Mindful Loving: Awakening the Mind & Heart, Blog 5
“Love is sweet, tender and delicious!
Love brings happiness to our self and others.
We love by the way we walk, speak, listen, sit, and eat.
The way we live our daily lives, take care of our self, and love and help other people, animals, and the earth.
The way we are truly present.
The way we notice and understand.
The well-being of the world depends on us.”
—Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindful loving is conscious loving. Mindful loving embodies the practices of lovingkindness, compassion, deep listening, loving speech, and gratitude. When we love mindfully, we are patient and forgiving—accepting ourselves and others as we are, with all our strengths and weaknesses. Mindful love is responsible; it is the energy helping us to care for ourselves, others, and the earth.
Mindful loving nourishes our body, our mind, our spirit, and those of others.
Research has shown that love, compassion, and appreciation stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) to “rest and digest.” This increases feelings of calm, well-being, and contentment. A strengthened PNS counterbalances stress and increases recovery from stress-related illnesses. (For a sampling of this research, see studies co-authored by BL Fredrickson, US National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Mental Health website.)
Mindful loving helps us to:
- be a friend to ourselves, others, and the earth
- cultivate happiness, well-being, and peace for ourselves and others
- enrich our own lives and the lives of others
- care for and protect the preciousness of all life on this planet
- relieve suffering through the power of compassion
Loving compassion has the power to heal and transform a situation and bring deep meaning to our lives.
Compassion is a born instinct. It is a sense of concern that arises when we are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to see that suffering is relieved.
The first beneficiary of compassion is YOU.
“Research shows that when it comes to personal happiness, compassion is the key. When we open our heart, respond to a person’s problem with kindness and compassion and help them, there is a helper’s high. A chemical gets activated and people who act out of kindness and help others experience this chemical surge.”
Founding member of The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE).
Compassionate people enjoy many benefits:
- They are happier and have stronger relationships.
- They have a strengthened vagus nerve that regulates heart rate,
regulates the parasympathetic nervous system, and modulates inflammation levels in the body.
- They are less likely to be lonely.
- They feel they matter and have a sense of purpose (associated with longevity).
Watch a video of Thupten Jinpa’s presentation on Courage and Compassion, at the Whole U, University of Washington, Seattle, 2015.
Suggestions for Mindful Loving Practices:
Loving Yourself, Compassion, Deep Listening, Loving Speech
The capacity to love others is the capacity to love ourselves.
Most of us would agree with this statement. However, most of us would also agree that we don’t feel we have the time to give ourselves the love, care, and nurturing we need. We often put ourselves last on our long list of to-dos. Our culture values pushing ourselves emotionally and physically in order to accomplish our goals. We often pay a price with high stress levels, causing our emotional and physical health to suffer. This also takes a toll on our energy to maintain loving relationships.
Taking the time to love and care for yourself gives you the energy to love and care for others.
It’s not selfish to take care of yourself—when you refresh yourself, you are healthier and more effective in the long run. You have more energy to move forward and take things in stride when challenges arise. You have more capacity to give to others and nourish relationships.
Give yourself the gift of time during the day to nurture yourself with mindfulness practices.
Set aside 5-20+ minutes to breathe mindfully and listen deeply to your body.
Enjoy some of your meals by eating mindfully.
Go for mindful walks.
Start small and pick something doable that you will enjoy. Even spending a few mindful minutes of self-care each day can make a difference and can motivate you to do more. Engage in any mindfulness practice with a gentle awareness. Be kind to yourself when you get caught up in the busyness of life and forget.
Many of us keep ourselves on task through harsh self-talk and inner criticism. Conversely, research on self-compassion has shown that being gentle and kind with ourselves supports our motivation to accomplish goals and to bounce back when needed.
A daily practice of sending ourselves “kind wishes” inclines the mind toward kindness and compassion. Jack Kornfield, longtime author of several books on the power of lovingkindness, offers the following kind wishes to meditate on daily.
Kind Wishes Meditation
Put your hand on your chest and breathe into your heart as you tell yourself these phrases:
- May I be filled with lovingkindness.
- May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.
- May I be well in body and mind.
- May I be at ease and happy.
At first, this might feel uncomfortable or contrived, but over time, you may find a feeling of gentle self-care emerges. Click here for the full lovingkindness meditation.
“We can always find opportunities to express our compassionate side through kindness in our every day life.
The question is not whether I am compassionate, rather, the question is, Will I make the choice to express the more compassionate side of me?”
A key part of compassion is the ability to identify with and see our commonality with others.
