I once asked my mother when she was washing dishes at the sink, “Mommy, who do you love more, Daddy or us kids?”
She paused in her washing and said, “Ducky, love doesn’t come in quantities. It just touches us in different ways.”
It’s taken a long time but now I know what she meant. She was right — you can’t have more or less of love. For example, it’s not like time — you can have a lot of time, or you can run out of it. Love isn’t like that. Love is more like the present moment, like now. You can’t have more now or less now, can you? Right now?
Or perhaps we could say it’s like what is looking out of our eyes. Can we have more or less of that? What is it that is looking, or listening to the sounds around us? Did the Buddha have more of that than we do? What is it? Does whatever it is come in quantities?
My son left a phone message last night that I just picked up. He ended by saying, “Sending you lots of love.” Lots. A friend of mine always concludes his emails with the salutation, “Big love.” We want to tell each other we really mean it, so we turn to words that emphasize scale. How dear we are! And what else can we do? We’re trying to express something that escapes definition.
My sense is that love is like an invisible light that continuously ignites our being and all being everywhere. Love is the very radiance of each moment’s becoming — it’s that generous. That may sound abstract, but it’s actually so intimate and immediate we don’t know we know it, like the story of the little fish who doesn’t know what the ocean is.
Love is how and why emptiness bursts forth as form, how clear presence shows up as all these myriad presences. It’s the impulse of universal becoming, the élan vital, what the Tibetans call the sambhogakaya, the clear, luminous presence that gifts all manifestation — your existence, my existence, the earth spinning, all of it given fresh every instant.
When we feel love for someone or something it’s as if a channel opens in our heart to this great love that’s at the beginning of everything. At its source it’s unconditional. Once we start layering conditions on it, well, then the channel narrows into likes and dislikes. This is why my teacher, Murshid Fazal Inayat-Khan, said, “You can always love more.” Not more in quantity but in embrace. When our heart opens in love it doesn’t stop with a single love object — wherever we turn we see with the eyes of love.
To see with the eyes of love doesn’t mean that we are blind to the meanness and violence of the world. The infinite love I’m speaking of, the love beyond all ideas of quantity, is not blind. It sees all, knows all, embraces all. This is not something that’s easily understood with our normal way of perceiving the world, and it’s certainly beyond the scope of these words. Perhaps all we might appreciate here is how our recognition of the world’s injustice, ignorance, and brutality functions for us as a teacher — it shows us what matters, what we care about, what is worth saving.
We listen to the news and don’t approve.
Things are worse than we thought.
Though that may be, may we never forget
the love our pain is faithful to.
My mother’s instruction to me about love concluded with the words: It just touches us in different ways. Of course, this is obvious, but it may help us to see how love can appear in so many guises and still be one. It’s like water — here it’s a raindrop, here an ocean, here a tear, here it flows in the veins of a bird in flight, here it makes possible each movement of our bodies. One love!
Of all the guidance I have received in my life, the guidance of love is the most reliable. It’s not always easy to follow — self-pity, disappointment, and outrage can obscure love’s path — but when the dust clears, love is what remains. To the extent we can open ourselves to the one love, the love without quantity, our lives become beautiful and of benefit, part of the great gift of now.