You are a person worthy of love. You don’t have to do anything to deserve all the love in the world.
Real Love is a creative tool kit of mindfulness exercises and meditation techniques that help you to truly engage with your present experience and create deeper love relationships with yourself, your partner, friends and family, and with life itself.
Sharon Salzberg, a leading expert in Lovingkindness meditation, encourages us to strip away layers of negative habits and obstacles, helping us to experience authentic love based on direct experience, rather than preconceptions. Across three sections, Sharon explains how to dispel cultural and emotional habits, and direct focused care and attention to recapture the essence of what it is to love and be loved.
With positive reflections and practices, Sharon teaches us how to shift the responsibilities of the love that we give and receive to rekindle the powerful healing force of true connection. By challenging myths perpetuated by popular culture, we can undo the limited definitions that reduce love to simply romance or passion and give the heart a much-needed tune-up to connect ourselves to the truest experience of love in our daily lives.
When we pay attention to sensations in our body, we can feel that love is the energetic opposite of fear. Love seems to open and expand us right down to the cellular level, while fear causes us contract and withdraw into ourselves. Yet, so often fear keeps us from being able to say yes to love—perhaps our greatest challenge as human beings.
Close relationships ask us to open our hearts and expose our innermost thoughts and feelings. Yet if you felt unseen or unappreciated in childhood, the risk of self-disclosure can seem almost life-threatening. Or if you were valued only as a "good kid," and not encouraged to express your individuality, intimacy may feel suffocating. How we felt in relation to our caregivers in childhood is the (often unconscious) prototype for our connections later in life. Becoming more conscious of those early feelings can make us less fearful of dropping our protective masks.
This fear of loss is natural, especially if you’ve had a big loss early in life. But it also can keep you from savoring the love that's available to you right now.
As we explore new ways of loving and being loved by others, we need to equip ourselves with open, pliant minds; we need to be willing to investigate, experiment and evaluate as we approach a topic we thought we knew so much about.
I imagine an internal version of a position taught in Tai Chi, in which the knees are always slightly bent. Sometimes called the Horse Stance, it is thought to increase the flow of energy throughout the body. It also lowers the center of gravity, increasing stability in the event of an unexpected blow.
In the practice of mindfulness, the counterpart to the Horse Stance might be called the Stance of Inquiry. We attend to the present moment. We gather in our attention, again and again, and open to whatever comes, humbly accepting it. In doing so, we begin to peel back the layers of conditioning and unconscious expectations. We can’t judge whether they’re realistic or not until we know we have them. We start to discern what, in actuality, is available to us, both in terms of what we can give and what we can receive. And at a deeper level, we realize that love simply, perpetually exists, and that it's a matter of psychic housekeeping to make room for it.
As psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm said: "Love is not a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, an orientation of character which determines the relatedness of a person to the world as a whole...”
In this exercise, we’ll examine the feeling of deficiency and self-contraction that often gets confused with love for others—when we become lost in feeling like we are responsible for the happiness of others, and lose sight of our inner abundance in the process.
Throughout the day, notice moments when you become overwhelmed with feelings of responsibility for others—be it a parent, significant other, child, student or friend. You may be convinced that it’s your job to give more of yourself to this person, or perhaps you feel a sense of resentment—that this person should feel the same way and doesn’t.
Try connecting to the weight of this feeling with more spaciousness, and explore what happens both in your body and to your mood as you relax.
Take as long as you need to describe your experience of relating to the feeling in different ways— with self-judgment, resentment, fear of permanence and/or fear of loss, versus that state of adopting a “big mind” perspective. Look for moments of:
This practice is completely portable, meaning you can try it out during any experiences of overwhelm. It particularly helps strip away those confusing and restrictive assumptions about love for others—such as the all too common notion that love is about recognizing our responsibility to fix others, or be fixed by others in return. It is a practice of cultivating open awareness, which makes us become more curious and creative in the ways we relate to others and ourselves. Through recognizing the space we have within ourselves, and the availability of the feeling that we are enough, we make room for real love.