Love is something we are all searching for. Something we try to understand and we try to take control of. To feel true unconditional love for yourself and others creates lightness, simplicity, and softness. The process of understanding our relationship to love begins with ourselves. ‘To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance’ – Oscar Wilde.
The heart is the center of love, and often we spend our lives protecting our heart so much that we hold ourselves back from ever truly feeling love. Until we learn to open our hearts and love ourselves it can be difficult to give and receive love.
Love is not oriented only towards specific objects, but feeling love towards everything we encounter – it is a state of being that is felt within us. We do not need anything from this love but to feel it, receive it, and give it.
When looking at the body at levels of consciousness, love is located at the heart where we begin to find self-love. The fourth chakra or anahata (unstruck) chakra is located at the heart and lungs. A closed off heart and lungs can result in asthma, lung disease, shortness of breath, sunken chest, and high blood pressure. It is through opening and understanding this chakra that we are able to connect our body and mind, to love ourselves, and deepen our relationships.
The hearth is the integrator of the mind and the body and the prana (energy flow within the body) is also the link between the two. The awareness and attention to opening the heart and deepening the breath allows for expansion and union within. The energy and strength of the heart come from its power to integrate and balance the mind and the body through the breath.
The sun is the symbol of the heart chakra, for the sun nurtures all living things on earth. The sun radiates continuously in all directions and does not discriminate in any way. If we can begin to look at our own heart as the sun, and allow it to radiate continuously without discrimination we will begin to fully live and understand love. One of my teachers had once told me, you don’t have to like everyone, but you do have to love everyone. When I first heard this I didn’t really buy it, but as I practiced offering love to everyone and not discriminating I began to better understand what she meant. There is a Buddhist meditation practice that guides you to this connection with love. This type of meditation is called meta bhavana or loving-kindness.
Loving-kindness is love without clinging and a practice of self-psychotherapy. Begin by coming into a comfortable cross-legged position on the floor or seated in a chair with a tall spine and feet flat onto the floor. With your eyes closed you will begin to cultivate feelings of love towards yourself, then towards your loved ones, then towards friends, strangers, and finally enemies. Systematically offer love, friendliness, compassion, joy, and equanimity to yourself and so on. Some ways for your to bring up feelings of loving-kindness are visualization, reflection, or auditory. Visualization allows you to bring up a mental picture of the person, seeing yourself or other person, and smiling or being joyous. Through reflection you think of positive qualities of the person and any acts of kindness they have done. The last approach is auditory, and possibly the easiest, simply repeat and internalize the mantra ‘loving-kindness’ as you move through yourself and the other people in your meditation.
The loving-kindness meditation doesn’t have to be just done at home when you are alone. When you are out on the streets continue to repeat the visualizations, kind reflections, or mantra in order to cultivate the feeling of loving-kindness within. As it grows stronger within you it will emanate out to those around you.
Cultivating loving-kindness can be hard at times, and if you are finding that it’s not working for you I recommend a few other practices below that allow you to open your heart to love.
- Self-Care – get a massage, take a hot bath, enjoy an afternoon nap
- Any back bends, shoulder openers and things that will open up the heart area are positive for this chakra. Physically you open the chest to create more space for your breath and emotions.
- Loving Kindness is a meditation practice that many try daily in order to cultivate feelings of love towards themselves and everything around them. Try it everyday for one week and notice any changes or differences in you.