Human beings yearn to be loved, and feeling loved and valued, and these feelings connects us to feeling safe and secure. In a recent book titled, True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart, author and Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh, offers couples a series of practices to help them deepen their connection to what he calls four components of love: loving kindness, compassion, joy and freedom (more on these in Part 2).
As part of this practice, Hanh describes four mantras that he invites partners to verbalize out loud to one another or quietly to themselves, as needed, to help them calm the emotional seas inside and deepen their connection.
Creating love is about energizing greater sense of intimacy. Intimacy is not sex, and sex is not always intimate, i.e., body-part focused sex in porn. Though sex is one way, an important way to express or deepen intimacy in a couple relationship, genuine intimacy is an emotional state of being that makes us feel emotionally safe in relation to the other. Genuine intimacy is about building a foundation that allows your relationship to grow.
In practice, it is about how your choices affect the quality of energy inside you and your partner — and how this energy in turn energizes actions that directly shape your relationship, and the quality of the connection between you. When you feel totally safe to be yourself in your partner’s presence and arms, and know they will be there at minimum emotionally when you reach for them — and that simultaneously, they feel the same way about you … that’s genuine intimacy.
Biologically, the same chemical released in the bloodstream that makes us feel loved makes us feel safe. Corresponding to the two divisions of the autonomic nervous system, the brain and body are either in learning (love-emotion) mode or survival (fear-emotion) mode. When you or your partner do not feel (emotionally) safe, you do not feel loved, valued, loving, etc. Period. And the inverse is also true, that: when you do not feel loved, etc., you do not feel safe in relation to the other.
The following four mantras according to Hanh, can help couples create a greater sense of love and safety, personal and relational happiness:
1. “Beloved, I’m here for you.”
This mantra lets your partner know you are present, a state of being emotionally open to hold your partner’s pain, allowing your heart to become a holding container, a holding connection that makes it easier for your partner to feel and process their pain. Like you, in times of pain, your partner wants to know (perhaps more than anything else) that they are not alone, that you will not abandon them — perhaps like so many others before you did, even loving and well-meaning parents, considering most of our parents were unprepared to be holding containers for our pain (their parents didn’t do this for them…).
When you love someone, your presence to listen to understand their pain becomes one of the greatest gifts of love, perhaps because it is most challenging to do. If you’re easily triggered at the first sign of your partner in pain, that means these prewired triggers, imprinted perhaps in early childhood, will likely take over and place rigid demands or prescriptions (on you, your partner, or both) for what “must” occur, before you can feel love or happiness or safety in relation to one another. Ask yourself: When you are not present to your partner’s pain, how can your partner feel your love? Do you feel their love, when they’re not there for you in mind and body, perhaps triggered and lost somewhere in own anxieties and pain?
2. “Beloved, I know you are there for me, and I feel happy knowing you are.”
This mantra or statement tells your loved one that you see and feel them as someone precious and valuable in your life. When your partner feels you value their attempts to love and support you — regardless how far from perfect — this helps them stay connected to you. As important as feeling loved is, it’s only a critical must-have for children to survive. As adults, though we continue to want and love feeling loved, our deepest yearning perhaps is to feel our love matters to someone who is special to us, to know that our love makes a difference in their lives. To be loved for who you are — graces and warts — is to be recognized as existing as the unique being you are. Without a doubt, unconditional love is (typically) easier to give tp children. Like you, however, your partner yearns to know their love matters, that though you may be self-sufficient you still need them at some level simply because they bring more meaning in your life.
To yearn to feel needed, treasured is a healthy human need (not to be mistaken for “neediness” to be needed!). Yet, the thought of admitting the “need” to feel needed, important, valuable to one feels vulnerable. To add to the challenge, cultural conditioning has taught us to dismiss or see such requests as needy. We’ve been conditioned to think emotions of vulnerability are defects, weaknesses, traits of interior persons. (This conditioning is especially strong for men.) Without vulnerability, however, a deepening of the emotional connection between you and another is not possible. When you consciously affirm your partner’s attempt to connect to you (however imperfect or ineffective!), you create the conditions for them to stretch further to love you, and for your love together to bloom like a flower. On another occasion, you can then invite your partner to do this for you.
3. (When the other is in pain): “Beloved, I know you are in pain … and seeking a way to stop the pain. I know it’s not easy. I am here for you.”
When the other is in pain, their sense of safety and connection is in limbo. This statement affirms and expresses your presence in a way that validates their pain as something that expresses they are not only alive and human, but also that something they care deeply about is out of balance and they are seeking to restore balance from within. This mantra tells your partner that you see them as capable and strong, that you do not judge them as weak and in need of fixing simply because they are in pain, that you hear what they need and can be present to their pain without trying to “fix it” from your own set of remedies, assumptions, defense strategies.
This pain-validating mantra assures and calms your partner, making it easier for them to grow and learn to self-activate their own healing response. It also makes it easer from them to give themselves permission to feel any painful emotions, and release any shame associated with emotions rooted in fears of abandonment, rejection, inadequacy, etc., which naturally surface whenever we are triggered in a situation we care about.
4. (When you are in pain:) “Beloved, I am in so much pain about this. I am trying my best to practice compassion. It’s not easy. Please be there.
When you are in pain, just like your partner, you are at risk of losing your connection to your self and thus the other, whenever fear shows up to disconnect you from your capacity for higher reflective thinking and feeling. Thus, you may feel alone inside. In this state, you may have learned to lash out with punishing words or hide as a way of expressing the pain without feeling vulnerable and, or a way of pretending you do not see the evidence of problems waiting to be resolved. This of course makes things worse and never works, and is at best a misguided and futile way to regain your connection to life within. Punitive actions always turn normal pain into suffering (for self as well as the other).
This mantra helps you to be real, and authentically express and validate your own pain, allowing you to avoid the necessity of triggering your defensive strategies, and other quick-fix, temporary ways of lowering your anxiety.
A few closing thoughts…
Naturally, the dance of love is no easy feat. It is a dance of balance between the courage and strength to love another with your whole heart and soul — and the wisdom of staying empathically connected to your own inner core, understanding core fears, growing your compassion for yourself, aspirations, dreams, growth and awakened presence in life.
On the one hand, you cannot deeply love another person (or yourself for that matter) if you are not as connected to your feelings of vulnerability as you are to those of strength.
In the words of Brene Brown, author of Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy and Power, based on her studies of emotions of vulnerability, fear and shame:
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ~ BRENE BROWN
On the other hand, you must learn when to embrace and when to let go. A partner that is wounded yet denies it, refuses to be vulnerable with you, is not likely to be a safe partner to be vulnerable with.
While starting with two emotionally healthy partners may not be a prerequisite for realizing a healthy, vibrant couple relationship, it will take two persons who at some level have deep reasons and a genuine desire to set an intention for personal and relational health and wholeness … in order for the part that seals the deal to follow: healthy, conscious-love actions.
If only one puts in the effort and takes action, if only one uses the mantras and connects to authentically feel their feelings or understand yours, etc., it won’t work. If this describes your relationship, talk to your partner about seeking couples counseling with a professional relationship therapist.
It takes two to calm stormy seas and create a safe haven for your love to flourish, and create greater intimacy. It will take two to work together as individuals and a team — in moments when you feel most vulnerable (i.e., at risk of feeling inadequate, unloved, alone, rejected etc.) — to get to a place where you both feel safe enough to reach for one another and at the same time dig deep inside your self to bring the best energy you can to nourish the out-of-this-world bond that connects you.
In Part 2, four elements of love to practice for awakening the heart, according to Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh, that deepen your practice of energizing genuine intimacy in your couple relationship.