truth

Four spiritual love languages

Ai-generated images of the Buddha and a nun, in a colorful style that looks like a painting.

Yesterday on Mastodon, which is the only social media site I use at the moment besides the private online community space I host for Wildmind’s sponsors, someone shared a link to a “love languages” quiz.

I’d heard of this concept of love languages before. The blurb on the official website, based on the best-selling book by Dr. Gary Chapman, says,

The premise of The 5 Love Languages® book is quite simple: different people with different personalities give and receive love in different ways. By learning to recognize these preferences in yourself and in your loved ones, you can learn to identify the root of your conflicts, connect more profoundly, and truly begin to grow closer.

The basic idea is that we don’t all have the same ways of expressing love to each other, and therefore we don’t always recognize when someone is showing us love, or understand how to let them feel loved. And that fits with my experience.

For example, if my partner’s way of showing me love is giving small gifts, but I don’t value material possessions and in fact see them as annoying clutter, I might not feel that she intends to show love when she gives me some tchotchke or other. There’s a mismatch in how we interpret the action of giving.

See also:

Conversely, if my partner wants me to show affection with touch, but I’m not a particularly physical person, then she may not feel that she’s being shown love when I give her praise, even though I might consider that to be a clear expression of my love for her. If I offer help, but the other person interprets this as their competence being called into question, then again there’s a mismatch. It is indeed very much as if we were speaking different languages.

I took the quiz, and was told at the end that there were five love languages:

  • Quality Time™
  • Words of Affirmation™
  • Physical Touch™
  • Acts of Service™
  • Receiving Gifts™

I learned that my preferred “languages” were the first three in the list.

(And yes, the quiz included those oddly obsessive trademark signs, although hopefully we’re allowed to talk about things like “quality time” without getting sued.)

When I reflected on my own experience of being in loving relation to others, it seemed to me that the most profound expressions of love were not included in the five languages offered above. So I thought I’d say a few words about other love languages.

My intention isn’t at all to criticize Chapman’s work, but to offer a wider and deeper perspective on communicating love, for those who might find it helpful.

1. Looking With Love

Looking with love and being looked at with love are profound forms of communication. As Jan Chozen Bays wrote in her wonderful book, “How to Train a Wild Elephant,” in a chapter called Loving Eyes: “We know how to use loving eyes when we are falling in love, when we see a new baby or a cute animal. Why do we not use loving eyes more often?”

Not only do we know how to look with loving eyes, but we know what it’s like to be looked at lovingly. It’s one of the most important communications that goes on in loving relationships, whether between partners, or parents and children, or friends.

Looking with loving eyes has become an important part of the way I practice and teach lovingkindness practice. But it’s something we can do anytime.

Although looking with love plays an important part in showing love, it doesn’t fit into the five-fold schema of the love languages. However, it seems to me to be a love language in its own right. And it’s another place where mismatches in communication styles can take place. Some people are more sensitive to loving looks than others. Some people express love through their eyes more than others.

2. Giving Honesty and Showing Vulnerability

Like everyone, I have bad habits. I get irritable at times, for example. When I’ve behaved badly like that I try to apologize as quickly as possible — often within moments. I usually try to explain what was going on in my being as the irritability arose — “I was stressed and tired, I misinterpreted what you said, old conditioning from childhood traumas was triggered,” and so on. I often say she doesn’t deserve to be treated badly. I do these things as an expression of love.

And she is very good herself at doing the same time, letting me know what led to her acting in unhelpful ways. She too does this as an expression of love.

This, to me, is one of the most profound displays of love we can offer. Giving honesty and showing vulnerability involves a great deal of trust. It too is a kind of love language — Look, I love you enough that I will take this risk!  — yet it doesn’t seem to fit at all in the five love languages schema.

There can be mismatches in language. Some people don’t like apologizing, because they think it makes them look weak, and they’ll see another person’s apologies as a sign of submission. Some people can’t receive expressions of vulnerability because their first instinct is to try to “fix” things by making suggestions, rather than listening empathetically.

3. Showing Patience and Forgiveness

The expressions of love that I most appreciate from my partner are when she is patient with me and when she forgives me. When she does those things I really know I’m loved.

