Yoga and the Art of LovingKindness

Adorable animal at the Bronx Zoo, name unknown - how can one not help falling in love?!

Adorable animal at the Bronx Zoo, name unknown - how can one not help falling in love?!

In the past ten years, I’ve co-created two beautiful things with the help of the Universe – a loving marriage to a wonderful man, and a nonprofit organization. Both have brought me great joy. And both had very tender beginnings that were filled with fear, anxiety and uncertainty.

Back around 9 years ago, when I discovered that I had strong feelings for this man who would eventually become my husband, I was in a state of panic. Did he, would he love/like me back? If I couldn’t have him, would I be able to go on living without his affections. I was afraid to find out. Around that time, I went to a Buddhist meditation practice and Dharma talk given by Gina Sharpe. Afterwards she allowed for people to come and ask her questions. I don’t remember exactly what I said to her, but did communicate that I was feeling very afraid. And I’ll never forgot how she looked me directly in the eyes – with deep compassion and understanding flowing out of hers – and said: “the antidote to fear is lovingkindenss.”

In various ways since that time, I have tried to cultivate lovingkindness as a practice and a way of life. Some of you who take my yoga classes know that I often finish with a simple lovingkindness practice. 

I had a dream to start a nonprofit organization many years ago, back in the early 2000s. I dreamed of creating a place where children who have a natural ability to do gymnastics but not the means to do it could come and learn something that had brought me so much joy and exhilaration in my younger years. I dreamed of a place where people of all ages could come and learn the joy of movement through dance, something that I was immensely passionate about in my 20’s and 30’s and at times brought me moments when I thought I was experiencing nirvana. And I dreamed of creating a space where people’s lives could be transformed and healed through yoga, as my life has been as I’ve practiced it in various forms over the past 25 years. That dream did eventually become Keoni Movement Arts, which is now just over 10 years old. It has brought me moments of great joy – what better thing is there than seeing a child laugh out of sheer excitement or seeing a person with a disability doing something she never thought she could do? And it has also brought moments of great fear and anxiety – for e.g., how do you cope with a changing funding landscape every year not knowing if our projects are going to be funded from year to year?

I share these two personal stories to make the point of saying that both experiences have given me opportunities to create a lot more lovingkindness and compassion for myself. There has been a lot of doubt and fear and uncertainly around the creation and sustaining of the nonprofit, and now I am better able to say to myself “well that’s quite normal for someone in my position to experience so let’s try to meet those moments with compassion, gentleness, love and kindness towards myself.” 

I have often shared this quote from Buddhist meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg’s book, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness:

In cultivating love, we remember one of the most powerful truths the Buddha taught … that the forces in the mind that bring suffering are able to temporarily hold down the positive forces such as love or wisdom, but they can never destroy them.… Love can uproot fear or anger or guilt, because it is a greater power. Love can go anywhere. Nothing can obstruct it.

During this month of February during which Valentine’s Day falls, we can consider love in all of its forms – from romantic love to a general feeling of love and goodwill towards all of humanity. For me, it is particularly comforting to believe that this thing called love can actually overcome and render harmless my inner feelings of fear, anger and guilt. In the throes of fear, anger, and guilt, one can come to think that these experiences are real, and boy are they scary. But for me, fortunately I have a stronger meditation and lovingkindness practice to get me through such moments. 

As far as romantic love is concerned, the Buddha’s teachings do have some ideas to offer that could be helpful. According to the Wikipedia entry about Buddhism and Romantic relationships, here are some things to consider:

Buddhism encourages independence through non-attachment. Non-attachment is the idea that in order to be fulfilled and happy in life, a person cannot be attached to any one thing because this thing can cause suffering.[2] In order to be happy and to follow the path of enlightenment, Buddhism teaches people to discard all things in life that can cause pain. This idea is not referring to worldly objects in the physical sense, but in a spiritual sense. To achieve non-attachment, one must detach from the idea of a perfect person and holding one’s partner to an impossible standard. Instead, one must accept a partner for who they are unconditionally. In Buddhism, this is the key to a happy romantic relationship. Accepting a partner for who they are, for who they are throughout their life no matter what changes, and making the best of every situation is how one achieves personal fulfillment in a romantic relationship.

In the early stages of my blossoming relationship with my husband, Ed, I read a wonderfully insightful book called if the Buddha dated: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path, by Charlotte Kasl, Ph.D. Somewhere in the book I distinctly remember Charlotte offering the idea that when we enter into a relationship, we must start off knowing and accepting that we are not there to change the other person. If we can’t love the person for who and what they are right then and there, then we shouldn’t be seeking to be with that person in a romantic relationship. I took this suggestion to heart, and I remember early on in my relationship with Ed telling him that I loved him exactly as he was. Since that time, we’ve both been changed as we’ve learned from each other, and yet still in some ways we are fundamentally the people we were back then. The point is that I try not to change Ed, but rather to only make his life better and to support his dreams – as he has more than amply supported mine over the past 9 years – in any ways that I can. My practice is to try to love him unconditionally.

The Buddha taught:

If you truly loved yourself, you would never harm another. 

I think this speaks to the Buddha’s belief that all beings are interconnected. When we harm another, in a sense we are also harming ourselves.

I think the Buddha could also have said, “If you truly loved yourself, you would never harm yourself.” This would speak to the idea that all parts within ourselves are interconnected. 

For sure, loving one’s self, and being kind and compassionate toward one’s self, can be hard at times. Perhaps, then, that is why the Buddha’s practice of Metta (lovingkindness) meditation, begins by offering love and kindness to one’s own self first. Here is a simple practice you can do daily on your own: 

Take quiet moments – sitting on your office chair, walking down the street slowly without your cell phone in your hand, standig on the subway platform – to silently say:

May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I live with ease.
May my heart be wide open and free.

May your heart truly be wide open and free, for the benefit of all beings everywhere.

Aloha with Metta,
Paul Keoni