Identification with others can lead to empathizing with them and wanting to help.
In his book on compassion, A Fearless Heart, Jinpa offers a simple and powerful mantra to recite—
Just Like Me:
He wants to be happy, Just Like Me.
She doesn’t want to suffer, Just Like Me.
When we change the way we think and feel about others,
it changes the way we behave toward them, even with people who are difficult.
With someone you consider difficult, if you can identify with them and notice that they want to be happy Just Like Me, and that they suffer Just Like Me, you can be more compassionate with them. Notice the difficult person’s suffering, allow your heart to feel tenderness and concern for the person, and silently repeat: May you be free from this suffering… May you experience peace and joy.
It can be especially hard to be compassionate when someone hurts us. We might respond by being unforgiving. A large body of research shows that harboring the related feelings of hurt, anger, bitterness, or even vengeance eat away at our health and well-being. Forgiveness is the decision to LET IT GO and wish the person well. This doesn’t mean that we deny the other person’s responsibility or minimize the wrong. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps us go on with life.
To love means to listen deeply to understand.
Doing so helps us know what to do and what not to do to relieve suffering and increase our own and others’ well-being and happiness.
Feeing heard is an essential component of communication and friendship.
Practice mindful listening by following these suggestions offered by Mindful Schools:
- Keep checking in briefly with your body while listening to the other person. This keeps you grounded and present. It helps you be aware of your own emotional reactions and perceptions as you listen to what’s being said.
- Maintain comfortable eye contact. Eye contact (natural, not staring) communicates to the speaker that they are seen and heard by you. Breaking eye contact (longer than a comfortable break) often occurs when we are distracted or not paying close enough attention. This can be a signal to return our focus on the speaker. Always be mindful of the person you are speaking with; eye contact is considered rude in some cultures or is uncomfortable for some people.
- Keep a half-smile on your face. Enjoy a pleasant calming smile as you interact with others. In emotionally charged circumstances, a half-smile can be misinterpreted, so be mindful and authentic.
- Be curious about the other person’s experience. Notice when you are judging or making assumptions and return to their words with fresh ears.
- Listen to their non-verbal body language. Notice the emotional tone in the voice, the eyes, the body position. Is the tone open-hearted, closed, or disconnected? Attempt to make these observations without judgments or assumptions.
- Pay attention to the “why” behind the words. What does the person want from you—are they asking for advice, feedback, or do they simply need to share? Ask clarifying questions. If the person is in pain, keep in mind that you don’t have to fix it, simply be present, compassionate, and kind.
- Let go of the need to think about what you will say next. Being present will help you know the “right response” when your turn comes.
Words are powerful. Positive words build loving relationships. Negative words tear relationships down. Practice being mindful of the words you speak. This can be challenging, as our mouths tend to be faster than our awareness. Be gentle with yourself and remember this is an ongoing practice.
- Be clear on your intention before you speak. Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life, breaks intention down into two categories: the intention to create connection or the intention to create separation. Silently ask yourself “Do I want to create connection or separation?”
- Use loving words. Choose positive words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope.
It makes both of you feel wonderful!
- Express appreciation and gratitude often. Make a conscious effort to express more appreciation, delight, affirmation, and encouragement. Positive interactions are at the heart of good marriages/partnerships, satisfying friendships, healthy development in children, and successful businesses. To express gratitude in a meaningful way, you actually need to feel grateful. That may involve looking at a person or situation from a new angle. Ask yourself “What do I appreciate about this person/situation right now?”
- Allow for pauses in the conversation. Taking a few seconds to allow silence can provide the opportunity for a person who is usually quiet to contribute to the conversation. It also allows space for new information to arise within yourself—often at a level of depth that would not be accessed otherwise.
- Refrain from saying anything when angry. Once something hurtful has been said, it cannot be undone; there is no delete button. Instead, practice taking some mindful breaths or ground yourself in your body. If appropriate, take a time out, assuring the person you will reconnect. If possible, take a mindful walk in the fresh air. After you become calm, you are more likely to choose your words carefully to express yourself in a way that others can hear you and that increases your own and others’ well-being.
Daily Practice: Love and Be a Friend
Love and Be a Friend to Yourself
“Do everything in mindfulness, so you can really be there, so you can love.”
—Thich Nhat Hanh
When we love ourselves, we have something to share. Offer yourself true presence as your first act of love. You can do this by practicing mindful: breathing, walking, eating, and loving. Take care of yourself. Be kind, gentle, and compassionate to yourself; compassion grows through daily practice. When you suffer, ask for help from yourself, friends, community, and loved ones.
