic, we cultivate our desire to understand another’s experience. Then we practice the skill of empathy. We look closely. We listen closely. We ask, “Help me understand.” We repeat back our understanding so the other can confirm or correct our understanding. We do this over and over until our empathy deepens. To be empathic is loving because others feel understood and cared for.
To be contented is to be joyfully acceptant of Reality as it is. This is enough, and enough is “a feast.” Today is sufficient for today. We practice reverence for this moment. Fasting—going without food, sex, TV, movies, work, or games—for a period of time can help us to cultivate our contentment for Reality as it is, without the something we have given up. This practice prepares us to be content with whatever we have or don’t have. This cultivates positivity. Paradoxically, positive acceptance of this moment better enables us to act positively to enhance the next moment.
Cultivating contentment also cultivates generosity. When this moment is enough, you are more willing to freely give to others. We renounce self-centeredness and greed. Practice each day giving freely of your time, skills and material assets to others in need of what you have to give. Each day find one opportunity to give joyfully something of yourself.
The practice of hope is expecting the best for yourself and others. Hope is self-fulfilling; you have a huge impact on those you believe in. If you believe in them, they will more likely believe in themselves. Expecting the best increases the chances of realizing the best.
While hope is about the future, affirmation is about seeing and acknowledging what is good in a person now. Practice looking for and affirming what is good in you and others. Give freely specific praise for specific good deeds, efforts, contributions, and even small steps in the right direction. Practice appreciating what is good in others. Practice being encouraging. Paradoxically, people are more apt to change when they feel good about themselves and accept themselves as they are, as this inspires positive action to grow. Others will also be less defensive in the light of your affirmations and thus more open to feedback on how they can do better.
Forgiveness is both a choice and an experience. It is something you do for yourself to counter the toxicity of anger and resentment. Also, failure to forgive others equates with failure to forgive ourselves for our own shortcomings and sins. We choose to let go of hurt, anger, entitlement, and urges to hurt back. We renounce vengeance. Forgiveness is not forgetting or letting people of the hook. It is not something earned. It is not approval nor is it permission to continue to behave badly. It is a choice to accept what has happened and move on. It is a process that can take time and repetition before our choice to let go transforms into an emotional experience of letting go. You can speed emotional forgiveness through your practice of all of these twelve loving practices. Loving will heal your pain.
Patience is a practice of letting Life unfold in its due time. It is a part of the practice of acceptance, or reverence for Reality exactly as it is. It is a recognition that things often take time. Waiting gives us the opportunity to savor the Now, letting go of the need for instant gratification and the arrogant demand that things happen when we want them to happen, the way we want them to happen. Traffic jams and long lines are excellent opportunities to practice letting go and letting be. We also need to practice patience with each other, realizing that it is not our place to dictate what others decide to do or the pace of their growth and change. Most importantly, practice patience when listening to others. Patiently take the time to deeply understand others. This is loving.
Humility is putting our immeasurable preciousness into proper perspective. It is seeing the truth that we are but one tiny speck in a vast universe, our life transpiring in the tiniest instance of cosmic time. It is also recognizing our common humanity. Practice humility by treating others with reverence and respect. Remind yourself of the truth that you are neither lesser nor greater than others. Recognize that in our common humanity, you too are imperfect and that there is much that you do not know or understand. Take solace in your sacred, inherent worthiness. This is the antidote to immodesty and arrogance. Practice curiosity in others’ wisdom and experience.
Gratitude, as with affirming, is paying attention to what is good. We have a remarkable capacity to take things for granted, including the miracle of our self-aware existence. We tend to automatically focus on what’s wrong rather than on what’s right. Intentionally counteract these default tendencies by consciously counting your many blessings, starting with the incredible blessing of your life. Reflect on the efforts of the countless millions of people, past and present, who have contributed to your ability to read these words—those who have helped you and who help you now. Those who have loved you and who love you now. Those who have worked to bring you the food you eat, the clothes you wear, and the shelter you enjoy. Reflect upon the intricate, interdependent web of Life that sustains you. Make it a habit to express your gratitude to the positive people in your life.
The practice of helpfulness is your way of honoring the truth that you are part of one immense interdependent web of Life. Just as Life sustains us, so do you have a role in sustaining Life. We have a responsibility to each other. We help each other get by. To help others is to fulfill part of your innate purpose of nurturing and savoring Life. When you see something that needs to be done, do it without being asked. Ask yourself what Life asks of you. How can you help? Look for opportunities to volunteer. Listen and look carefully so that you understand deeply how best to help another. Take care to not let narcissism (ego) poison your efforts (“Look how wonderful I am for helping everybody.”)
The last quality of the practice of love is yielding. Trying to control everyone and everything is a recipe for individual and collective stress. Honor that everyone gets to make their own choices—it is not your place to make other people’s choices for them and deprive them of their freedom. Loving entails holding on to your core values while collaborating, compromising, and looking for win-win scenarios. Yielding entails serving the common good, the greater good, and letting go of your selfish need to have everything your way. Yielding, as an act of mutuality, is an act of love; you look for ways to balance the needs and concerns of everyone involved. Yielding honors the paradox that we are both autonomous and interdependent. Look for opportunities to practice yielding, such as letting the other driver go first, or letting the other person go first in line.
Developing an Intentional Practice
Loving, as a virtue, requires practice. It is realized in the doing of it. And it is in the practice of love that you are transformed and healed. The practice of loving changes our default mode of being, seeing, and doing—our nature.
Hopefully you are engaging in a daily morning practice of silence, solitude, and stillness. It is in the still state of Awareness before words that transformation occurs. After your prayer, meditation, or contemplation, recite your morning intentions and affirmations. For your intentions, you can recite:
Today, I will be Compassionate…with myself, and with others.
Today, I will be Empathic…with myself, and with others.
Today, I will be Contented…with my life, and with others.
Today, I will be Generous towards others
Today, I will be Hopeful…for my life, and for others.
Today, I will be Affirming…of myself, and of others.
Today, I will be Forgiving…of myself, and of others.
Today, I will be Patient…with myself, and with others.
Today, I will be Humble.
Today, I will be Grateful.
Today, I will be Helpful.
Today, I will be Yielding.
Memorize these 12 practices of being and behaving. Put them on a small card that you can carry with you. Look for opportunities throughout the day to put these 12 practices into action. Take out your card when you are emotionally triggered and reaffirm your intentions. With patience, persistence, and consistency, these qualities of lovingkindness will gradually replace your default mode of being. In the process, you will transform into your truest, highest nature. You will heal, grow, and realize the fullness of love.
 Miller, William R. Lovingkindness. Cascade Books, Eugene OR. 2017
Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash