You Don’t Have to Like Someone to Love Them

Ioana Andrei

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In my defense, I love my sleep. I love it so much that, over the past 4 weeks, its disrupted patterns made me appreciate every second of slumber.

So, naturally, when I came across a virtual retreat with calls beginning at 4 a.m. UK time —

I said yes.

I’ve long held the belief that, when something seems difficult but worth it, you welcome it with open arms.

I’ve rarely been disappointed.

On this occasion, the commitment to a challenging schedule and reading list surfaced some surprising learnings.

You don’t have to like someone to love them.

As with most paradigms, the truth of this phrase must seep under the skin to be understood.

It also arrives into one’s life when they’re ready to accept it.

I was so ready.

Right before the retreat began, I was shaken off balance by the political divide brewing across the ocean.

I was easily irritable, ready to sever ties with friends, family, and colleagues over the smallest disagreement.

I’d become depleted by the blurred lines of a former-relationship-turned-remote-companionship.

I was angry and couldn’t stop myself from adding fuel to the fire.

Now, all that hasn’t magically gone away because I dedicated a week to spiritual reflection.

In fact, I learned that it doesn’t have to go away. It can stay.

There can be love in my life at the same time.

Ajahn Sumedho, the founder of Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in the UK, says this in Mindfulness: The Path to the Deathless:

“Metta means you love your enemy; it doesn’t mean you like your enemy. […] Metta means not creating problems around existing conditions, allowing them to fade away, to cease. […] You are not blinding yourself to the faults and flaws in everything. You are just peacefully co-existing with them.” - Ajahn Sumedho

Metta, or loving-kindness, has taken on a new meaning for me after reading this.

I noticed my tendency to put people and ideas into complex evaluation systems. Do I agree with this? Why did they say that? How can I change their mind? Do I stay friends with this person? Et cetera.

And that’s fine. Ajahn Sumedho adds:

“Personal arrogance gives rise to these really nasty comments about everything. […] So metta sometimes needs to overlook what’s wrong with yourself and everyone else — it doesn’t mean that you don’t notice those things, it means that you don’t develop problems around them.” - Ajahn Sumedho

Sometimes, in a “strongman” culture, being non-reactive can be seen as weak. But I can maintain my peace of mind whilst not denying my disapproval of someone’s behavior.

My happiness is my responsibility. And what’s the finest ingredient in happiness?

Love.

Love needn’t replace dislike. They can co-exist.

Love is more akin to acceptance than to romance.

“How’s your love life?”

If someone asked me that right now, I’d probably say, “It’s becoming more expansive.”

Then they’d look at me funny and perhaps assume that I am exploring polyamory.

Alas, no. My heart is taking over the definition of love.

While absorbing various materials — including a woman forgiving her husband’s murderer, the effects of empathy fatigue on the brain, and how our modern love narrative fetishizes attachment and desire — I realized love is much simpler than I thought.

Love is unconditional acceptance.

And it doesn’t apply only to humans. It applies to everything.

I can accept that my neighborhood fox decapitated a magpie and abandoned the body in the middle of the road.

I can accept that there is national discord fueled by people’s egos.

I can accept that, some days, there is a deep sadness in me that makes me uncomfortable.

To accept something or someone as they are is to love them.

Love is a practice.

Ajahn Pasanno has said of metta (loving-kindness) that it is something you cultivate, as you would do with compassion, joy, and equanimity.

He added that, particularly in Western society, we tend to associate the word “love” with affection and attachment. This can explain why we have such a hard time giving each other an easy time.

Our version of love comes with strings attached.

Unconditional love seeks peace, freeing the ego of argumentation.

In collectivistic societies — prevalent across East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa — forgiveness tends to be offered for the harmony of the group. By comparison, individualistic cultures — such as Western European and North American ones — view forgiveness as a resolution between the offender and the offended.

Many languages don’t even have a like-for-like translation of the word “forgiveness”. A famous example is the Hawaiian word “ho’oponopono”. While the common enunciation in English is “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you,” the practice goes a lot deeper. For hundreds of years, indigenous Hawaiians passed down ho’oponopono as a ritual for healing both self and collective.

Forgiveness is, in my mind, the other side of the love coin. Forgiving does not imply condoning. Forgiving is an act of cleansing the environment of low-level energy.

The various words for forgiveness across the globe suggest that our attachment to definitions might be missing the mark.

What if we saw forgiveness as letting go?

Bothered by something that happened? Let go of your mental commentary around it. You’ll then find it easier to make a decision should you be in a position to do so.

“If we look into our own mind, we find that the basic urge of our being is the wish to be happy and free from suffering. Now, as soon as we see this in ourselves, we can immediately understand that all living beings share the same basic wish.” - Bhikkhu Bodhi

Isn’t that what it’s about? Finding unity through shared experience?

We don’t have to go through the same experience on the outside to recognize our oneness on the inside.

Though there is a time and place for analyzing complex matters, peace seems to be a simple thing, according to Buddhists.

You can love someone even if you don’t like them.

Love is acceptance.

And it can be practiced.

Funny how it’s the simple things that take the longest to understand.

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My topics of focus include gender equality, mental health and social justice | ioana.a.writes@gmail.com

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