When we accept each other as imperfect, and forgive each others’ missteps, we give each other permission to be ourselves, which is an enormous gift. We see ourselves and each other as works-in-progress, which liberates us both from being afraid we’ll never change and from having to pretend we’re perfect. And we also know that the other person is working on their stuff, which offers immense reassurance.

Patience and forgiveness are also languages through which we show love.

There could be mismatches here, too. One person might show patience and forgiveness as an act of love, while the other person takes it as a sign of having got away with something; they aren’t able to reciprocate with the humility and gratefulness that should accompany being offered forgiveness and so can’t benefit from it. Some people even see conflict as a sign of love, and think that patience is equivalent to not caring — If they really loved me they’d be angry. Some people fear being forgiving because they think it will encourage bad behavior, and so they resort to punishing, resentful behaviors, never letting the other person forget that they’ve transgressed.

4. Sharing the Path

The most powerful way I know for us to connect lovingly with each other is for us to talk about our lives and our relationships as a spiritual practice. This means sharing what we understand love to be, sharing the mistakes we’ve made and what we’ve learned, what our hopes and fears are, and in every way letting ourselves be known not just as a partner, but as a human being struggling our way through life.

It means sharing what we see our life’s purpose to be, and sharing how the relationship we have with the other person — and I’m thinking of partners here, in the main, but also some dear friendships — fits into that purpose.

This may be the deepest love language of all.

Through it, we come to see the other person in a deep way, and to see ourselves more clearly as well. We see the other person as a being who is on a spiritual journey. And we see ourselves in the same way. Sharing the path involves opening up in a deep way. It takes a lot of trust, as well as a shared commitment to growth.  Two people cannot share their paths unless they are both walking a path.

When we share in this way we become clearer about what matters most in our lives. We see ourselves in a very different way from our ordinary view of ourselves as beings who work and do chores and pay bills and relax in front of the TV in order to recuperate from all that.

Sharing the path in this way can lead to a profound sense of transcendence, where we no longer see ourselves and the other person as entirely separate, and where, even, our sense of self becomes tenuous. It is in fact a form of spiritual practice in its own right, as are the other three spiritual love languages I’ve described.

Mismatches here might arise when one person sees the point of such discussions as establishing who is “right” — who has the best philosophy, the most incisive insights, and so on. These kinds of mismatches are particularly painful, because what’s being shared and rejected is so central and important to who we are.

Four spiritual love languages

It’s possible that all this is contained in Chapman’s teaching on love languages — I haven’t read the book — but I saw not even the merest hint of it in the questions I was asked, which were all along the lines of, “It’s more meaningful for me when (a) my partner gives me a gift, or (b) my partner doesn’t check their phone when talking to me.”

It’s fine as far as it goes, but it seems to lack spiritual depth. Then again, not having read Chapman’s book, it may be I’m over-simplifying his approach.

Anyway, as someone who cares about the quality of my loving relationships, and who falteringly works at being a better friend, parent, and partner, I wanted to share a little of what I regard as important where it comes to communicating love.

These four spiritual love languages are areas where we need to learn to speak in ways that others who communicate differently can understand. And we need to learn to listen too, so that we can decipher others’ languages and realize that we are loved, and learn to respond to them, so that the other feels loved too.

Are there other things you would consider “love languages” that aren’t in Chapman’s book or in this article? Why not tell us about them in the comments below?

Read More

Speak truly

mighty oak treeIt’s been said that the most powerful tool for physical health is a fork (or spoon), since the choices you make with it determine the good or bad things you put into your body.

In the same way, perhaps the most powerful tool for your mental health – and certainly for the health of your relationships – is your tongue. Thousands of times each day, it (or your fingers on a keyboard: same thing) offers the good word or the bad one out into your world.

If you say what’s true for you, and say it clearly and kindly, you get one kind of results. But if you use a sharp tongue, speak falsely, exaggerate, or leave out the parts that are most important to you, you get different results: unnecessary conflicts, lost opportunities, a tightness in your chest, etc.

Of course, the most important person to speak truly to is yourself, with inner speech. Come to peace with the truth: the facts, your experiences and intentions, the goodness inside your heart, what’s led to what for better or worse.

On the other hand, if you act like something is true but deep down there’s a knowing that it’s not – like it’s OK not to go after an important dream, or that you can keep putting off dealing with a health issue such as smoking, or that everything’s fine in a cool and distant marriage – you’re living on thin ice: hard to build a good life on that foundation.

