top of page

Real Love, The Art of Mindful Connection

Buddhist teacher and New York Times best selling author, Sharon Salzberg, wrote Real Love to reclaim the word and power of love. Just like in Love 2.0 , her description of Real Love shifts from the concept of a soul mate or the "He/she loves me or he/she loves not." kind, to one that says love is a binding caring connection between human beings. Real love creates a sense of belonging. It is vital to our health and well being.

Unlike the cliched love, real love cannot be given then taken away like some commodity. To be loved is our birthright. We are born wired to connect and love. Within us there is a capacity to care about ourselves and others and want them to be well.

Sometimes the idea of self love is thought to be indulgent. Think of it as putting on your oxygen mask first so you can help a small child. Salzberg writes "Loving yourself is holding yourself accountable to be the best you can be in your life."

Real Love requires the work of reaching out and reaching inside. Sharon Salzberg provides stories and practices to do both. She invites us to become authors of brand new stories about love. This book is for those who long to be happy within and dare to imagine the possibilities that a practice of Real Love can bring.

"I believe that there is only one kind of love - real love- trying to come alive in us despite our limiting assumptions, the distortions of our culture, and the habits of fear, self-condemnation, and isolation that we tend to acquire just by living a life."


Read to Discover

How to Move Beyond the Cliche of Love

How to Take the Required Action and Cultivate Love

How to Widen the Lens of Compassion

How to Move Beyond the Cliche of Love

Evolutionary biologists say we have a "negativity bias" meaning we are more attuned to negative than positive events. It's the old - "watching for hungry tigers syndrome". Unfortunately, the negative memories are stickier that the positive ones. They tend to stay in our brains longer. Sharon Salzberg teaches us how to retrain our thoughts and response systems out of this fear response. The change process unfolds as we strengthen our compassion muscles. The more you lift of the weight of fear and negativity and replace it with compassion, the stronger you get. Most mentioned is the practice of loving kindness, which can be found in this blog. Another practice ishe describes is to imagine a force of love for you. Feel their sense of presence and imagine them saying " May you be safe, "Be happy", "Be healthy", "Live with ease of the heart."

When you move past the old conception of love you can begin to rewrite the story you have about yourself. You can start including the fact that you are loving, kind and worthy of love in return; regardless of whether you have won any awards, climbed Mt. Everest, are the perfect weight or perfect whatever. You can even toss out the stories that your family , friends co-workers may tell about you. Rewrite them. You know the full you.

Sharon tells us how to silence the inner critic. You can even draw a funny picture of them and put the critic in his or her own place, out of your head! She talks about the the incidiousness of perfectionism and the anxiety it produces. The author tells a story about her own struggles with being perfect when her ideas were shaken up by a meeting with the Dalai Lama, watching him speak and making a big mistake. No one is immune! Special attention is made to the powerful practice of RAIN meditation and its ability to dispel shame. Click on the link for a ten minute practice with Tara Brach.

How to Take the Required Action and Cultivate Love

Love is a connection of action. It is a verb, not a noun. I love the quote by author and surgeon Atul Gawande:

"We are social not just in the trivial sense that we like company, and not just in the obvious sense that we each depend on others. We are social in a more elemental way: simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people."

To love others we must start the practice of loving ourselves. Too often we judge our worthiness of love by the love we give or receive. In terms of giving, Salzberg says boundaries are important. James Hollis, a Jungian psychologist, writes in the Eden Project, "The best thing we can do for our relationship with others . . . is to render our relationship to ourselves more conscious." Equanimity or respectful balance is a healthy balance. We do not have to love everyone or even ourselves unconditionally.

I was most inspired by the chapter on curiosity since "Wonder" is my guiding word for 2018. In terms of love it can mean keeping open to the idea that we don't know everything about the people who are closest to us. Sharon Salzberg recalls a situation where a friend, whom she had thought was not very nuturing, stepped up and gave longtime loving care and attention to a friend who was diagnosed with cancer. People can surprise you.

Again the RAIN meditation is offered as a way to adopt a more expansive and flexible relaitonship with emotional suffering. RAIN stand for: Recognize, Acknowledge, Investigate, Non-Identify.

There's a great quote in a chapter on close relationships from one of Salzber's students.

"Most people think of a good relationship as fifty-fifty. My dog and I, we're one hundred-one hundred."

The best of relationships don't require a ledger. They call on us to accept differences. Another great quote from a renowned Thai teacher, Ajahn Chah:

"If you want a chicken to be a duck, and a duck to be a chicken, you will suffer."

How to Widen the Lens of Compassion

One story that stood out for me in this section is the act of imaging you are on a subway car and for some reason you are trapped and the people with you are the ones you upon which you depend.

Life on this planet is not that different. We are living in a world that always seems to be on the edge of catastrophy from strong storms systems to nuclear threats, political differences that have driven wedges into families and communties, horrific violent acts, the marginalization of people because skin color, race or gender; there is not a single person who doesn't feel fear and anger at some time. It is easy to take an us-against-them-stance, no matter what side you are on. The idea of loving kindness may seem like a weak and phony response to such immense challenges and differences. The reality is that we all lose when we cannot figure out how to work together to solve threats and conflicts.

Sharon Salzberg tells about her friend, Myles Horton, who knew Martin Luther King. Dr. King would tell him; "You have to love everybody". Myles would say, "No, I don't. I'm only going to love the people that deserve to be loved." Martin Luther King would say; "No, no, no. You have to love everybody". Some people might think, if he had met his opposers with force, he would not have been killed. How many more would have been killed if the approach had been one of violence?

Real Love makes us stronger better versions of ourselves. It is an internal act of meeting opposition with the wider lens that says we have to exist together, how can we best do it? Where can we find connection? It doesn't mean love everybody all the time or to agree with people who hold different ideologies. It means tuning in deeper to our own values.

"It never requires that we sacrifice our principles or cease standing up for what we believe. The primary work is done internally, as we cultivate love and compassion in our own hearts."

How then does Salzberg deal with the issue of anger? She offers profound advice from Mallika Dutt, activist and founder of the global human rights organization, Breakthrough. Mallika says:

"When you focus on the horrible things people do to one another, in a way your're constantly re-traumatizing yourself."

When we develop critical wisdom about our anger she says we make profound changes in our choices rather than approaching solutions with a clenched fist. This critical wisdom takes tremendous courage to create the alchemy of anger into hope.

This work of Real Love is not easy and it's never finished. It's an ongoing practice of revisiting the practice of touching kindness within and extending it outward. Sharon writes that Real Love is about "saying yes to life". It frees your energy to be more focused and opens possibilities for a better you and a better world.

May we remember, "We are all traffic."

bottom of page