In celebration of Valentine’s Day, I write to you wishing love and also to offer a few reflections on how the practice of mindfulness is essentially a path of love. Given the enormity of this topic, I am going to keep it simple by focusing on a central three-way intersection of mindfulness and love.
Interpersonally, mindful relationships involve the Five A’s of attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing (Richo, 2002). In relationships, attention is the capacity to be awake and aware of our own needs and the needs of others. It provides us with the empathic, and compassionate felt-sense that enables us to respond to ourselves and others with genuine care and concern.
A simple way of bringing mindful attention into your relationship is to make space for quiet time and schedule in technology free time with your loved ones. Focus on being fully present with the other.
Acceptance and self-acceptance is a practice of letting in self-love and allowing others into our heart; it involves being able to embrace the other without conditions or from a place of ego. I do not intend to discredit the ego, for it serves us in many positive ways; however one must acknowledge that the ego can, at times, get caught in the trappings of clinging, longing, and aversion. Therefore, one must stay alert to the complexity of the present moment and stay connected to the other in a loving, compassionate, and feeling way.
A way of practicing acceptance in your relationships is to focus on something that is non-harmful, yet a bit annoying and inquire into the causes of this annoyance within you.
Is there something that you may be holding onto about the other’s annoying behavior that can be let go of to allow more of a deepened connection?
Through the deepening, perhaps there will be a shifting or transformation of the annoying behavior or how you relate to it.
Appreciation is simply honoring and holding a space of love and gratitude for ourselves and for others. You can practice this everyday by offering a kind word to your partner, a friend, stranger or colleague.
Affection is the complete physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual energetic loving embrace of the other. It invites a deepening of the connection between beings. The practice of appreciation can be simple in that you can at any moment close your eyes and bring an image of a loved one into the mind’s eye and contemplate the qualities of this person or animal that are so dear to your heart.
Take a few minutes of mindful breathing space relishing in the complete physical and emotional joy and warmth that this image and this being brings into your life.
Lastly, allowing is a wisdom practice of letting the other be exactly who they are. It is working dynamically with the dialectic between allowing what is and softly encouraging ourselves and others toward more self-realization and self-actualization when growth edges are met. In this way, relationships are a powerful path of transformation. You can practice allowing by offering “open” physical and energetic space to ourselves and to others to enable a natural “unfolding” of the person to occur. This means to suspend problem solving mode in times of challenges and take “seat” to get intimately familiar with the fullness of the challenge or experience. Invite whatever the adversity may be in and remain open to whatever physical, emotional, existential, and spiritual struggle the challenge brings up and sit with it as a way to develop a strong sense of acceptance and tolerance. The poet Rilke captures this so beautifully in his verse “let no place in me hold itself closed, for where I am closed, I am false”*.
I hope the above illustrates how the practice of mindfulness brings together the Five A’s and promotes a more healthy, fuller experience of loving. The interpersonal can be so satisfying, challenging, and can occupy much of one’s attention; given this beautiful complexity, it needs to have a strong foundation in the intra-personal.
In the preceding discussion of the interpersonal, I wove in some of the intra-personal as well. However, there are a few additional points that I would like to emphasize concerning the intra-personal domain. Intra-personally, mindfulness encourages us toward a practice of radical self-acceptance and gives us the necessary skills to put it into action. Tara Brach, a leading western Buddhist psychologist, poignantly notes that radical acceptance involves “accepting absolutely everything we are feeling about ourselves and our lives, by embracing with wakefulness and care our moment-to-moment experience.” By unconditionally accepting, she suggests “we are aware of what is happening within our body and mind in any given moment, without trying to control or judge or pull away.”
Mindfulness then teaches us to meet each moment as it arises and to see all situations as workable opportunities to increase self-knowledge and self-transcendence.
Years of practice have revealed to me that mindfulness and love are as interdependent and as beautifully complementary as the sun and moon.
When I drop into the stillness of seated practice, I am reminded of the calming, soothing, rhythmic quality and feeling I have beneath the mirror of a moonlit sky. The feeling in meditation matches the one I get on nighttime strolls beneath an open winter, starry sky. I can feel the immensity of a simple breath taken while looking up and allowing in the luminous light of the moon and feeling its purity wash all over me. Even when I am not able to make it out for a moonlit walk, I can still draw upon the mental imagery of this experience and allow the soothing quality of the breath to rinse through me. This is a practice that is always available to us.
I encourage you to practice sun breathing by simply closing your eyes and imagining the most beautiful, radiant, sunlit sky you have ever seen and put your hands on your heart and breath in this total and completely satisfying and healing sun energy. It can certainly kick start your day.
I invite you to make space for a sun and moon walking meditation. All you have to do is simply go outside, stand beneath a full overhead sun or moon, close your eyes and allow all of the amazing healing energy of these two celestial bodies to enter and surround all of you by taking a few long, slow, steady, and deep breaths. It feels all so good!
Valentine’s Day is a day for celebrating love, but of course we can hold this celebration everyday! I’d like to close by saying I have so much love and gratitude for you all for being a part of our community and your dedication to practice inspires me. May we all be bearers of this light of practice and shine this healing energy of yoga out into the world for all beings.
Wishing you beautiful love!
Join me this Sunday 02/15/2015 in SF for a workshop: Restorative Yoga, Hot Massage Stones, & Reiki Energetic Healing with Ewa Litauer. Learn more & Sign up now.
*Rilke’s Full Text
I’m too alone in the world, yet not alone enough
to make each hour holy.
I’m too small in the world, yet not small enough
to be simply in your presence, like a thing-
just as it is.
I want to know my own will
and to move with it.
And I want, in the hushed moments
when the nameless draws near,
to be among the wise ones-
I want to mirror your immensity.
I want never to be too weak or too old
to bear the heavy, lurching image of you.
I want to unfold.
Let not place in me hold itself closed,
for where I am closed, I am false.
I want to stay clear in your sight.
I would describe myself
like a landscape I’ve studied
at length, in detail;
like a word I’m coming to understand;
like a pitcher I pour from at mealtime;
like my mother’s face;
like a ship that carried me
when the waters raged.
About the Author:
John Rettger’s leads restorative classes and workshops at Yoga Tree where students are gracefully held through a deeply meditative journey that facilitates a gentle opening of the body enabling a full emotional experience of the present moment. Students are inspired by the integration of yoga philosophy, poetry, music, mindfulness and breathwork that purifies and opens the heart inviting in a feeling of unconditional love and acceptance. John’s students are reconnected with their deepest sense of inner truth and often leave class feeling peacefully harmonized throughout their mind, body, psyche, and spirit.