No matter where we are, we can see the world through the eyes of love. Without love, everything is constrained, if not false. With love, we stand in the presence of all of life’s mysteries. We can hold a golden apricot, a worn baseball glove, a photo of a child, or an old chipped cup, and our love can burst forth. Holding a stone, we feel the whole mountain. Gazing at a pine tree, its presence becomes love of the earth itself. When love is present in us, the world returns our glance, radiant and filled with its blessings.
The human heart longs to love and be loved, yet we are all too often afraid. We’ve been hurt, betrayed, abandoned, misunderstood, targeted, left out, and our love story has become a ghost story. The ghosts of loss and pain haunt us, warning us to hedge our bets and put up a shield to protect ourselves from further loss and rejection. Rejection is one of the most difficult experiences to bear; it touches our most primal pains of abandonment, echoing the mistaken belief that there is something wrong with us, that we are unworthy, unattractive, unlovable. Whatever form our injury takes—family trauma, abuse, or neglect by an overwhelmed family or a loveless institution—we may become afraid to love. We have trouble opening to love, even for ourselves. Yet each of us is a mysterious, unique, amazing being, fully worthy of love.
Sometimes fear of death or fear of the unknown blocks our love. We cling to a protective shell, a small sense of self that wants to be secure, to control life. We pretend we aren’t vulnerable, but this is an illusion. We are incarnated in a delicate body, intertwined in the community of life. Our senses have evolved to be exquisitely tuned to the ever-changing world of pleasure and pain, sweet and sour, gain and loss. Love and freedom invite us to turn toward the world. They offer the gifts of a flexible heart, wide enough to embrace experience, vulnerable yet centered.
“Ultimately it is upon your vulnerability that you depend,” the poet Rilke writes. We are born and cared for by others, and we’ll die in the same way. For the time that we are here, we are dependent on the web of life. We eat from the farmers’ verdant fields, we trust other drivers to stay on their side of the road, we rely on the water department, the utility web, the electrical engineers, and the teachers, hospitals, and firefighters who sustain our lives. Listen to Mother Teresa: “If we have no peace, it’s because we’ve forgotten we belong to each other.” When we honor our vulnerability and our dependence on the community of life, we open to love.
Yes, you’ve been hurt and abandoned. But you found a way to survive your traumatic past and now the prison door is unlocked; you can walk out anytime. How long will you keep your heart closed? How long will you turn your back on love? Whatever blocks your love is, in the end, unreal. Take W.H. Auden’s advice and learn to “love your crooked neighbor with your own crooked heart.” Have courage. Tend to politics, care for the community around you, but remember in the end it is your love that matters most. Love is your gateway to freedom and your last word.
About the Author
Jack Kornfield has taught meditation internationally since 1974 and is one of the key teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness practice to the West.
After graduating from Dartmouth College in Asian Studies in 1967 he joined the Peace Corps and worked on tropical medicine teams in the Mekong River valley. He met and studied as a monk under the Buddhist master Ven. Ajahn Chah, as well as the Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw of Burma. Returning to the United States, Jack co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, with fellow meditation teachers Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein and the Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, California.
Over the years, Jack has taught in centers and universities worldwide, led International Buddhist Teacher meetings, and worked with many of the great teachers of our time. He holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is a father, husband and activist.
For further teachings from Jack, please visit Jackkornfield.com