True Love

(by Danny)

I’ve been reading a beautiful little book by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, called “True Love“, because it was recommended to me by my 18 year old nephew.  He’s been on a little journey of his own for the last few years and has been seeking healing and strength.

After reading this book, and practicing some of the meditations in it, he had one of his first meaningful spiritual break-throughs.  He and I had many conversations before, and though he often understood the theory of the principle we were discussing and was even able to successfully apply those principles and feel a difference in his life, I remember when he called me and with great excitement told me that he’d just meditated for the first time, and something amazing had happened to him.

He said it’s the best book he’s ever read.

Well, ever since then, I’ve had it on my list of things to read.  It’s a short little book, it is very simple to understand, and Thich Nhat Hanh is a master teacher.  It didn’t take me long to understand why my nephew enjoyed it so much.  I’ll probably be posting a few things related to this book, as I find some of the things he shares quite relevant in helping to further explain things we try to talk about on this blog.

(Mara snapped this photo of me in line at the Ecuadorian visa office.)

The book covers some very simple meditations and ideas to encourage the reader to enter a state of mindfulness or awareness (something he believes is necessary in order to truly love yourself or another…which we totally agree with).  This really is a critical thing in the path to healing, and in learning how choose for yourself how you want to respond to something instead of letting the circumstance or the behavior choose for you.  It is the practice of mindfulness and awareness that actually allows you to respond to a situation with love instead of anger, hope instead of fear, gratitude instead of bitterness, and on and on.

Today, I’d like to quote one analogy on this process of personal transformation that I thought was absolutely beautiful and relate it to my own experience of marriage and divorce…

As many other great teachers have done, Hanh chooses as a vehicle for his metaphor the normal/observable process of life and growth and death and destruction that is found in gardening.  He notes that anyone familiar with organic gardening knows the value of saving waste material, of converting that waste material into compost, and of transforming that compost into flowers and vegetables.  He then states:

“So be grateful for your pains, be grateful for suffering – you will need them. 

“We have to learn the art of transforming compost into flowers.  Look at the flower: it is beautiful, it is fragrant, it is pure; but if you look deeply you can already see the compost in the flower.  With meditation, you can see that already.  If you do not meditate, you will have to wait ten days to be able to see that.  If you look deeply at the garbage heap with the eye of a meditator, you can see lettuce, tomatoes, and flowers.  That is exactly what the gardener sees when he looks at the garbage heap, and that is why he does not throw away his waste materials.  A little bit of practice is all you need to be able to transform the garbage heap into compost, and the compost into flowers. 

“The same is true of our mental formations, which include flowers like faith, hope, understanding, and love; but there is also waste material like fear and pain.  The flower is on its way to becoming refuse, but the refuse is also on its way to becoming a flower….  If a person has never suffered, he or she will never be able to know happiness….  We know well that sufferings helps us to understand, that it nurtures our compassion, and that for this reason it is vitally necessary for us.  So we must know how to learn from suffering, we must know how to make use of it to gather the energy of compassion, of love, of understanding.”

There are many parts of this little metaphor that I think are quite profound.  I’m only going to focus on the second paragraph, because this was a lesson learned that became very important to me in those very difficult days that surrounded separation and divorce.  I began to see things as he described (though I wish I had been as gifted at explaining it), and it changed everything for me.

As I began to experience healing and wholeness and peace and joy, despite what was going on in my life, and despite the fact that my marriage was failing, I began to challenge myself to practice this kind of thinking.  I learned that if I truly believed that full healing would be capable in 2 years, or 5 years, or more…if I truly believed it was possible at all, then perhaps I could do right now what would cause me to be ultimately whole 5 years from now.  Perhaps with a little “deep looking” with the “eye of a meditator”, I could see (and enjoy in that very moment) the lettuce, tomatoes, and flowers as I stared at the compost.  I began to think of the kinds of things that would describe my wholeness in the future, and I began practicing them immediately as if I already had it.  And the wholeness followed.

For example, I knew that for me to be truly whole, I would be in a place where I had let go of anger and blaming and self doubt and fear associated with the situation.  I knew that the future me that is whole would be full of forgiveness, compassion, understanding, hope, mercy, and gratitude….not only for anyone who seemed to have wronged him in the past, but for his own foolish actions and mistakes as well that contributed to his own and others’ pain.

So I brought the actions and behaviors of the future me that is whole into the present me that was suffering.  It was one of the most important things I did, and one of the most important things I’ve ever learned.  It is something I have practiced MANY times since, almost always with the same results.

Like Hanh says, with a little practice, you can become as skilled as the gardener at seeing and enjoying the beauty of the future flower while staring into the garbage heap and the compost pile.

Have any of you ever done this?  If you have, please share in the comments to help others who may be struggling to do so.  If you haven’t done this before, consider sharing what situation you’re going to apply this to (or something else that stood out to you in the post) right now.


