Opening our Hearts

Love is both beautiful and complicated. When our heart is open and spacious, love flows naturally without conditions. When our heart is constricted and controlling, love is blocked. I’ve asked my meditation students to explore what interrupts and what encourages love. For most people, blockages are easier to identify: fear, lost in thought, hurrying, unreal expectations, busyness.

Yet it’s important to remember: loving-presence is our essence; it’s within us always. This love is free of agendas and conditions. We’ve all experienced conditioned love: expecting people to act a certain way, secretly trying to control another, or needing specific reciprocation. It doesn’t feel good, whether we’re the giver or receiver. Loving-kindness is more spacious and friendly. It’s a love that applies to intimate relationships and to strangers on the street. And this loving-presence is our essence. We don’t have to create it from scratch; we only need to get out of the way, remove the barriers.

Loving-kindness is the foundation, the ground, of our heart. When this love is present two things naturally occur: 1) compassion arises in the face of suffering, and 2) joy arises in the face of beauty or good fortunate of another. Without loving-kindness, we might meet suffering with pity, disdain, or denial. Likewise, we might meet a friend’s good fortune with jealousy, internal doubt, or frustration. But with loving-kindness, we can trust our heart’s response: compassion and joy.

Equanimity is the canopy, the umbrella, of our heart. It’s a balance of love and wisdom that allows us to care without being overwhelmed. It’s a recognition that we have no control over other people’s happiness or unhappiness (sickness or health), but we can love them just the same. We don’t have super powers. We’re utterly human. To love without conditions, to experience joy, to feel compassion without overwhelm, we must let go of our tight grip. In the words of Sharon Salzberg: “This universe is much too big to hold on to, but it is the perfect size for letting go.”

In the busyness of daily life, we lose track of the loving presence in our heart. But trust this: love is always there. We can return in any moment. Ease the mind chatter, sink into the body, breathe through the heart. There’s nothing you need to do or achieve, you can rest in the loving presence that is you as-is:

Mindfulness, compassion, and love.