Unconditional love

Unconditional love means to love someone regardless of their actions, words or behaviour. You love them no matter what. Usually we love people based on qualities they display or what they give us. We become strongly attached to people for various reasons and we call that love.

I think that saints (very deeply spiritual people who have come close to God) have the ability to see God in everyone. They can practise universal unconditional love. But for the ordinary human being, unconditional love is also possible. This type of unconditional love is not universally applied because we cannot see that deeply. It is a specific, contextualised love which comes from knowing a person through and through. We develop unconditional love for someone whom we feel very closely connected to.

It’s the way a mother feels towards her child. A couple may reach this place of unconditional love over time. This type of genuine, accepting, forgiving, embracing love is totally contrary to the illusionary romantic love we see in films. That kind of love is more about the ego, or what we want to get from another person. Unconditional love is selfless, but still strong and assertive. It reaches out to the other person. It has courage, stability and faith. Even if someone thinks that they are ‘unworthy’ of love for various things they have done, crimes they may have committed, through the eyes of unconditional love, that person has the ability to redeem themselves.

Taking a step back

Gautama Siddhartha was clearly an extremely intelligent man. But his intelligence came from an observation of very simple things, those very things that we take for granted or dismiss. How much do we recognise the fundamental facts upon which the Buddha based all of his teachings? The Buddha based his teachings on his observation of life, decay and death. He said that all of life is ‘dukkha’, which means restlessness (not really suffering, more fluctuation). He said that by being awake to this fact, a person can still their mind, detach from fluctuations, and reach a state of total freedom from karma (the state known as nirvana). After this, a person would be liberated from reincarnation (they would achieve moksha). He did not mention the role of God in all this, or how the universe came to be. He very wisely detached himself from metaphysical conjecture, explaining that the truth can only be felt, not logically understood or explained.

I often compare the teachings of great sages in order to find the common thread of meaning running through each of their philosophies. Jesus Christ spoke the scripture of love – ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ and, instead of the Old Testament’s ‘eye for an eye’, learn to ‘turn the other cheek’… In the Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjun to see all things as equal: pleasure, pain, life, death…

What is the common thread? The stories are very different, and the focus keeps shifting. But overall, it seems like they are all saying that we should take a step back from the drama of life and see how everything is actually linked. Everything that appears foreign, contradictory, separate, is all actually made from the same energy, like intricately woven tapestry. Your enemy is not your opposition, he is your brother; pain and pleasure are not separate, they are linked. The only way you can see this, know it and really feel it is if you take a step back. Look at the whole picture. When you are amidst chaos, go up onto the roof of a tall building and look down. You will see an interdependent web of life. Your perspective changes when you zoom out of the drama.

If you are reading this blog, then you are probably already aware of how interdependent we are, but clearly the world at large is not aware of this. Otherwise, we would not sabotage each other’s countries, beliefs, cultures. We get so wrapped up in our own drama that we begin to think only our experience is authentic or valid. But our experience is nothing without the contribution of countless others. How can we detach from ourselves enough to really appreciate the magnanimous beauty of life, of ‘interdependent arising’? We could try doing what Gandhi did… ‘Every night when I go to sleep, I die. And in the morning when I awake, I am reborn.’

Love the little bird on your shoulder

According to Zen Buddhism, there is a little bird on each of our shoulders. It reminds us of the coming of death. It tells us that death is inevitable, and unpredictable. This could be the last day of life as we know it. The purpose of this imaginary companion, the bird on our shoulders, is to make sure we NEVER lose sight of death.

Most people think death equals loss, sorrow, ending. That’s probably why we do our best to ignore the most inevitable fact of our lives: the fact that we will, without a doubt, face physical death sooner or later. But how many of us are living with this awareness? On one level we behave as though we will live forever, putting off the things that matter: love, peace, creativity, joy. We think we have plenty of time to find those things. On the other hand, we chase temporary things like they are running out, such as cars, clothes, shoes, bigger houses. We know that we won’t be able to take those things with us when we have to leave this life, yet those are the things that occupy us. All because we have forgotten about the fact of death. We ignore the elderly, thinking they are of no use, when they are the people who have the most knowledge in our society, because they have seen the most life. Our society is so caught up with temporary success, which is obvious to the eye, that we dismiss eternal success, which exists within and acts as our saving grace in moments of crisis.

So, today I am going to make a vow to myself to remember death whilst being alive. To love fully, show my gratitude and appreciation for the life I have, and to share as much joy as possible in the time I have. I don’t believe that death will be the end – I believe it will be the beginning…of something else. Yet, I will miss the life I have now, and I will miss the people I have loved until the time I see them again, perhaps in a different life. The only thing that will help me let go and detach from this life is if I know that I lived it to the full, and shared with the people around me. I won’t be thinking about the shoes I just bought; I won’t give a damn about those. I’ll see the faces of my dear ones, and I’ll be thankful for the time I had with them, because that time was not misspent.

