"Love" and "practice." Two words that get thrown around almost ceaselessly, especially in the yoga community. But what do they even mean? As someone who has hidden away from vulnerability for the better part of three decades, I know the word "love" gets uncomfortable. I know it sounds cliche. I want to build a fortress around myself to block out the bright, shiny sound of it. But that fortress doesn't feel like a home. After awhile, it gets uncomfortable in a whole different way. The separation it brings is a false sense of security. The thoughts that create it aren't based in reality, just the never ending loop of anxiety in my brain.
If I've learned one thing, it's that I want to live in reality. I don't want the stories that society tells me, that other people tell me, that I tell myself. I want the real deal. I want to see things as they are and I want to be open to whatever that means. I want to pay attention. I want to wake up.
I love telling the story of the first time I met a dear friend. She was sitting off by herself, smiling. She had her feet dangling in the pool, minding her own business. And smiling. Just... Smiling. I was standing some distance away in a group. I kept looking at her and thinking, "I just can't stand people that are like that. Smiling like that all by yourself? Ugh. THOSE people." I know I am not alone in that reaction. I know because I have friends that I would say these things to without hesitation and they know what I'm talking about. You might know too.
What I didn't know then (and have a better grasp on now), is that my dear, smiling friend knows a lot of things that I do not. I will not speak for her on what makes her smile like this. I've seen her do it many times since and it's something that I love about her. Instead of bringing out my cynicism, that smile now inspires me. What is to smile like that? What is it to smile at others that way? Something I keep coming back to for myself: love.
So what is it? What does it look like to truly love people? To love the moment? To love the earth? To smile all by yourself?
It can take a mighty shift not to focus on the "I." The I wants things. It wants to be recognized and satisfied. Our society teaches that the I is the important thing, that one upping the neighbor is where our value lies. Our presentations of the I can make us worthy or unworthy of attention and affection. But is that reality? Is that how we wake up?
I don't think so. I think we wake up through love. Neem Karoli Baba often instructed his devotees very simply: "love people." So I can't quite get out of my head lately that maybe, just maybe love is the practice.
Love as practice can open us up to our own experience. If training in love is training in attention, then we must learn to be open to the moment that is, as it is. We must learn to see the real details, to be attentive to the whole picture. Love doesn't allow for false narratives based on the never ending loop of thoughts we create. Is that loop even real?
Love as practice helps identify the areas where we are acting out of a lesser emotion. It shows us where our fortress boundaries lie and how we can push past them. It helps to amplifiy our compassion, both for ourselves and others. If you are truly present and aware, your heart can expand instead of contract. It can make room for all that is, instead of pushing things out. When was the last time you felt really good about that tightness in your chest or in your mind? Probably not any time recently, if ever. What does support us and open us? Love. Compassion. Awareness.
Love is the practice. It doesn't require much. To love is to pay attention, so you must learn to focus. Take some time on a cushion or a mat. Get to know your mind, learn the patterns, learn the the loops and the stories that hold you back. See if you can let them go a little.
You can live here, you know: this moment. Maybe even in ones similar to that which my friend was experiencing: a beautiful day, a warm sun, nice people. Why wouldn't she smile? I know I do now, or at least I try to.
Live in this moment. This one. Not the one before it or the one ahead of it. See the people in it. See the world around you. Let the great "I" go a little, with tenderness. Open yourself to love in all it's many forms and ways. Love is the practice.