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There are many kinds of love. In the Four Immeasurables, we’re contemplating vast, unconditional love for all sentient beings. For many people, the way to begin is by thinking of those who are closest to us.

My son is my world. I love him more deeply and in ways that I never imagined. When I look into his eyes or hear him laugh, my heart sings. I experience an ineffable feeling of wanting him to be happy. When I allow them to, the highs and the lows that we share shine a light into the dark recesses of my mind, illuminating powerful thoughts and feelings that can sometimes be scary. How do I extend the love I experience to all sentient beings when these feelings are so intense?

Navigating the challenges of being a single parent can be exhausting. Yet despite sleepless nights, anxiety, and depression, there is always an endless well of love inside and between us. When I can relax from the tensions of daily life, I can remember to access the reservoir of care, calmness, and love that is within. When we get out of our own way, we can love—and be loved—no matter what happens.

Our struggles can reveal the limits and expectations we impose on ourselves. When I feel overwhelmed, if I catch my breath and just remember Buddha nature for a moment, I can see the artificial boundaries and preconceptions that I have imprisoned myself in. If I let go of feeling trapped and afraid, I can step into the warmth and light of love. And when my heart opens in this way, there is an opportunity to widen my love, even to strangers or those who have caused harm.

Through simply loving my son, no matter what, I discover boundless love within my own heart. And since that love is truly limitless, it ultimately includes anyone and everyone. This is an interdependent, unconditional love that transcends the duality of lover/beloved. Yes, there will always be highs and lows, but a deepening sense of pervasive love can connect and interpenetrate all those diverse moments. This is an unlimited source of true happiness, and I wish it for my son and for everyone.

Exercise

  1. To start your session, find a quiet space. Set a positive intention.
  2. Do a few minutes of calm abiding meditation, and then slowly recite three times: “May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.” (Memorizing it is encouraged.) 
  3. One classical image for this contemplation is a mother bird taking care of her chicks. She builds a safe, comfortable nest for them, protects them with her wings, and keeps them warm. She is gentle with them and nourishes them until they can fly on their own. Imagine yourself as the mother bird. Notice how that feels.
  4. Conclude with a few minutes of calm abiding meditation. Offer any goodness from the session to others.
 Nick Vail
Nick Vail

Nick Vail is a second-generation Buddhist who lives in Seattle. A single parent, he enjoys quality time with his son, playing the guitar, singing, dancing, and meditation.

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