More than anything else, life is about relationships. Learning from each other and sharing. Community and companionship. As much as I enjoy my time alone – thinking, writing, reading, contemplating – it can never be a substitute for what I experience in the presence of love, friendship, caring, conversation and laughter. Those are the things I want to dedicate myself to before my time comes.

So, why not thank the little bird for another day? Even though I don’t understand exactly how this world works, even though I sometimes find it overwhelming and crazy, I am still glad to be alive. All because of love.

What seeds did you plant?

Going on the idea that thoughts create reality, or ‘whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he reap’, we can assume that the way our external reality is right now is, to some degree, a reflection of our minds. If you have a passion for reading, your living space will be full of books; if you love animals, you might have pets or work as a veterinary surgeon.

Based on this idea, we can look at everything around us in order to understand our own tendencies or thought patterns. Look at the fruits around you and you will see what kinds of seeds you planted (this may not have been the case 100% of the time, as other forces do influence our lives too, but I think we can say that, once we become adults,  we are the main creators in our lives to a large extent).

So, what kinds of seeds did you plant? Was it education, love, family? Or was it work, money, competition? Whatever it was, are you happy with that? If you are, then you don’t need to make any drastic changes within. But if you don’t like what is around you, then you can do something about it: change the way you think. Believe in yourself to create a different kind of life, believe that you are on the way and that you love your life. It will come.

Self-acceptance

For some reason, a lot of people dislike themselves. I think this comes from a culture of striving for perfection, trying to be the best, and ultimately realising that perfection is an unattainable ideal. People who are really happy and peaceful tend to accept imperfection and forgive themselves for past mistakes as they realise that it was vital to their growth and to making them stronger. The following list is from a book a friend of mine read and I think it is very useful for anyone struggling with self-acceptance…

1. self understanding – being as honest as possible with ourselves to understand why we think and act as we do and develop insight into our life situation.

2. self acceptance – accepting ourselves as we are.

3. self forgiveness – give up criticism of the self and forgive, no matter what.

4. self love – being our own best friend.

5. unconditional self love – a state where there is NO self judgement and NO self criticism.

6. awareness of our own divinity – realising we are an expression of God.

7. realising the magnitude of the great power (God) – this awareness grows as our consciousness expands.

8. realising we are beings of ‘light’ – no judgement of self or others.

9. realising the insignificance and unreality of the hypnotic suffering dimension – the suffering dimension is not real but a hypnotic state created by human thought and belief (i.e. we believe we are sinful, from beliefs of this or past lives and thus we must suffer to atone for our sins…. on a surface level we may not believe this, but dig deep…. is there something deeper that, motivated out of guilt, believes you need to suffer?)

10. realising everything is God – non duality. negative situations are not power but only the result of self judgemental beliefs and attitudes (past lives and this life).

Life’s ointment

We are our own worst enemies or best friends. I think that what defines us as good or bad is ultimately a matter of knowledge and choice – a combination of both things. Knowledge comes from repeated experiences which reveal some fundamental truths. For instance, I have a tendency to analyse which has been with me since I was a teenager. This means I make a lot of judgements, which are not always correct. Over time, I have seen that when I judge others, the judgement comes back onto me. ‘We see others not as they are, but as we are’. So, I have acquired the knowledge that judging is not such a good habit. I know it theoretically, but whether I practise it is a choice that depends on my strength and conviction as a person.

No one has a perfect life, and everyone needs some healing. Words are my ointment that I use to make sense of what I already know. I could recount endlessly the traumas and joys of my own life, of the mistakes I have made and the right choices. But it’s just a soup of meaningless experience if I can’t learn something from it. So the traumas have taught me to forgive others, and the mistakes have taught me to forgive myself. All of life teaches me nothing is perfect, but that there is always hope of something beautiful amidst the chaos.

Poetic healing

Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments
Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds
Or bends with the remover to remove…

I can’t help but sigh with admiration every time I read Shakespeare. We know so little about his private life, but if his works are anything to go by then he was surely a genius. He wrote to entertain, not to teach. He wrote plays and poems, not essays. But his works ooze with knowledge tempered by literary style, knowledge about human nature and metaphysics. But how did Shakespeare gain this knowledge, which is unparalleled by any other writer? Perhaps he was just an extremely perceptive person who understood reality very deeply and could express his understandings very well.

Sometimes I wonder why we study literature. If we only wanted to improve our ability to write and read then we wouldn’t spend so much time on critical theories. Some people think it’s a waste of time to analyse texts. But if we can learn from each other’s experiences at all, then literature is the best way of doing that, because our memories, inspirations and imaginings can be recorded and communicated across time, distance and culture through the medium of language. And then someone might be touched, inspired and enlightened by our thoughts. So, I think the skill we learn from literature is the ability to understand ourselves and others.