I came into this year with grand aspirations for reading and exploring topics adjacent to tech that I found interesting. I still want to explore those areas, but to be honest, I haven't really done that. Instead, I've spent that time reflecting on my mental state and the relationships I have with those around me.

The latest manifestation of that was reading a book called How to Love written by a Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. It's a short read, but one that made me think a lot about what it means to love in the context of both yourself and others. These are the ideas that I thought were worth sharing:

Understanding and compassion towards ourselves enables us to offer the same to others

  • When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others.
  • The first element of true love is loving kindness. The essence of loving kindness is being able to offer happiness. You can be the sunshine for another person. You can’t offer happiness until you have it for yourself.
  • Reconciliation means to work it out within yourself so that peace can be restored. Reconcile with yourself for the sake of the world, for the sake of all living beings. Your peace and serenity are crucial for all of us.
  • To love is, first of all, to accept ourselves as we actually are.

Understanding is a prerequisite for love

  • Understanding someone’s suffering is the best gift you can give another person. Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.
  • You need to understand the cause of your loved one’s suffering in order to help bring relief.
  • In the person we love there is suffering that we haven’t seen yet. If we haven’t yet understood that person, we can’t be their best friend; we can’t be someone who is able to understand them.
  • If you have the impression that you know the other person inside and out, you are wrong. Are you sure that you even know yourself? Every person is a world to explore.
  • But to make someone else happy, you have to understand that person’s needs, suffering, and desires and not assume you know what will make them happy. Ask, “What would make you happy?”

In order to understand, we must listen

  • To understand, we need to listen. That person may be our partner, our friend, our sibling, or our child. You can ask, “Dear one, do you think that I understand you enough? Please tell me your difficulties, your suffering, and your deepest wishes.” Then the other person has an opportunity to open their heart.
  • When your loved one is talking, practice listening deeply. Sometimes the other person will say something that surprises us, that is the opposite of the way we see things. Allow the other person to speak freely. Don’t cut your loved one off or criticize their words.
  • In the practice of compassionate listening, you listen with only one purpose: to give the other person a chance to speak out and suffer less. Practice breathing in and out deeply and concentrate on what you are hearing.

Start by being gentle with yourself and let love grow from there

  • Love is a living, breathing thing. There is no need to force it to grow in a particular direction. If we start by being easy and gentle with ourselves, we will find it is just there inside of us, solid and healing.

Remember that there is no self

  • Often, when we say, “I love you” we focus mostly on the idea of the “I” who is doing the loving and less on the quality of the love that’s being offered. This is because we are caught by the idea of self. We think we have a self. But there is no such thing as an individual separate self.
  • I am made only of non-me elements, such as the Earth, the sun, parents, and ancestors. In a relationship, if you can see the nature of interbeing between you and the other person, you can see that his suffering is your own suffering, and your happiness is his own happiness.

Attachments are impermanent and happiness is still possible

  • One of the greatest gifts we can offer people is to embody non-attachment and non-fear. This is a true teaching, more precious than money or material resources. Many of us are very afraid, and this fear distorts our lives and makes us unhappy. We cling to objects and to people like a drowning person clings to a floating log. Practicing to realize nondiscrimination, to see the interconnectedness and impermanence of all things, and to share this wisdom with others, we are giving the gift of non-fear. Everything is impermanent. This moment passes. That person walks away. Happiness is still possible.
  • The notions and ideas we have about happiness can entrap us. We forget that they are just notions and ideas. Our idea of happiness may be the very thing that’s preventing us from being happy. When we’re caught in a belief that happiness should take a particular form, we fail to see the opportunities for joy that are right in front of us.

We often think we love someone but are just trying to distract ourselves from suffering

  • Often, we get crushes on others not because we truly love and understand them, but to distract ourselves from our suffering. When we learn to love and understand ourselves and have true compassion for ourselves, then we can truly love and understand another person.
  • When we ourselves can’t generate the energy to take care of ourselves, we think we need the energy of someone else. We focus on the need and the lack rather than generating the energy of mindfulness, concentration, and insight that can heal our suffering and help the other person as well.
  • When we love someone, we should look deeply into the nature of that love. If we want to be with someone so that we can feel safe, that’s understandable, but it’s not true love. True love doesn’t foster suffering or attachment.

Loving another person shouldn't take priority over listening to yourself and knowing what you need

  • Loving someone doesn’t mean saying “yes” to whatever the other person wants. The basis of loving someone else is to know yourself and to know what you need.
  • A true partner or friend is one who encourages you to look deep inside yourself for the beauty and love you’ve been seeking.

Suffering and happiness are no longer individual matters

  • In a deep relationship, there’s no longer a boundary between you and the other person. You are her and she is you. Your suffering is her suffering. Your understanding of your own suffering helps your loved one to suffer less. Suffering and happiness are no longer individual matters.

We make mistakes but without them, there is no way to learn

  • Since we’re human beings, we make mistakes. We cause others to suffer. We hurt our loved ones, and we feel regret. But without making mistakes, there is no way to learn.
  • Very often, our mistakes come from our unskillfulness, and not because we want to harm one another. I think of our behavior in terms of being more or less skillful rather than in terms of good and bad.
  • Many of us wait until it is too late to see what really matters to us. Sensual desire can feel so overwhelming that it’s often not until later that we see the many important things that have needed our attention. Instead of a quick apology, take the time and make the commitment to practice seeing the roots of your behavior.

The moment love stops growing, it begins to die

  • In the beginning of a relationship, your love may include only you and the other person. But if you practice true love, very soon that love will grow and include all of us. The moment love stops growing, it begins to die. It’s like a tree; if a tree stops growing, it begins to die. We can learn how to feed our love and help it continue to grow

Love means accepting each others strengths and weaknesses

  • True love includes a sense of responsibility and accepting the other person as she is, with all her strengths and weaknesses. If you only like the best things in a person, that is not love. You have to accept her weaknesses and bring your patience, understanding, and energy to help her transform. This kind of love brings protection and safety.

Love means trusting each other

  • To love each other means to trust each other. If you don’t tell the person you love of your suffering, it means you don’t love this person enough to trust her. You have to realize that this person is the best person to help you. We need to be able to get help from the person we love.

Love is not a distraction from your aspirations

  • If you have a deep aspiration, a goal for your life, then your loving of others is part of this aspiration and not a distraction from it. If you and your partner both want to do things to relieve the suffering in this world, then your love for each other is connected to your love for others, and it expands exponentially to cover the whole world.

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