How Meditation Cultivates the Qualities of Love
It’s often hard to love the people we love.
Fortunately, the qualities we cultivate in meditation are also essential to a healthy, loving relationship: our capacities to feel, and act, with greater care, and to be with our experience as it arises, dips, soars, crashes, and re-arises.
First, in meditation, we’re cultivating our inner feeler.
Meditation is sometimes described as observing something, such as the breath. But in meditation, we don’t simply ‘observe’ the breath, which implies a sort of stepping away and looking back. We feel it: feel the inhale, feel the exhale.
Rather than noticing yourself from a remove, you actually dissolve the remove. We become more intimate with the movements of our heart, including love. We learn to stay with our feelings, our heart, and this very moment. Sometimes, that is wonderful. Sometimes, it is confounding, irritating, exciting. We learn to make room for all of this.
So, over time, when love appears, you will know how to recognize it. When it disappears, you will know how to work with it. And when you are confused about whether love is present or absent, you will find that you have the ability to remain with the uncertainty on its terms and to ride it out to its organic conclusion. Your understanding of love itself will deepen in a way that is nonconceptual, nonintellectual, and visceral.
In addition to our feelings, meditation also cultivates an intimacy, attentiveness, and precision in our words and actions—also known as “good manners.”
Though it may sound prosaic, this is actually one of the most important skills one can bring to a relationship. Deeply good manners are rooted in thoughtfulness and considering the impact on others of what you say and do. In fact, without good manners, a healthy relationship is close to impossible.
Once, I was staying with my friend Crystal. After dinner, we stood at the sink talking while she washed dishes. She was elbow-deep in suds and happened to say, “I like a lot of soap.” Could there be a tinier moment than this in a conversation between two people? However, since then when I’ve stayed at her house (which I have done a lot), I make sure to use a lot of soap when I do her dishes, whether she is there or not. This is how she likes things done, and when I am in her home, I like to respect her preferences.
In my own home, I live with someone who has a place for everything. I do not have a place for everything. But I try to remember that it matters to him that the glasses are stacked like this and that the keys go on the hall table. I do not care about such things. He does. Good manners are not about doing things “his way” but about demonstrating some awareness of and respect for someone else’s little preferences.
As simple as it all sounds, that is also how rare it is.
True good manners are far from superficial. They are a sign that you’re really paying attention to the other person and showing evidence of that in the way you act and speak.
It may sound obvious to say so, but if you are with someone who doesn’t care enough about you to notice you, who doesn’t think about you, it is hard to imagine how far you could go with that person. Rather than sweeping romantic gestures or grand overtures, it is these tiny courtesies that create a foundation for the love that we are looking for. If they are missing, the foundation will weaken over time.
We train in meditation in order to be right here, fully human, riddled with brilliance and confusion, completely vulnerable, and terrifyingly available. We do it so you can take your seat right in the middle of your life, and find that you are daring enough to meet it all without a shield.
As it happens, these are the qualities necessary to fall in love skillfully, build a relationship that is alive and vibrant, and meet the power of heartbreak with courage. These are the qualities of love.
Susan Piver is the New York Times bestselling author of nine books, including The Four Noble Truths of Love. In 2012, she founded The Open Heart Project, the world’s largest online-only meditation center.