Truth is bedrock. Even if you wish the truth were different, it’s what you can count on in a world of full of selling, spin, and BS. It’s your refuge.

Speaking truly does not mean saying everything. You can cut to the chase in a conversation, not burden a child with more than he or she can understand, be civil when you’re angry, and not spill your guts in a meeting.

Nor should you confide more than is appropriate. There’s a place for privacy, for not telling A everything you know about B, for recognizing how intimately you can safely communicate in a particular situation or relationship.

Speaking truly – to yourself and to others – does mean being authentic. Is your outer expression lined up with your inner experience? Most of us have “that thing” which is hard to express. For me growing up, it was feeling inadequate. For many men, it’s feelings of fear or weakness. For many women, it’s feelings of anger or power. Could you find appropriate ways to say your whole truth, whatever it is?

Ask yourself: “What am I actually experiencing?” Relax your face completely and look at it in the mirror: What does it tell you? What does it say you really need these days?

Also ask yourself: “What’s important that’s not getting named?” This applies both to you and to others. Consider the hurt or anxiety beneath irritation, or the rights or needs that are the real stakes on the table. Is there an elephant in the room that no one is mentioning? Maybe someone has a problem with anger or with drinking too much, or is simply depressed. Maybe someone’s jumbo job – 60, 70 hours a week or more, counting commute and weekend emails – is crowding family life out to the margins.

Especially when you’re upset, watch out for distortions in the words you use. These include leaving out the context (like getting mad at a misbehaving child who’s hungry), using extreme language – words like “always” or flat statements that should be qualified – or using a tone that’s harsh or nasty. Without talking like a robot, look for ways to be more judicious, accurate, and to the point in what you say.

Last, accept the fact that no one is a perfect communicator. You’re always going to leave something out, and that’s OK. You have to give conversations room to breathe, without continually judging yourself as to whether you’re speaking truly! Communicating is repairing. As long as you come with basic sincerity and goodwill, your words will weave and mend a tapestry of truth in all your relationships.

Read More

Patterns of closeness and independence

Couple in love at sunsetIntimacy and autonomy are independent dimensions, and it is their combination that counts.

The qualities in each category, imperfectly summarized by a single word, characterize both types of individuals and, more importantly, states of mind we all transit:

  • Integrated – Comfortable and skillful with both closeness and agency; able both to carry others in her heart while pursuing her own aims, and to be completely authentic in the most intimate moments; symbolically, “you” and “I” are about the same size.
  • Engulfed – Highly connected, but not free to act or express himself fully; giving up “me” is price to be “we;” unnecessarily dependent; clutching, beseeching, placating; could resist encouragement to be more independent; “you” are big and “I” am small.
  • Isolated – Strong sense of personal desires but weak connections with others; a solitary captain with a firm hand on the rudder; could be prickly about bids for closeness or seeming infringements on her prerogatives; “you” are small and “I” am big.
  • Adrift – Dissociated from both others and oneself; unresponsive and passive; alone in a boat with no direction; “you” are small and “I” am small.

Of these four, the Integrated mode of being clearly brings the most benefits to you and to others, it is the best foundation for personal growth and spiritual practice, and it involves the most complex forms of neural regulation. To feel safe in the deep end of the pool of intimacy, a person needs to be able to speak her own truth and be comfortable with closeness.

Read More

On radical honesty and agnosticism concerning rebirth

Indo-Tibetan Wheel of Life (bhavacakra)

This morning I had an email from Sheila, one of our newsletter subscribers. She’d shared the article called “The Buddha’s Wager” with a Buddhist friend, and wasn’t sure how to address the points her friend had raised. So here’s what her friend had written:

i find it fascinating that ‘sceptics’ want to know how consciousness can survive the death of the brain – when we have no inkling of how consciousness arises in a living brain – to me it’s as much of a leap of faith to believe that other people are conscious as it is to believe that ‘my’ consciousness can survive the death of my body. we are all profoundly agnostic about almost everything…. i find a belief in rebirth gives a me a sense of meaning – of possible progress – i still don’t understand how anyone can profess to be seeking Enlightenment – in the Buddha’s sense of a release from suffering – and not believe in rebirth. if death is the end of suffering then what’s all the fuss about? let’s just die….

