The thing about any skill is that in order to maintain it, you need to do it consistently. You need to do it over and over and again. That’s why it’s called a practice.
Love is no different.
A few months ago I began practicing love. Specifically I began practicing metta. By repeating words of loving-kindness in meditation, metta works to inspire feelings of loving-kindness from deep within. Rather than the grasping “love” that often resembles attachment or desire, loving-kindness is pure, perfect, and unlimited. Metta intends to shed light on the illusion of fear by expanding our capacity to connect with our true loving nature and to radiate that love to the world around us. We can send it to ourselves, our loved ones, our community, strangers, and even our perceived enemies.
Metta became part of my meditation practice during my yoga teacher training to heal my insecurities and grow my self-love. I began including the Sanskrit chant of metta at the end of my yoga practice, reciting, “loka samastha sukhino bhavantu.” In my training we interpreted this chant to mean: “may you be happy, may you be at peace, may you be free from suffering.”
Practicing metta I noticed scarred spaces within me soften.
But when I left my training and returned to Puerto Viejo, I felt challenged faced by familiar faces and the memories they carried. Puerto Viejo haunted me with my unresolved feelings for a man who hurt me years ago.
In response I attempted to create a protective barrier. I hid by staying outside of town and avoided the places where I might see him.
I continued to send myself metta, though I missed an integral component of what it means to practice love. Containing the love I cultivated within myself limited my ability to love and carrying anger towards him, I carried anger towards myself.
Then one morning I changed my perspective. I challenged my rational mind that believed this man and most of the men in this town were malicious spineless pieces of shit by opening to the possibility of something else. I opened to the possibility of love and compassion.
I considered how I might heal myself, how much more I could love myself, if instead of hating him or hiding from him I sent him metta.
When I woke up in the morning, when I rode my bicycle down the road into town, when my mind began to wander in bed at night, I recited “may you be happy, may you be at peace, may you be free from suffering.” Even when I didn’t feel it or believe it, I kept practicing.
Seeing him slowly felt easier. Over time the words felt true. The thing about sending someone love, pure love, is that it simultaneously dissolves your anger towards them and your desire for them. Your feelings become ones of simple kindness.
My practice towards sending myself love progressed as well. Working with a holistic health coach I developed mantras and exercises for self-empowerment. She invited me to continually ask myself, “how can I turn fear into love?”
One night I went out dancing with a group of friends and the bar was just empty enough for me to feel awkward that he was there. It felt absurd that neither of us acknowledged the other’s presence. I felt myself shrinking. I felt myself wanting to be small. Believing in my inadequacies more than my brilliance. Feeding my insecurities more than my perfection. This was the time to turn to my practice.
Dancing in my circle of friends I closed my eyes and challenged myself to come into my radiance. I challenged myself to rise above. “I am love,” I breathed. “I am love.” “I am love.” Like magic these words melted the tension, the insecurity, the fear. With love fear could not live. With no fear only love lived.
When I turned to go inside, for a moment our eyes accidentally met. But instead of looking away, this time I stayed. I held the eye contact and I smiled. The smile said, “We are so much bigger than this because you are me and I am you and we are love. I can rise above this. You can rise above this. The hurt I blame you for and the hurt you blame me for is nothing because love is everything.” I poured the warmth and the love from my heart his way. I sent him love free from wanting or desire or attachment or heartache or pain. I sent him nothing more than simple kindness.
I felt free of him.
The next day I went to Bocas del Toro to spend a week island hopping with my friend, the holistic health coach who empowered me to practice love. We did yoga and napped in hammocks and dined on seafood and played on deserted beaches.
When she left I danced all night in bars and befriended sailors and yoga teachers. I went on to travel around Costa Rica on a whirlwind press trip where I spent hours a day in the car, in conversation with other bloggers, and eating more than I’ve possibly ever eaten in my entire life. I spent my mornings checking Facebook instead of meditating and my afternoons being on camera instead of reflecting in my journal.
In focusing on these experiences, I slipped away from my practice. By the time I got back to Puerto Viejo I nearly forgot he existed. The universe reminded me.
Riding my bicycle back from the beach I approached the grocery store to pick up a snack before teaching my yoga class. For the last twenty minutes I had fantasized about tearing open the package of raw almonds I’d buy, pressing each one onto a piece of ripe banana and popping them bite by bite into my mouth.
Just before I turned to cross the road I heard a car coming from behind. It was him. And sure enough he pulled into the grocery store lot first. I really wanted those almonds, but if I pulled over now it might look like I had gone into the grocery store because of him. Fear convinced me to keep pedaling. So, I guess no almonds and banana then.
Despite the strides I had made I still needed to practice. “Loka samastha sukhino bhavantu,” I chanted. “May you be happy. May you be at peace. May you be free from suffering.”
The next day I noticed all of the small ways that I acted from a place of fear. As many times as I smiled at a stranger I also looked away. When I felt insecure I responded defensively in conversation. I wore my attitude like a veil in the presence of men to let them know where they stood: on the outside.
In all of these situations I asked myself how I could practice love. When I woke up in the morning, “I am love,” I meditated. “I am love.”