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  1. Sonel April 15, 2014 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    This was just what I needed today. I'm going through postpartum anxiety and depression for the second time. I feel angry that this happened to me again. I'm so desperate for relief. The only thing that keeps me going is that I know one day it will just go away and I'll feel like myself again.
    Your post today makes me see I can look at my situation differently. I can look ahead to the relief to the misery and start applying it now. I can take all the qualities I'm missing in myself at the moment and try to live them now. Thank you.

    • Anonymous April 16, 2014 at 3:20 am - Reply

      Sonel – postpartum anxiety and depression is very real and crippling. I am sorry for your desperation. Extreme adrenal fatigue may be a factor in this. Something you may want to look into if you haven't already. Peace to you, mama.

    • Nancy Ebrahim April 17, 2014 at 5:01 pm - Reply

      Every situation that is hard to live, is a lesson that we need to learn from. Everyone one has felt depressed, but we either choose to let it control us, or we learn from the experience and get out of our situation by being positive, prayers, and have faith that it is only temporary, and you are a strong being that will prevail and be victorious at the end. Peace and Love

    • Anonymous April 29, 2014 at 5:10 am - Reply

      I am also in the midst of some intense postpartum anxiety. I hope I can use the meditation and metaphor from the post to help me through some of it. Sonel, my heart goes out to you. Since this is your second go with this, if you have any insight or things that have been successful for you, I'd love to hear.

  2. mara April 15, 2014 at 3:51 pm - Reply

    Beautiful, thanks for sharing!

  3. Angie April 15, 2014 at 4:33 pm - Reply

    Thanks Danny – I needed this today too.

  4. marlene April 15, 2014 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    Wow, this is my favorite book too. It changed my life about 12 years ago. I keep it by my bed at night. I love Thich Nhat Hanh. It makes so much sense and it just makes you feel so good. So excited to see others inspired by it too!

  5. marlene April 15, 2014 at 5:28 pm - Reply

    Forgot to add the situation in which it changed my life. I had a lot of pain regarding my father and our damaged relationship growing up. I'd been to several therapists and tried to deal with it in various ways. This book helped me to face the pain very directly and also to visualize my father as a kind person who was hurting inside, which is the reason he may have acted in a hurtful manner. By transforming my feelings and perspective, I gained an enormous amount of peace with the situation. We have a much better relationship today. I read the book while I was in Dharamsala, India, the home of the Dalai Lama. A friend of mine gave it to me and I was skeptical at first, but it's been an integral part of my everyday life every since. You don't have to be Buddhist or into anything relating to Buddhism to understand and to be affected by it. It's about a way of living and loving.

    • danny April 15, 2014 at 5:41 pm - Reply

      Marlene, I love both your comments. And I'm so glad you brought up that part of the book. I loved it too and plan to do another post on the concept you shared. We've written about that same idea before, about needing to develop compassion for those who offend you, an needing to understand that they must be hurting as well to have done so…but I love that he took it a step further and give such a powerful way of doing it…envisioning the one who has hurt you as a little child.

      Thanks again for sharing.

  6. Abby April 15, 2014 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    It's so easy to live in the energy of HAVE, DO, BE. This was a lovely reminder to instead choose BE, DO, HAVE. Thank you both for the goodness you add to this world.

    • danny April 15, 2014 at 6:23 pm - Reply

      Yes yes yes! I hope people take time to look a and think about what you wrote. It is so simple and short it might be easy to overlook…but it is a KEY to everything.

    • Miggy April 18, 2014 at 2:51 am - Reply

      Been thinking about this BE, DO, HAVE for days… thank you.

  7. Nicki April 15, 2014 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    I've been hearing much about the power of meditation lately. It is so fascinating, and as I've started learning and practicing (a bit), I've noticed a big difference in my well-being. Thank you for the recommendation. I'm putting it on my Goodreads list right now!

  8. Camille Millecam Whiting April 15, 2014 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    When my ex husband abandoned me I asked so many- Why me's that wallowed in pain and the tragedy. Not on purpose of course, but I was focusing on what I not longer had.

    One day I realized I was sick of crying, sick of thinking only of me, and sick of being unhappy. I made a choice and a goal to focus on who I could become, and to be happy even if I had to fake it until I made it.

    It really is such a choice, and I'm grateful everyday of my life that day hit- where I told myself it was time to quit focusing on the bad and choose to be grateful it happened, and no longer was happening.

  9. Stargirl April 16, 2014 at 1:01 am - Reply

    I found a blog today that I think you might enjoy. It is about simplifying life and paying attention to the important things. The most recent post is about love and gratitude. 🙂

  10. Kris April 16, 2014 at 1:18 am - Reply

    Hi Danny

    Wow! So glad that you posted this. I started practicing Won Buddhism last year, and the first book I read (am reading) is the Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh. I've never really connected with a religion, but somehow the meditation practices of Buddhists really speaks to me and I connect with it. At our meditations, it is so peaceful and I leave feeling in a much better place. The difficult part is incorporating that into the every day life, but I am told it takes patience and much practice. In reading your blog, I see how you and Mara made a transformation by responding to difficult situations with love, hope and kindness – instead of the "normal" emotions of hate, anger and fear. Something I struggle to do, but I hope to get there one day. Thank you for posting this and I wish you all much success and LOVE in Cuenca.