And here’s what I wrote to Sheila:

Thanks for writing with these questions. It’s always interesting for me to meet, even indirectly, someone like your friend who sees life and Dharma practice in very different ways.

To take things out of order, with regard to the whole idea that life is pointless unless you believe in rebirth, I’d quote the Kalama Sutta, and gently point out that the Buddha seems to have disagreed with your friend’s position. If he taught the Kalama sutta, then he clearly thought that Dharma practice made sense even if you don’t have a belief in rebirth.

[To quote from the Buddha’s wager, in that sutta the Buddha tells the Kalamas that his “noble disciples” acquire four assurances in the here and now. The first two of these assurances are:

  1. If there is a world after death, if there is the fruit of actions rightly and wrongly done, then this is the basis by which, with the break-up of the body, after death, I will reappear in a good destination, the heavenly world.
  2. But if there is no world after death, if there is no fruit of actions rightly and wrongly done, then here in the present life I look after myself with ease — free from hostility, free from ill will, free from trouble.

So the Buddha is saying here that his disciples can practice the Dharma and benefit from that practice without believing in rebirth. What’s more, these disciples have mind “free from hostility, free from ill will, undefiled, and pure.” In other words, these are enlightened disciples of the Buddha, who have the assurance that their practice is worthwhile, even if they don’t know whether rebirth happens. You can go all the way to enlightenment and still not be convinced that rebirth is true!]*

Your friend gets her source of meaning from rebirth, but those of us who are skeptical about rebirth get our meaning elsewhere. Life to me doesn’t need any justification, so “let’s just die” would strike me as being a weird position to take, or even to imagine that people might take (unless, say, they were profoundly depressed). I don’t think it takes much empathy to recognize that people with differing views find life, and dharma practice, meaningful without the conviction that there is rebirth.

I hear similar arguments from Christians, who say that God is what gives life meaning, and if you don’t believe in God then you have no reason for living and might as well kill yourself. If your friend doesn’t believe in God then perhaps she might recognize that she’s adopting the same attitude in thinking that her source of meaning is the only possible source of meaning.

I wonder what she means by “let’s just die?” That without a belief in rebirth we should just kill ourselves? That’s absurd, since I don’t need a belief in rebirth to feel that my life is meaningful. That we should cease practice and just hang on until we die and then our suffering will all be over? That’s also absurd, since she’s suggesting that we should stop doing the things we find meaningful because we don’t get our sense of purpose and meaning in precisely the same way she does.

We all have different ways of finding purpose in life, and to me life is meaningful in and of itself. To be alive and conscious is a constant wonder and miracle. But in addition, seeing suffering in myself and others, and recognizing that most of that suffering is unnecessary, I find meaning in wanting to free myself and others from suffering. Now I can see how a Christian can think that serving god is a source of meaning or how the idea of pursuing enlightenment over many lives can give meaning, so I wonder why your friend can’t recognize that other things give my life meaning? I mean, hasn’t she ever *asked* someone with different beliefs what their source of meaning is? To just assume that they have none suggests some kind of lack of empathy or imagination.

To take your friend’s first point, I don’t think it takes much of a leap of faith to accept that other people are conscious. I am a human, and I am conscious. Other humans show the external signs, though facial expressions, words, etc., that they are experiencing the world in a similar way to me. So it would be bizarre, in my opinion, to assume that other people are not conscious. Assuming that consciousness survives death is an assumption of a completely different order from assuming that others are conscious.

As for agnosticism, I am profoundly agnostic when it comes to the teaching of rebirth. I have no evidence either way. It seems unlikely to me that consciousness can somehow function separate from a body (if we don’t need a body to be conscious, why does brain damage affect our ability to think?) and transfer itself to another body. There are on the other hand accounts of past-life memories, but few of us have had the opportunity to check those out first hand, and even if we did there’s no way we can rule out the possibility of the supposed memories having been acquired through some other route. I was advised to watch a video about a Scottish boy who apparently remembered a part life. I didn’t find it very convincing, and when much was made of his knowing that on the island of Barra, planes use the beach as a landing strip, it seemed quite possible to me that he’d seen this on TV. I try to keep a reasonably close eye on what my kids see on TV, but they’re always coming up with surprising things that they’ve picked up, and that I’d no idea they’d been exposed to. So most of the evidence that I’ve seen is rather shaky (plus there are some well-known instances of supposed memories having come from books people have read). On the other hand, we live in a very strange and wonderful universe, where there’s quantum entanglement. We don’t even know what 95% of the matter in the universe is made up of! So I’m not ruling anything out.