There’s a saying that the universe only delivers what you’re ready to face. According to that principle, this past Saturday I was ready for an incredible opportunity to practice love.
After having a candlelit dinner of wine and ceviche with one of my dear friends, the two of us went to a nearby reggae bar. As the only patrons we threw off our shoes and danced barefoot in the sand looking at the ocean. My kind of party, though I cut it short and suggested we head over to the popular tourist haunt to grab some of our other friends and bring them to the reggae bar.
When we reached the tourist bar I saw him. I felt awkward. I didn’t feel the urge to smile like I had the last time. I no longer felt kindness, I felt the desire for his validation. I talked with friends standing near him, met some new faces, and felt the energy of his anger emanate towards me.
“I am love,” I meditated. “I am love. I am love. I am love.”
I found a friend who I’d been trying to catch up with for days and the two of us made our way to a piece of driftwood just outside the bar on the beach. We had a heart to heart while watching the lightening storm on the horizon. The connection felt special and beautiful and so full of love. Just as I was about to give her a heartfelt piece of advice, a woman I had never seen before, twice my size, in a skin tight leopard print dress, approached us.
She looked down and asked me in a thick Caribbean accent if I knew the man who I had been sending metta towards.
“Yes, I know him,” I confirmed.
“So why you talkin’ shit bout my bruddah?!” she screamed.
“I’m not,” I replied plainly.
She continued to ask, “why you talkin’ shit bout my burddah?!”
“I’m not,” I said again.
She then asked if I knew the mother of his child, whom I knew nothing about until almost a year after I met him. The woman who found out about me only months ago. A woman who I have still never seen nor met.
“No, actually I don’t know her,” again I calmly replied.
She asked me again.
“I’ve never met her,” I explained.
Then she raised her hand and slapped me so hard across the face that I flew off of the piece of driftwood and into the sand.
“Hey! What the fuck?!” my friend yelled.
The woman threatened her before turning back to me and screaming again, “Why you talkin’ shit bout my bruddah?!”
“It wasn’t like that,” I said with such composure I surprised myself, “do you want to know what really happened?”
She slapped me on the other side this time.
Afraid of what might happen next, I hopped up and started walking away. She followed and I started to run like a deer being chased by a hunter. I’m sure I passed him along the way but I was an animal and an animal only knows its predator. I slid beneath the bar and snaked around the bartenders who looked at me in disbelief. I can only imagine they thought I was a crazy drunk girl who lost her way. Shaking I grabbed the owner and said something nonsensical before going into the back room.
Shocked, I started to cry. My mind raced and felt frozen at the same time. What I remember most was the thought, “will I have to leave Puerto Viejo?” Coming to this town for years I’ve heard stories of locals threatening someone’s life to make them leave. Years later I’ve yet to see those people return. You can call Puerto Viejo home all that you want but a gringa will always be a gringa in their eyes.
My face stung but what hurt most was the idea that someone I loved wanted to see me hurt. He couldn’t express his anger to my face but he felt justified in sending a messenger to smack it.
I felt anger ignite within me. I felt the desire to retaliate. To walk across the bar and slap him across the face. To give him what I thought he deserved. I wanted to toss the blame back over to him like a hot potato.
At my core I felt utterly humiliated.
I saw myself with the same choice as when I passed a stranger on the street, met a more beautiful woman, or entered any situation that left me feeling fifty shades of unworthy. Fear or love.
I could retaliate, use information I have against him, I could even go up and slap him. I could stay hiding in the back for the remainder of the night. I could ask one of my many friends at the bar to protect me. I could hide from this reality. I could leave Puerto Viejo forever.
Or I could hold my head up high, leave my ego in that back room, dance with my friends, and continue to send him, myself, and the situation pure, unadulterated love.
I chose love.
In a world where so often we choose to blame, what if instead we eradicated blame altogether? What if we eradicated fear altogether? If we did, what would remain is simply love. Imagine how our thoughts could change, how our experiences could change, how our lives could change, how the world could change, if everything that we did came from that place of love?
So I choose love. I choose to be love.
Because anything else is just an illusion.
In my reality, love is all there is.
My Metta Meditation:
Come to a comfortable seat by crossing your legs or sitting back on your heels. Place your hands on your lap or at your knees and gently close your eyes. Lengthen your spine, sit tall, and feel the crown of your head float towards the sky. Allow your face to soften. Begin to draw your awareness towards your breath and by focusing on your breath, see if you can bring your mind into the present moment.
Decide who you’d like to direct your compassion towards and spend a moment imagining that person. It can be a loved one, a stranger, a community, a situation, yourself, or perhaps someone who has hurt or angered you. Keeping this person in mind, begin to chant the mantra “loka samastha sukhino bhavantu” or simply chant the mantra mentally. Repeat the mantra as long as it serves you.
You can then transition the mantra into “May you be happy. May you be at peace. May you be free from suffering.” “May I be happy. May I be at peace. May I be free from suffering.” “May all beings be happy. May all beings be at peace. May all beings be free from suffering.”
Continue to chant or mentally recite the mantra as much as necessary. For the strongest effects, practice this meditation daily.