I read this beautifully simple and profound quote by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh this morning, repeating it over and over in my mind.
Love in such a way that the person you love feels free. Sounds simple, right?
But how many of us are really capable of loving in this way?
Let’s face it, most of us love with conditions, expectations, spoken or unspoken contracts we’ve assigned to our loved ones. Sometimes they’re gender based, sometimes not.
But to love in such a way that the other person feels free? How rare, how holy is that?
I’ve been mulling this over all morning, letting it sink in and settle into my bones because I believe there is a sacred message there for all of us.
Love in such a way that the person you love feels free.
What does that mean?
Does it mean I have the freedom to come and go at my will without taking my partner’s needs into consideration? Does it mean I am free to speak my mind without choosing my words carefully or taking responsibility for the effect they might have on another?
I don’t think so. At least that’s not how I choose to interpret Hahn’s words.
I believe loving another–be it your partner, your friend, your child, your family member–in a way in which the person you love feels free is more about loving them kindly. Respectfully.
It’s about loving them enough to leave them alone, to let them be who they are, to be true to their nature. In Taoism, being true to one’s nature is an important principle by which to live.
But this is a tough one, folks. How often do we try to change others to fit our preferences, thinking our roadmap is the only one that leads to hallowed ground? Or to the best outcome? I’ll raise my hand here.
Free, free, free at last.
In the West, we are accustomed to many freedoms, so much so that many of us don’t even think about the word “free” unless it is associated with a bargain. We think of freedom in the literal (and important) sense: Being free to come and go, to choose our religion, to vote, to forge our own path.
So maybe the subtleness of Hanh’s quote could be lost ….“love in such a way that the person you love feels free.”
He speaks to the kind of freedom one feels internally when they are blessed by non-judgmental love. The kind of love that is freeing, the kind that comes from having someone love you kindly, encouragingly, in a way that lets you be seen. In a way that gives you permission to be your authentic self.
That kind of love, the kind where you don’t feel guilted or obligated to regularly meet someone else’s expectations for your life, or even for how you spend your day–is a gift.
And I believe it sets the giver and the receiver free to love themselves and the other more fully, with wide-eyed optimism and grace.
(Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is a spiritual leader and writer, revered for his exquisite teachings on mindfulness and peace. He suffered a brain hemorrhage this week…so let us keep him in our hearts.)
If you’re interested in more thoughts on integrity, compassion and grace, particularly at midlife, read my book Tao Flashes. Or visit me at http://www.facebook.com/taoflashes or on twitter @taoflashes.