"As human beings we naturally live our lives wanting belonging, connection, a home in this world. We yearn for warmth, for possibility, for the more abundant life that love seems to promise. We sense there is a quality of real love that is possible beyond the narrow straits we have been told to navigate, a possibility that's not idealized or merely abstract. We have an intuition that we can connect much more deeply to ourselves and to one another." This wise observation comes from Sharon Satzberg, a world-renowned meditation teacher who is a regular columnist for On Being, a contributor to Huffington Post, and host of her own podcast called The Metta Hour. She is profiled in S&P's Living Spiritual Teachers Project.
The author of nine books including the S&P Spiritual Book Award-winning Real Happiness, she ardently believes that we have the capacity to experience real love despite the hindrances and warps of our culture and the media. The practices of mindfulness and lovingkindness open the door to this possibility.
Salzberg begins this handbook with the practice of cultivating real love for ourselves with compassion. It serves as an antidote to negative messages from our birth families about our selves. She quotes Maya Angelou who has wisely observed: "You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them."
The stories we tell ourselves about our experiences and encounters with self and others need to erase all the negativity and reframe what has happened in a more positive light. The stories others tell us should not be the source of our self-esteem but can serve as spurs to personal growth and wisdom insights. Other challenges to loving ourselves are explored by Salzberg in essays on welcoming our emotions, meeting the inner critic, letting go of perfection, becoming embodied, moving beyond shame, taking a stand on happiness, and following your ethical compass.
The sturdiness of the author's overview of loving ourselves paves the way for additional examples of real love for partners, children, parents and siblings, dear friends, colleagues and spiritual teachers. She uses a quotation from Jungian psychologist James Hollis as a prelude to the last sections of the book: "The best thing we can do for our relationship with others . . . is to render our relationship to ourselves more conscious."
Loving and being kind to others is an expression of our common humanity. No gesture is too small when our connection with strangers is at stake. Salzberg ends her sage commentary on the necessity of empathy, dealing with rather than writing off difficult people, seeing inclusion as the face of love, moving from anger to love, and transforming a "No" into a "Yes."
Real Love offers mindfulness exercises and meditation techniques designed to evolve real love into a spiritual maturity animated by compassion, empathy, and inclusion.