  11. April 16, 2014 at 3:36 am - Reply

    excellent post Danny. i have gone through all of your review… this books seems to have all solutions to my pains embarrassments. and specially the way it describes deep love and its connection with mediation… thanks for such a useful post.:)

  12. Alldridges April 17, 2014 at 1:22 am - Reply

    I bought this book last week and I love it! I wish we would practice these simple truths in our lives more as a society. If we did, I am certain that the world would be a different place. For right now though, I will be making 'my world' different! Thank you both for your help, love and inspiration! Safe travels!

  13. Heidi Thaden-Pierce April 17, 2014 at 3:39 am - Reply

    I did this in the NICU, though I didn't think of it meditation. I would stand by my son's bed and visualize him as a healthy, growing, active, running big kid while looking at this tiny, frail, struggling but perfect itty bitty baby (he weighed 22 ounces when he was born.) I think it made our doctors crazy sometimes, but we planned and acted as if he was going to survive and thrive – they thought we were in some serious denial and called in the social worker numerous times. 🙂 I think in part is was my wishful thinking, but there were also experiences that I feel were visions of what was to come that were wonderful beyond even my biggest hopes & dreams. It helped us survive those long, long months in the ICU to try and focus on seeing the strong spirit and the man he would become even while seeing his little body fighting to live. Now I daily get to see that miracle come to pass.

    I loved this post – thank you. (And I bought the book you suggested, I'm just horribly beyond on answering emails right now. Thank you for that, too!)

    • danny May 6, 2014 at 5:32 am - Reply

      As I read the book, I had the same thought occur to me a few times. I'd realize "I've totally done that before, I never quite thought of it as meditation". It was really helpful to learn more from someone who does see those moments as meditative, and it also helped me understand how I could be a little more deliberate about some of those things.

  14. Anonymous April 17, 2014 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    Danny, great post. So glad you gave the example from your own life. Very helpful to me. Thank you.

  15. Nancy Ebrahim April 17, 2014 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    We all go through tough situations and we need to go through them like you say so well to become compassionate toward others. Challenges makes us stronger if we go through them with faith and hope that everything will eventually be great. To go through a divorce its a hard thing, but to be with the same person where there is no love anymore is even harder. So it should not be looked as a failure Danny, but as an experience that you had to go through in order to become the beautiful person that you are. Peace and Love. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • danny May 6, 2014 at 5:25 am - Reply

      Nancy, I meant to respond to this a while ago, and never got around to it.

      I agree with what you shared regarding failure. Sometimes when writing of the past, I try to use the mindset that I had when I was going through it, and not what I've learned since then.

      It didn't take me long to begin seeing it as you described, and I currently don't view it as actual failure at all, but one of the greatest catalysts for growth and reflection and understanding in my entire life, and in that sense it is a success.

      So thank you for pointing that out. The Danny that existed a few months after his wife left felt like a failure, the Danny that began consistently applying the principles discussed here started to be grateful for what was happening and no longer saw it as failure, but an opportunity for learning. That attitude and view was solidified before the end of the year after the start of all the difficulty….and was firmly in place before I met Mara.

      Had it not been, I don't think we would have connected so easily.

  16. ukash April 19, 2014 at 9:19 am - Reply

    Yes yes yes! I hope people take time to look a and think about what you wrote. It is so simple and short it might be easy to overlook…but it is a KEY to everything.

    • danny May 6, 2014 at 5:26 am - Reply

      Sounds like you speak from experience! What a great perspective to have 🙂

  17. moodybroody April 19, 2014 at 4:12 pm - Reply

    I believe you are so right when it comes to unburdening yourself of blame…easier said that done though I know. I found your wonderful blog when I was going through my first round of IVF a couple of months ago and it has really helped to shift my perspective around life and love in general. We will begin another round shortly and blame is so unhelpful I am determined to banish it…will try anyway!

    • danny May 6, 2014 at 5:29 am - Reply

      Definitely easier said than done. But it is possible. I've noticed though that I go through waves in the process.

      For example, it may be easy to unburden myself from blame in one area of my life, or relating to one experience…but that doesn't mean I will automatically do it with another area. There is always work to do. There is always healing to experience. There are deeper and deeper levels of it all, and time and patience are needed to uncover them.

      I wish you all the best in what you continue to face. So happy that the blog has been helpful to you in this period of life.

  18. kestreljones May 9, 2014 at 6:38 pm - Reply

    thank you, I will pick this book up and explore it further <3

  19. Rebecca December 2, 2014 at 1:09 am - Reply

    It is even calming reading this post as a reminder of being mindfulness. It is easy to slip out of the habit. Some years ago I attended a Buddhist teaching group once a week. It was for everyone, Buddhists and non Buddhists and it was always an amazing few hours. I always left there feeling calm and peaceful.

  20. Mahimuddin Laskar September 11, 2018 at 2:57 pm - Reply


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