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Love Is All Around
Recognizing the unconditional
love in our lives.
-Lama John Makransky
My root spiritual teacher, Nyoshul Khenpo, once said that a moment of enlightenment is a moment when we realize “the blessings that are always pouring forth.” We are, by nature, endowed with qualities of absolute goodness—purest love, compassion, wisdom, and tranquility. Those radiant qualities are intrinsic to our being. They are among the “blessings” to which Khenpo refers. A moment of enlightenment is a moment in which we newly notice such “blessings” as having been all around us, and within us, from the beginning. Whenever we are ready to notice, we can sense their healing, liberating energy pouring forth right here, right now.
One such radiant quality is unconditional love, the kind of love that doesn’t care what someone has thought or done but simply wishes him or her deep well-being and joy. It’s like the unconditional and unreserved love that a wise, devoted parent has for a child. That capacity for love is within each of us and has been active all around us, pervading our world from the moment we were born.
The claim that love pervades this world may not sound real to you but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Most of us just haven’t learned to pay much attention to the countless moments of love, kindness, and care that surround us each day: a child at the store reaching for her mother’s hand, an elderly stranger at the park who smiles upon a young family, a grocery clerk who beams at you as she hands you your change.
The “blessings that are always pouring forth” include the love that has permeated our lives, peeking at us through many eyes. Think, for example, of someone you loved to be near when you were a child: a parent or grandparent, a special aunt or uncle, a family friend or teacher—someone it felt wonderful to be with. Why did you like to be near that person so much? Probably because she radiated a wish of love to you through the quality of her presence, her words, her play with you, or simply through her smiling eyes when you came near. Try to remember someone like that from your childhood right now. Hold that person in your mind for a moment and recall how it felt to be near her. That’s what it is like to receive the love that simply wishes for your happiness. We like to be near people like that because we have a deep need to receive their unspoken love, to drink up its life-giving goodness.
That radiant blessing of love has been coming to us from the start, not just from a few people close to us, but also from many not personally known to us or people long forgotten. So many have offered themselves to us quietly, unnoticed and unremarked upon, such as those who served in our school, who coached sports for us as small children, who taught us music and clapped for us, who watched over us with kindness and care wherever we ran and played. Then there are all the adults who put loving care into their work, as our teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, craftsmen, bakers, librarians, and waitresses. Yet we may never have noticed the extent of such care and consideration. No one actually verbalizes: “Out of loving concern for all the children in this neighborhood, including you, I am helping to build this playground,” or “I am now sending you the wish of love; that’s why you like to be near me.” And the child doesn’t think “I am now receiving the wish of love.” So we may never become conscious of how much loving care pervades our world.
As we grow older, we learn to pay attention to things that society considers more real and significant than the loving care of all those people. According to the social discourse around us, it seems much more important to identify those whom we should hate, fear, or compete with for affirmation, power, and wealth. Meanwhile, television news and magazines focus our communal attention each day on the horrible things that some people have done to others, as if that is all that happened in the world that day.
Much of our discourse is spent propping up this negative worldview: “Oh, yes, I know what you mean, my relatives are horrible too.” “I can’t stand that politician either.” “Can you believe how stupid those people are?” We have become so smug in our cultural cynicism we don’t notice that even the people we generally look down upon have had moments of integrity and kindness.
In addition, there are people in the world and throughout history who have benefited many people beyond their personal lives, people whose way of being embodies such powerful concern for others and for the world that they epitomize our greatest human potential: Shakyamuni Buddha and Jesus, St. Francis, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama. Such potent spiritual beings have radiated their love to all of us without discrimination. But with our modern, secular worldview, many of us have forgotten how to acknowledge and to receive the liberating power of such love. Instead, we’ve learned to ignore it.
Our society provides no curriculum or schooling on how to notice love or to recognize the many people who have transmitted its life-giving power. Most of us haven’t been taught that to receive love deeply and transmit it wholeheartedly is a real human possibility, that it can be learned, and that to do so is the key to our deepest well-being, our spiritual life, and our capacity to bring more goodness into this world.
So as adults, we need to become newly aware of the love that has infused our lives all along, to turn our attention to it afresh with the eyes of a child. To do so is to become conscious of the tremendous capacity for love that even now permeates our being—to open to it, to be healed by its life-giving energy, and to participate in its power to renew our world. We can awaken to the deepest goodness in ourselves and others. We can learn to recognize and commune with the blessings that have always been pouring forth.
To receive love deeply and transmit it wholeheartedly is a real human possibility.
The first step is to learn to pay new attention to what has been ignored. Many people are extending love, the simple wish for us to be happy—and have been since the day we were born. What is remarkable to me is what happens when we are willing to notice it. And even more remarkable is what happens when we are willing to receive it. The simple act of accepting a stranger’s wish for our happiness empowers us to experience the world in a completely different way.
To receive such a simple wish of love quietly opens our minds to an innate wisdom that recognizes the essential goodness of being, the intrinsic goodness of experience itself, the joy of being alive. It brings out the natural wisdom that was hidden in our minds—a purer vision that knows the beings and things all around us to be utterly holy, as if they were all messengers of the Buddha.
To receive love in this way is to become conscious of a fresh, sacred world that was somehow obscured by our tired, socially constructed worlds of self-centered worry and cynicism. When someone awakens in a moment of receptivity to the “blessings that are always pouring forth,” the fresh, sacred world that was long ignored suddenly unveils itself. It is self-revealed as one’s true home.
The World Needs Your Love
Guilt and anger and fear are part of the problem. If you want to save the world, save it because you love it!
It is easy to feel overwhelmed by global problems. Climate change. Conflicts across the Middle East. Racism. Homelessness. Economic injustice. Political scandal. These are part of the fabric of the human race at this time. But the solutions to these problems are also within you. I remember talking with my mother about the problems facing humanity in this era. She reminded me that she was born when her father came back from the First World War. She had lived through the Great Depression, the Second World War. She reminded me that humanity survived even these terrors. We have eventually found ways to respond, to renew.
Now our task is to renew yet again. It is obvious that there is no outer solution. No amount of new technology, computers and Internet, space technology, nanotechnology, or biotechnology will stop continuing warfare and racism and environmental destruction. This is a pivotal point in our history. The powers of science and technology now have to be matched by the inner developments of humanity. A former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called us a nation of nuclear giants and ethical infants. But this is not the end of the story. We have learned that empathy, integrity and wisdom can also develop.
In Zen they say there are only two things: You sit, and you sweep the garden. And it doesn’t matter how big the garden is. As you quiet your mind and listen to your heart, you discover that your spirit will not be satisfied unless you also tend your garden. Pick something you care about. It can be local or global, reducing racism or fighting climate change. Educate yourself, make close friends with others who are different from you, join the local school board, volunteer at the hospital, work for a political cause, or help the school plant a garden. Lower your carbon footprint. Add your voice and energy. Plant seeds for a more compassionate future. You can’t change it all, but your freedom empowers you to contribute to the world, and your love gives you the way to do so.