Love and Be a Friend to Others
“When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?”
—Thich Nhat Hanh
We are born to connect with and love others. Offer your loved ones your true presence. Be kind and compassionate. Care for others—look deeply to understand their needs, aspirations, and suffering. Express your love by listening compassionately and using loving words. Look to see the goodness and beauty within each person you interact with. Love in a way that preserves your own and your loved one’s individuality, freedom, and peace.
Love and Be a Friend to Our Life-Sustaining Earth
“When we recognize the virtues, the talent, the beauty of the earth, love is born.”
—Thich Nhat Hanh
Make it a daily practice to be mindful of and grateful for all the earth’s virtues:
- The earth offers so much to nourish us—water, food, air to breathe, shelter, and beauty.
- The earth doesn’t discriminate; she loves and sustains all she holds.
- The earth constantly changes and adapts.
- The earth is patient with humanity’s lack of awareness and care.
- The earth has a great capacity to endure.
Paradoxically, the earth is fragile and in great danger of being depleted beyond her capacity to recover. We must love and protect our precious earth with the same commitment we have to love and protect ourselves, family, and friends.
Practicing Mindful Loving with Thay
Awakening the Heart Mindfulness Retreat
led by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay), UBC, August 2011
Our Awakening the Mind & Heart Blog Series was created in honor of the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh.
With deep appreciation for the loving guidance, elegant presence, and exquisite modeling of our teacher, Thay.
“To be truly present and awake we have to stop our thinking.
If we sit mindfully, if we walk mindfully on the earth, if we eat mindfully, and love mindfully, we will generate the energies of mindfulness, of peace, and of compassion in both the body and the mind. This kind of energy can heal and transform.”
—Thich Nhat Hanh
During the retreat,
Friendships blossomed and relationships deepened.
Minds awakened, hearts opened.
among the 800 participants.
A mindfulness community emerged.
Wishes for Your Daily Practice
We’ve created a pdf of the following wishes, each in a mindfulness circle, as gentle reminders for your daily mindful loving practice to awaken your mind and heart.
♥ May I be loving, kind, and gentle.
♥ May I truly be present to myself and others.
♥ May I accept weaknesses and nurture strengths.
♥ May I be compassionate to myself and others.
♥ May my words inspire confidence, joy, and hope.
♥ May I smile, breathe, and love deeply.
Please click here to download your gift:
You can print, clip, laminate, and post the circles in your home (on mirrors, near your sitting area), car (on the dash), and office (on your computer). You can also place the circles in a basket and select one to focus on during the day.
Give a gift of Mindfulness Circles to yourself and to others!
Download the colorful collection of Mindful Wishes and put them in a pretty container:
Mindful Breathing Circles, Mindful Walking Circles, Mindful Eating Circles.
Click on the title to view or purchase.
Teachings on Love, Revised Edition, 2013
by Thich Nhat Hanh
A unique take on the definition of love and its place in our daily lives. Thich Nhat Hanh’s insights allow each of us to deepen our understanding and intimacy in any relationship and to extend our compassion.
How to Love, 2015
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Introducing beginners and reminding seasoned practitioners of the essentials of mindful relationships. Thay presents six mantras to nourish true love.
Love Letter to the Earth, 2013
by Thich Nhat Hanh
A hopeful book that gives us a path to follow by showing that change is possible only with the recognition that people and the planet are ultimately one and the same.
A Fearless Heart, How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives, 2015
by Thupten Jinpa
Using science, insights, and stories, Jinpa shows us how to train our compassion muscle to relieve stress, fight depression, improve our health, achieve our goals, and change our world.
♥Awakening the Mind & Heart: Daily Mindfulness Practices 4 Life Blog Series©
♥Daily Mindfulness Practices 4 Life: Awakening the Mind & Heart, Blog 1
♥ Mindful Breathing: Awakening the Mind & Heart, Blog 2
♥ Mindful Walking: Awakening the Mind & Heart, Blog 3
♥ Mindful Eating: Awakening the Mind & Heart, Blog 4
♥ Mindful Loving: Awakening the Mind & Heart, Blog 5
We hope you enjoyed our
Awakening the Mind & Heart:
Daily Mindfulness Practices 4 Life Blog Series©.
Please connect with us!
We’d love to hear from you.
Sue & Victoria
Thich Nhat Hanh quotations and book content are reprinted with permission from Parallax Press, 2015.
Pictures of Thay and his calligraphy are reprinted with permission from Plum Village, 2015.