For me, being agnostic about rebirth is actually an ethical position. The Buddha promoted a sort of radical honesty (although of course we’re to be kind as well as honesty). The suttas describe truthful speech like this:

“There is the case where a certain person, abandoning false speech, abstains from false speech. When he has been called to a town meeting, a group meeting, a gathering of his relatives, his guild, or of the royalty, if he is asked as a witness, ‘Come & tell, good man, what you know’: If he doesn’t know, he says, ‘I don’t know.’ If he does know, he says, ‘I know.’ If he hasn’t seen, he says, ‘I haven’t seen.’ If he has seen, he says, ‘I have seen.’ Thus he doesn’t consciously tell a lie for his own sake, for the sake of another, or for the sake of any reward. Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech. He speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world.”

If you don’t know, say that you don’t know. Otherwise you’re practicing a form of untruthful speech. Now I don’t know that there is such a thing as rebirth, so no matter how many references there are to rebirth in the Pali canon, I’m not going to say that rebirth happens. Unless someone has some extraordinarily convincing and even irrefutable evidence for the existence of rebirth, I think the only honest answer is “I don’t know,” [along with, “Of course what the Buddhist scriptures say is…”]*

Also, practically speaking, not being convinced in the reality of rebirth gives me a sense of urgency. I want to gain full awakening in this very life, and not have the feeling that I can always get around to it later. Sangharakshita has, if I remember correctly, described laziness as the besetting sin of traditional Buddhism, and I believe that this is due to people thinking that they have all the time in the universe to get enlightened.

***

*This wasn’t in my original reply, but it’s something I meant to say and I added it here for completeness.

Read More

Mindful speech as a tool for mental health

Photo by LaShawn Dobbson on Unsplash.

It’s been said that the most powerful tool for physical health is a fork (or spoon), since the choices you make with it determine the good or bad things you put into your body.

In the same way, perhaps the most powerful tool for your mental health – and certainly for the health of your relationships – is your tongue. Thousands of times each day, it (or your fingers on a keyboard: same thing) offers the good word or the bad one out into your world.

Also see:

If you say what’s true for you, and say it clearly and kindly, you get one kind of results. But if you use a sharp tongue, speak falsely, exaggerate, or leave out the parts that are most important to you, you get different results: unnecessary conflicts, lost opportunities, a tightness in your chest, etc.

Of course, the most important person to speak truly to is yourself, with inner speech. Come to peace with the truth: the facts, your experiences and intentions, the goodness inside your heart, what’s led to what for better or worse.

On the other hand, if you act like something is true but deep down there’s a knowing that it’s not – like it’s OK not to go after an important dream, or that you can keep putting off dealing with a health issue such as smoking, or that everything’s fine in a cool and distant marriage – you’re living on thin ice: hard to build a good life on that foundation.

Truth is bedrock. Even if you wish the truth were different, it’s what you can count on in a world of full of selling, spin, and BS. It’s your refuge.

How?

  1. Speaking truly does not mean saying everything.
  2. You can cut to the chase in a conversation,
  3. not burden a child with more than he or she can understand,
  4. be civil when you’re angry,
  5. and not spill your guts in a meeting.

Nor should you confide more than is appropriate. There’s a place for privacy, for not telling A everything you know about B, for recognizing how intimately you can safely communicate in a particular situation or relationship.

Speaking truly – to yourself and to others – does mean being authentic. Is your outer expression lined up with your inner experience? Most of us have “that thing” which is hard to express. For me growing up, it was feeling inadequate. For many men, it’s feelings of fear or weakness. For many women, it’s feelings of anger or power. Could you find appropriate ways to say your whole truth, whatever it is?

Ask yourself: “What am I actually experiencing?” Relax your face completely and look at it in the mirror: What does it tell you? What does it say you really need these days?

