I recently read True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart, by Thich Nhat Hanh. This is a nice little book that emphasizes that true love is unconditional. And, appropriate for the teacher whose writing introduced myself and many others to mindfulness, he also points out we must be present to others to be truly loving. He uses an amusing variation of the famous quote from Descartes “I think, therefore I am”: noting that thinking can take us out of the present, he says “I think, therefore I am not here”.
The key practices in the book revolve around four sayings he recommends for use with our loved ones:
“Dear one, I am here for you”.
“Dear one, I know that you are here, and it makes me very happy”.
Dear one, I know that you are suffering, and that is why I am here for you”.
Dear one, I am suffering, help me please”.
He shows important examples where these are beneficial. The fourth one is illustrated by the poignant story of a young wife who takes her life because her husband has become hostile towards her and she doesn’t understand why. He in turn, mistakenly believed she had been unfaithful. If either had approached the other with the fourth saying, and they had then communicated, this could have been prevented.
There is also a touching story in the book of a little boy whose father, a successful but busy businessman, asks his son what he wants for his birthday. The boy doesn’t know what to say, because all he really wants is for his dad to spend more time with him. Making time for those we love is high on the list of recommendations.
Another practice he recommends is deep listening/loving speech. Being mindful during our interactions with loved ones allows us to be really present and listen more deeply. As for loving speech, the Sufis have a saying that there should be three gate keepers guarding the tongue before we speak, asking “Is it true? Is it kind? and Is is necessary?”. Thich Nhat Hanh would agree with that, which is what he means by loving speech. When I’m getting together with a larger group of friends (online, these days) I always try to remind myself “talk less/listen more”. I seldom remember to actually do it, but enjoy it when I do.
I really enjoy Thich Nhat Hanh’s practice of hugging meditation which he has also recommended in other books. That is a time when it is extra enjoyable to be really be present! I remember him mentioning in one of his other books that he was thanked by the wife of an attendee of one of his retreats, whose husband was now practicing hugging her a lot more mindfully, and it made quite a difference.