Thich Nhat Hanh on Mastering the Art of ‘Interbeing’: To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love

Can we truly define the true meaning of love? It’s one of the oldest questions to have dogged humanity. Is it just a feeling or an action? Could it be a worldview or a philosophy? If you ask a scientist he will tell you love is the chemical reaction based on the release of hormones like oxytocin and dopamine. But is that it? The firing of certain neurons and synapses is all that comprises the most powerful of human emotions?

Thich Nhat Hanh, in a simple yet profound passage, propounds the theory that love is a profoundly rewarding experience. The core of his philosophy is based around the idea that ‘understanding is the other name of love’. Understanding, and by that we mean truly understanding the fear, pain and struggle of another is the true meaning of love.

Love is not always the pretty teddy bear infested emotion of our dreams. It is messy, complicated and brutal. It is often marked by hatred. You can never feel as strongly about someone as the one you love. That includes the negative emotions as well. It has to be forged in the hottest fires of self-acceptance before you can reach the enlightened state to be truly capable of completely being able to accept someone else.

All of this may be too difficult to comprehend when you’re caught up in the daily struggle of your own existence. Which is why Thich Nhat Hanh created a useful definition of love:

“If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can still use the water for cooking, washing, drinking and bathing. The river is immense and has the capacity to receive, embrace and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate the shortcomings of others and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things can’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and we can finally embrace others. We accept others as they are and then they have a chance to transform.”

We need to ask the question then, how can we commit to accepting people for who they are? How can we commit to truly be part of someone else’s moments of happiness and sadness? That requires the true amount of commitment and loyalty. Thich Nhat Hanh says that it all begins with our own happiness:

“When we feed and support our own happiness, we are nourishing our ability to love. That’s why to love means the art of learning to nourish our own happiness. Understanding another person’s suffering is the best gift you can give to another person. Understanding is the other name of love. If you don’t understand then you can’t love.”

In accordance with this, we must also learn about the dynamic interaction of love:

“If our parents did not love and understand each other how are we to know what love is like? The most precious inheritance that parents can give their children is a part of their own happiness. Our parents may be able to leave us money, houses and land but that may not mean that they were happy people. If we have happy parents, then we have received the greatest inheritance of all.”

This brings the example of one expert and life coach from Serbia who was called on to investigate.

Must-Read After: 10 Ways You’re Making Your Life Harder Than It Has To Be; Pay Attention To No. 4

The expert was called to investigate why the family almost never receives a call (not to mention visit) from their grown up children. The expert asked them: how did you raise the kids?

They answered: we gave them everything. We had a housekeeper and a nanny when they were young, and they both cared for them while we were working hard. Then we sent them to the best and most expensive colleges, and then we kept working hard for them to finish education and grow our wealth. After that they formed their own families and they completely disappeared. They rarely call and they never visit, not even on Christmas.

The expert answered back: I don’t know why you keep asking yourself that, because it’s very clear why. You never gave them the most precious thing, time to be with them. I see now that you have 2 luxury cars outside, huge but empty house. Yes, you did made a lot of money, but that’s not the case. Your kids wanted YOU. Not your money, not the best and most expensive education, but YOU. And you both didn’t give that to them, now they just follow your lead as you taught them to.

Gift part of your time to your kids and your partners. Don’t let the ‘success’ story get to you so much. Always have time to be with your family and give them your positive energy.

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