Also ask yourself: “What’s important that’s not getting named?” This applies both to you and to others. Consider the hurt or anxiety beneath irritation, or the rights or needs that are the real stakes on the table. Is there an elephant in the room that no one is mentioning? Maybe someone has a problem with anger or with drinking too much, or is simply depressed. Maybe someone’s jumbo job – 60, 70 hours a week or more, counting commute and weekend emails – is crowding family life out to the margins.

Especially when you’re upset, watch out for distortions in the words you use. These include leaving out the context (like getting mad at a misbehaving child who’s hungry), using extreme language – words like “always” or flat statements that should be qualified – or using a tone that’s harsh or nasty. Without talking like a robot, look for ways to be more judicious, accurate, and to the point in what you say.

Last, accept the fact that no one is a perfect communicator. You’re always going to leave something out, and that’s OK. You have to give conversations room to breathe, without continually judging yourself as to whether you’re speaking truly! Communicating is repairing. As long as you come with basic sincerity and goodwill, your words will weave and mend a tapestry of truth in all your relationships.

Read More

Ten tips for skilful communication

Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

Communication is a huge part of our lives. All our relationships depend on it, but it often seems to go wrong and we can react or lose patience, even with people we’re close to. Here are some suggestions for developing our communication with the help of mindfulness

1. Notice your habits
Habits probably play a big part in how we communicate, so we need to reflect on how we communicate, and particularly what difficulties arise. Notice if you tend to focus on what others do when things go wrong: change comes when we identify what we contribute ourselves.

2. Use meditation
When we meditate, arguments and unresolved difficulties often rise up into awareness. We can use that time to notice the elements of our experience: the thoughts that go with what happened; the feeling; and how the body feels. These are all clues to what’s going on underneath our interpretations. Notice a tendency to judge ourselves harshly when difficulties arise and encourage a kindly response to ourselves and others.

See also:

3. Identify what’s really important in what you are saying
Communication is most effective when we are able to say, simply and clearly, what’s important and why. If you can share that, others are more likely to understand and sympathise with what you’re trying to say. But it takes some reflection, especially if we have to untangle what’s important from resentments and reactions.

4. Connect with the other person
Empathy is the real key to communication and mindfulness can  help us listen more fully to what others are say. Use your imagination to connect with them and try to sense what is really important to them, even if it isn’t quite what they are saying.

5. Be truthful
It’s interesting to notice the small ways in which we can avoid telling the truth: exaggerating, flattering or wriggling out of awkward communication. There’s no easy answer to what we should say when someone asks ‘does this dress look good on me’? But little evasions add up and get in the way of straightforward connection.

6. Express kindness
Make a point of expressing gratitude and appreciation of others, and look for opportunities to encourage them.

7. Find the right time
Being truthful can sometimes seem at odds with being kind and the art of skilful communication involves finding the right balance. Sometimes that means finding the right time to speak a difficult truth

8. Steer clear of gossip
Often conversations in workplaces and social situations involve lots of  moaning, gossiping and criticising. Notice the effect these have on you and explore not getting drawn in

9. Reduce input
More and more of our time seems to be filled with emails, texts, social media and entertainment. Mindfulness needs mental space, so experiment with chatting less and reducing input. Periods of silence help, especially when you spend time alone or go on retreat

10. Enjoy language
Love words, read poetry, speak well (and reduce swearing!) The best communicators understand that words are precious and have many meanings and connotations. Read authors who also love and understand language, and bring mindfulness to whatever you write: even emails!

Read More

Five steps to opening the heart to peace

Overhead shot of woman doing seated yoga pose

For many years I co-led a yoga and meditation retreat with a friend.  The retreat was called Open Heart, Quiet Mind and it was offered  at Aryaloka Buddhist Center in Newmarket, New Hampshire. My friend taught yoga and I led guided meditations on the metta bhavana, the meditation on the development of loving-kindness.

The retreats initially began on Friday evening and ended on Sunday afternoon. They were so popular the next retreat was fully booked at the end of each retreat. After sensing the rhythm of the retreats for several years, we decided to extend the timing of them and so we started Thursday evenings and ended Sunday afternoons so that we would have an extra full day to meditate and practice yoga.

With the combination of yoga and meditation, participants relaxed and looked inward and a community was established. Throughout the retreat we thought about an intention, something we wanted to consider during and after the retreat. The intentions came as a result of the yoga, meditation, silence, cooking together and having spaciousness from the usual routine of daily life.

