“If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform”…. Tich Naht Hahn.
Tich Naht Hahn talks about our capacity to love as transformative. He says, “When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others.”
Furthermore, the paradox is that with expanded hearts, “we accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.” In fact, he states that, “Understanding someone’s suffering is the best gift you can give another person. Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.”
But how can we expand our hearts? How do learn to really listen and understand? Listening without reactivity and with open-ness is a skill which we can all develop. This skill interestingly requires us to tune into ourselves, connect with our own emotions so that we can manage our own reactivity to be available to listen to another. Over the last few decades, developments in psychology and neuroscience have taught us a lot about our emotions. As we understand emotions more, therapists are teaching people that understanding ourselves with compassion and building our capacity for happiness is the only path to a life of joy and deep connection with others. This agrees with Tich Naht Hahn’s teaching which says, “when we feed and support our own happiness, we are nourishing our ability to love. That’s why to love means to learn the art of nourishing our happiness.”
According to him, four elements constitute real truthful love — loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity both for the self and for the other. Self acceptance and compassion is very hard for many of us. He offers, “trust that you have a good and compassionate nature. You are part of the universe; you are made of stars. When you look at your loved one, you see that he is also made of stars and carries eternity inside. Looking in this way, we naturally feel reverence. True love cannot be without trust and respect for oneself and for the other person.”