It’s all about love. After all, it is Valentine’s Day…the day of love. People seem to have a lot of questions about love.
So, why not let the Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh help us sort it all out!
Sometimes I hear people talking about falling in love, being in love, falling out of love, looking for a soulmate, finding “the one”. There is a good amount of energy spent wondering about and looking for love. People often look surprised when I tell them I’ve been married for almost 37 years….They whisper, “That’s a long time.”
When we find love, some of us are surprised to find “being in love”, and “loving” someone can be hard work. Maybe challenging. It’s not always like the fairy tale romance of living “happily ever after.”
In Buddhism “mantras” are used somewhat like “prayers” found in other doctrines and religions. Words that help us stay focused on something. We repeat them because we deem them to be important. Perhaps they help us work through tough times or bring us a sense of calm in rough waters. Maybe they provide strength and courage as we let go of situations, things or people.
Thích Nhất Hạnh talks about what he calls the four “Darling” mantras. While “Darling” is not an often used word anymore, it is a sweet word with tender denotation and connotative power. I first heard about these four mantras while listening to a talk by Tara Brach. I settled into listening, smiling over the word “Darling.” Afterwards, I listened to the talk again. And then, again. It isn’t about sexual or romantic love. It is about a deep, unlabeled, perhaps undefinable love. The kind of love where we leave our self unguarded and vulnerable. It’s about the relationship where trust (in ourselves and in the person we love) and unquestionable love are born and thrive.
The “first mantra” is when we truly and deeply care for someone and offer them the greatest gift we can: to be there for them. To be present for them. Not necessarily being present by going out to lunch, or tending to them only in times of crisis or joy, but in those moments of silence when there are no words. In those moments, eye contact or holding hands in silence, speak volumes. When we sit with someone, when we are present for them.
When we look someone in the eye and in perfect concentration and presence say to them, “Darling, I am here for you”. At that moment three things happen. “You become real, the other person becomes real, and life is real in that moment. You bring happiness to yourself and to the other person.” Who on earth does not want to know and feel in the fiber of their being that someone is there for them?
The “second mantra” is holding that moment and saying, “Darling, I know you are there and I am very happy.” This kind of being so completely present is something to be fostered and honored. “Whenever you are really there, you are able to recognize and appreciate the presence of the other – …..the person you love the most.” You tell them in no uncertain terms that in their pain, their imperfections, their doubts, their whatever, you know they are there and you are grateful for just that. To have them in your life. To be sitting there with you, by your side.
With the third mantra we verbalize their suffering and pain, “Darling, I know you suffer. That is why I am here for you.” It is not about you or your discomfort. It is about witnessing another person’s pain and suffering and simply telling them you are there for them. That is why you are there with them, to sit with them in their pain and hurt.
The last of the ” Darling” mantras is when it is necessary to approach the person you love and who has hurt you, and say to them, “Darling, I suffer. Please help.” With an open heart, letting pride, fear or hurt fall away, we ask for what we need because we know there is no other way. We have to be open and honest. We have to ask for what we need. We now need the person we love to understand that we need them, their full presence, love and care. In love, when the other person hears your words, they may come “back to themselves“and be able to practice looking deeply at you, the person they love. And the mantras begin again with your “love” offering to you “I am here for you, I know you are there and I know you are suffering.”
What exists if we do not start by saying “Darling” to those we love and those who love us?
I have found this to be a fragile, sometimes challenging path. I have stumbled, tripped, fallen flat. I have not always been able to hold to these four mantras, but in full awareness of my own imperfections I keep trying. I am learning. My darling is learning. Together we are nurturing, growing love. And we are over 37 years into a relationship. Love is not always easily defined. Sometimes it is not easily given or expressed. And, although it may seem odd, sometimes love is not easily received. It is not only about feeling good, or happy. It is about something not definable. It is about growth, change, learning, trust. It is about being hurt and sad, confused and lost. It is about sharing happiness and joy. It is about crying and wiping each other’s tears. It is about holding the other through all of life. There is so much focus on “protecting” ourselves….and I understand that. I maintain, that these four mantras can eliminate the need to protect ourselves. These four mantras give us permission to take a different route. To allow our heart to be unguarded. For many this is too much of a risk. I do not mean that we allow ourselves to be abused or walked all over. I mean we work towards a relationship with someone where each one looks at the other in happy times and in painful times, in anger and in joy, in fear and in excitement,and says, “Hello darling.” And both know without doubt that the response will be, “Hello my darling.”