Of a great need
We are all holding hands
And climbing.
Not loving is a letting go.
The terrain around here
Far too

Falling in love can enliven us. Feeling seen and held can ground us; it can put us at ease. Love can also grant us a sense of safety and security. Falling out of love, on the other hand, can unravel us.

Losing love can trigger a cycle of craving and attachment that not only exacerbates our suffering but also can last a long time. As a feeling that once seemed like it would last forever starts to fade, we can become so addicted to the feeling of having been in love that we are willing to try anything to maintain that feeling—by “fixing” our former bond, changing ourselves, or persuading our partner to change. We might even be willing to endure difficult, or even unhealthy, situations in order make that love last. In the face of loss, our minds become fixated on finding something— anything—to fill that void left by love’s absence. Because loss on this level can make us feel we are not worthy of being loved at all, we also become guarded and therefore unwilling to be vulnerable once more. We can risk the hardening of our hearts.

When faced with such loss, great spiritual teachers often warn against this very thing: building fortresses to guard our hearts. These teachers ask us not to abandon love because it is a profound experience necessary for compassion. Rather, they encourage us to recognize more stable and fundamental sources of love within ourselves instead of some external source. Tsoknyi Rinpoche calls this “essence love.”

We can learn to experience essence love in part by surrendering our expectations of others and our resistance to, or fear of, change. And also by releasing the feeling that we are somehow intrinsically separate from others. In steering ourselves toward these two aims, we enlarge our capacity for compassion, which returns to us the profundity, and solace, of love in the aftermath of loss. This type of letting go, relaxing deeper into our innate capacity for love and connection, is one antidote to craving. Essence love helps us loosen the grips of habitual and cognitive frameworks that keep us attached to persons and conditions.

How do we achieve such a love after loss? To find that source—that feeling of being held from the depths of our being—we might recall moments in our lives when we shared a connection, however briefly, with another, even a stranger. This can be a moment in which we felt seen or accepted by that person, or a time in which we felt completely at ease. As we recall these moments, we might notice feelings of joy or happiness in our minds. We can deepen into and connect with essence love by fully occupying those remembered joys and kindnesses.

Indeed, memory is a powerful instrument here. Recalling moments of deep connection and profound comfort that we have experienced in the presence of another inspiring person, mentor, or spiritual teacher helps us tune into the profound well of love that is within and around each of us. Hafiz calls this “remembering God.” Such a practice can enable human nature to release cravings and fixations and relate to others in a more stable, compassionate, and open manner.

By remembering God or our spiritual teachers, we learn not only how to abide more deeply in love, but also how to offer it more freely and without conditions in and outside of loss.

BROOKE DODSON-LAVELLE is the senior program officer for Mind & Life’s new Ethics, Education, and Human Development Initiative. Prior to joining MLI, she taught compassion-based meditation programs to elementary school children and adolescents in Atlanta’s foster care system. She is currently completing her PhD in the graduate division of religion at Emory University. Her work focuses on the confluence of Buddhist contemplative theory and cognitive science, as well as the cultural contexts that shape the transmission, reception, and secularization of Buddhist contemplative practices in America.