Towards the end of the retreat we shared our intentions, with each person listening quietly as individuals described their intentions. The intentions spanned a range of topics from exercise, meditation, diet, communication, music practice to making amends with estranged friends and family members. Although each person’s intention was different, the common thread was that they came from the heart.

Although we did not lead people to make intentions based on ethical disciplines of yoga, most of them did fall into five ethical categories.  So, eventually, when leading meditation at the yoga retreats, I spoke about these steps to freedom.

Just as the practice of yoga releases tension in the body, these five steps will release blocks to the flow of the heart and release unconditional love.  When we love, we are free from the restrictions of ill will.

Here is a list of five ways to open the heart:

1. Ahimsa – nonharm – the practice of compassion and unconditional love for ourselves, for all human beings and all sentient beings

We can practice ahimsa with each word we speak, each action we take and each thought we think. Ahimsa is the foundation for vegetarianism.

Of course we don’t always reach our ideals so an important aspect of this practice is to be gentle and accepting of ourselves when our practice falls short of the ideal.

As a way of practicing ahimsa we might ponder the following queries:

  • In what ways am I critical of myself and others?
  • Recall a time when I blamed myself for an outcome of an action. What could I have done differently, if anything?
  • In what ways have I allowed others to be critical, cruel, unloving to me? What will I do to become free from this situation?
  • How can I be more loving and accepting of myself and others?

2. Satya – truth – the practice of being true in our thoughts, words and actions

To practice satya, we are fearless in understanding the truth and this is reflected in what we think, how we communicate and how we behave. We are also fearless when listening to others, to understand their truth. We recognize that the foundation of truth is ahimsa.

As a way of practicing satya, we might ponder the following:

  • In what ways am I true to myself?
  • When do my actions conflict with honoring the truth?
  • With whom am I truthful and which people “not so much”?
  • Reflect on relationships that are not based on truth and consider whether it is time to communicate with the person in an honest and kind way.
  • How can I be more true to myself and to others?

3. Asteya – not stealing – being free from desiring what belongs to others

Desire and craving what we do not have means that we feel insufficient, as though we lack something. This practice means that we respect the property of others, return what we borrow, act in a courteous way with others (respecting their energy and time) and to be at peace within ourselves.

We might practice asteya by reflecting on the following:

  • With whom do I feel “lesser than” or jealous? What is beneath this feeling and how can I change this sense of lack?
  • What material things of others do I desire?
  • When do I feel at ease and grateful for how things are? How can I develop this sense of ease?
  • How does generosity fit with asteya?

4. Aparigraha – letting go – freedom from collecting possessions

We desire to possess many things including material objects, thoughts and ideas, and even people. We cling to things – homes, cars, technological toys, books, adventures, partners, travel and pets. We feel secure when we have our “stuff”.

To practice letting go:

  • Consider times when you released your attachment to something or someone.
  • Consider what you cling to. In what, who and where is your sense of security based?
  • Which possessions are you most tied to? Which can you easily let go?
  • Make a list of your possessions and consider a giving away 10%- 25% of them! What is your felt sense as you consider this idea?

5. Santosha – contentment – being at peace no matter what our situation is

We may be in a partnership or single, live in an apartment or a home, drive a Subaru or a Lamborghini, work in a cubicle or the corner office with the view, we may be twenty or seventy, have a high school education or a Doctorate, healthy or ill, intellectual or not, artistic or not – whatever our circumstances, we are content and at peace.

Being at peace means that when we work with, or know, or hear of someone who seems to “have it all” or “have it easy”, we are centered and at peace with the understanding that we lack nothing.

Some ideas to ponder when working with santosha include:

  • When I find myself feeling jealous of someone’s conditions, how do I feel in my body and what emotions arise?
  • Consider a time you were filled with negativity, how did you react? How could you respond to move towards contentment?

Patanjali (150 BCE) is the compiler of the Yoga Sutras, an important collection of aphorisms on yoga practice based on reflection, meditation and ethics.

He wrote: “Peace can be reached through meditation on the knowledge which dreams give. Peace can also be reached through concentration upon that which is dearest to the heart.”

Read More
Menu

Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Explore the benefits of becoming a supporter.

X