A Zen Master Shares His Secrets to Keeping Love Alive


Gabrielle White

Finding love is the easy part. But keeping it alive? In the introduction to Love’s Garden: A Guide to Mindful Relationships by Peggy and Larry Ward, preeminent Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh explores the metaphor of love as a garden, and explains why mindful relationships are the most fruitful kind.

Relationships Must Be Cared For Like A Garden

Hanh starts by pointing out the obvious, if painful, truth: relationships are tough to maintain and must be cared for:

“If you’re not skillful, if you don’t practice, if you’re not wise, suffering will be born in you and in the other person. When you see someone else, you might think you’d be happier with them. In Vietnamese we have a saying: ‘Standing on top of one mountain and gazing at the top of another, you think you’d rather be standing on the other mountain.’”

A True Partner Encourages You To Look Deeply In Yourself

When our partners fall short of our expectations (which is inevitable), he says we must come back to one simple truth:

“Beauty and goodness are always there in each of us. This is the basic teaching of the Buddha. A true teacher, a true spiritual partner, is one who encourages you to look deeply in yourself for the beauty and love you are seeking.”

Don’t Distract Yourself From Your Pain

If love is like a plant in a garden, then we must be selective not to water weeds or to distract ourselves from our pain, as many of us do:

“Whenever we have fifteen ‘free’ minutes, or an hour or two, we have the habit of using television, newspapers, music, conversation, or the telephone to forget and to run away from the reality of the elements that make up our being. We think, ‘I’m suffering too much, I have too many problems. I don’t want to go back to them anymore.’ We have to come back to our physical selves and put things in order.”

You Have To Go Home To Yourself

To not run away from our problems, but instead acknowledge them without judgment, is to water our love plant with mindfulness. But the work starts with ourselves:

“If you have a difficult relationship, and you want to make peace with the other person, you have to go home to yourself. You have to go home to your garden and cultivate the flowers of peace, compassion, understanding, and joy. Only after that can you come to your partner and be patient and compassionate.”

You can read the rest of his beautiful excerpt here. Also, be sure to check out our podcast Love Is Like A Plant, on iTunes and Soundcloud for more about how to love well.

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