Many have noted the irony of Valentine’s Day coinciding with the 2-month anniversary of the Newtown massacre. Many have also chosen love as the antidote to the madness and as the way out of the despair. Every day is a good day to declare that “love wins,” but this is a particularly timely opportunity to affirm that.
In my 2012 year-end post (click here if you missed it) I talked a lot about the impact of seemingly small actions. Here, I would like to reflect a bit on the intention behind those actions. When I say LOVE WINS, I am not just trying to make people smile and feel solidarity amidst tragedy (though if it has that effect too, great). Rather, I truly believe that if love is strong in our hearts, it wins because it shapes our reality and thus has the potential to guide our every action. When we know truth, so many of our decisions and actions become self-evident, and what truth is greater than love?
I have been thinking a lot about an eye-opening realization I had about six years ago. I was having a difficult year and part of my routine was the weekly ritual of picking up one of my kids from a place she didn’t want to leave in order to bring her to an appointment she didn’t want to have. Throw in a dash of typical teenage brooding and suffice it to say that these car rides were not fun. Every parent (and most non-parents) can relate to these moments when you’re just trying to do what’s right (“my God, don’t you understand that this is for your OWN GOOD”) and you’re getting bad vibes in return. It’s a slippery slope to feeling bitter and angry yourself.
Then one day, after having mellowed myself out a little by reading some Thich Nhat Hanh (I think it was Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, but it doesn’t really matter in that all his work is similarly wise) I tried an experiment. As soon as she got in the car, exuding contempt that was almost thick enough to physically feel, I took a deep breath and immediately began thinking “I love you,” over and over like a mantra. When I felt more intense venom, I added “and I know you’re suffering right now, and I’m sorry.” I mustered up all my intention so that these would not just be the parroting of empty words, but rather a genuine re-direction of my own emotional direction.
It would make a good story if the result was that, through the sheer force of my unspoken intention, she calmed down, the ice was broken and we began interacting without that layer of darkness. What actually happened? Uh, that’s what actually happened. So I guess this is a good story. I kept doing this with all of my kids – not as a trick or a “secret weapon,” but as a challenge to myself to make my inner workings reflect the higher truth of love prevailing. Whenever I had the self-discipline to redirect myself in this way, it helped to heal me – the improved interactions were just a by-product, though an important one.
It is important here to note that the “intention” I refer to here is maybe not the one universally referenced by those who use the term. Intention, by my definition, is not the stuff you think about but don’t do (“geez, sorry dear, I swear I did INTEND to take out the garbage”). Intention is a strong and clear inner declaration of truth and a commitment to behave in a manner congruent with that. As such, the road to hell is not paved with good intentions, though it may be paved with seemingly benign passivity. This is like the distinction between nonviolent resistance (practiced by MLK and Gandhi, for example) and “passive” resistance.
As such, loving intention is not just the absence of hurtful intention (though that’s a start). It is also not a cop-out that justifies inadequate or misguided action – I am not saying that if I just think lovey-dovey thoughts then everything will take care of itself. No, loving intention affirms that I would wrestle a black bear to the ground right now to protect you. Most likely there isn’t a black bear here and at least some of the love you will need from me is connected to circumstances that won’t have fully unfolded until some future moment. Rest assured that the force of my intention will guide me to choose wisely and act bravely each time such a moment presents itself. That may not be as romantic as “awwww, I wuv yoooou,” but This kind of love really does win – would you turn it down?
I’m not much of a poet, nor am I much of a French speaker, but this short verse came to me as I was reflecting on the power of love and on the ripple effect of our loving intentions and actions.
Une petite Pierre
Ondule dans la mer
On sait que l’amour
Gagne tout, toujours
(translation: A little stone ripples in the sea; we know that love wins everything, always)