For relationships to endure, we need to be loving not just on Valentine’s Day but all year round, a Buddhist teacher tells
WHILE Valentine’s Day is a celebration of romantic love, amid the avalanche of red roses, cheesy cards and bottles of bubbly, the many other types of love we experience in our lives can be forgotten.
The consumerist nature of the day may be at odds with reflection and contemplation, but it does provide an opportunity to consider how we can nurture different kinds of love in our life, which can also help enhance our relationship with a spouse or partner.
On this theme, the Buddhist approach has much to offer in terms of teaching us how to love ourselves and in turn open our hearts to others.
Andrew Warr (pictured right), who is based in the English city of Brighton, has been studying and practising Buddhism for 36 years and regularly conducts meditation workshops at Dzogchen Beara Tibetan Buddhist retreat centre in West Cork.
“Valentine’s Day is sort of acknowledged but I wouldn’t say it is incorporated [in Buddhism],” he says. “From a Buddhist point of view, in a romantic relationship, you may think the other person is fantastic and everything about them seems wonderful but what everybody is hoping for is something that is enduring. So when things are difficult, when you lose the romance, you lose everything.
“Buddhism is more about a good-hearted connection with the person that can endure beyond that romantic realm. If you are focused on one loving relationship, even just thinking in that way inhibits the capacity for that relationship to be at its best. If it is just weighted on one person, that is quite narrow. If we want to have a genuine, loving relationship with somebody, our heart has to be much bigger.”
Warr refers to this as “widening the circle of love” which he says will enhance our relationship with our spouse or partner.
“Buddhist meditations for cultivating love and compassion are really about starting with one person we feel affection towards already, then we use that as almost like an example of how we can extend love to others, to incorporate everybody, including ourselves. The idea is that as our heart becomes more attuned to feeling goodwill towards a wider range of people, that impacts on all our relationships, including those with our partners or spouses.”
Among the workshops which Warr teaches are ones centred on the ‘Loving Kindness’ meditation, which has been practised in Buddhism for more than 2,500 years.
The meditation helps people develop a deep, pervasive and unconditional love that transcends our normal limitations. This process starts with developing a more healthy and loving relationship with ourselves.
“There is an increasing realisation that a lot of unhappiness is due to the relationship we have with ourselves not being very healthy. Sometimes when things are difficult, we might be giving ourselves a hard time about it — or we blame someone else, getting caught up with that before acknowledging we’re suffering in some way,” says Warr.
This recognition that we are in pain and the showing of self-compassion are often the first steps towards forging a healthier relationship with ourselves, and then others, says Warr.
“We need to be kind to ourselves and to speak to ourselves with some tenderness, as we would to someone who is suffering — to say to ourselves ‘I’m suffering, this is difficult’; to be a good friend to ourselves. The reality is we all experience suffering in our life — that it’s something that happens, there’s nothing wrong with us. The best way is to be with ourselves in that, not to immediately distract ourselves and not to do something which won’t help alleviate it.”
Warr says that the now-popular concept of mindfulness can also be brought to bear in how we love, and relate to, others.
“One of the gifts of mindfulness is to be more aware of other people. We can develop ways to actually notice people how they are — ‘oh, they’re enjoying themselves, how wonderful’ and actually relate to them in our hearts more as another human being with feelings, rather than as just an object we might regard favourably or unfavourably.”
For people interested in learning about how meditation can improve their relationships, Warr says there are various avenues to pursue, including online research, apps, and courses and retreats.
“There are meditations which are specifically designed to cultivate goodheartedness, often in the Buddhist tradition of Metta, often translated as loving kindness. There are different mediations on compassion which help to reveal the natural good-heartedness we all have so it’s not simply about being aware or mindful, it’s acknowledging that within us all we had a natural capacity for love and warmth.
“The anger, the jealousy, the distress, those are all passing experiences — fundamentally we all have good hearts, which is the Buddhist view of things. Meditations for love and kindness and compassion are, for many people, effective ways to get in touch with that good-heartedness and help us to release resentments and to feel and express warmth towards others.”