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practicing with ‘should’

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After we’d sat for an hour in evening meditation, a friend asked to discuss a personal problem. “For quite a while I’ve been trying … trying hard,” he began haltingly, with tears welling up, “to love my wife. I’m supposed to love her. Why can’t I?”

You say you ‘should’ love her; why should? 

Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do with this practice (pointing to his meditation cushion), be loving towards others?”

We sat in silence for a little while. More tears. What do you feel right now — in your heart, your body?

“I feel flat.”


“Yes, flat dead.”

Let’s try something. Sit with this for a few minutes, this deadness in your heart. Breathe into the place where flatness resides in your body. Can you do that? … Let warmth enter your heart. ‘Should’ and ‘ought to’ easily get in the way of ‘what is.’ … What is, as you say, is that you feel dead in your heart, that you’re unable to feel love for your wife.

“But if I were to accept that deadness, that sense of not loving her anymore … what then? I don’t know what will happen then. I’m afraid that …” (Pause).

Not knowing,’ the old Zen master said to the monk setting out on pilgrimage, ‘is most intimate.’ Most intimate: closest to the truth.  

I suggest you take this one step at a time, baby steps. For a few moments each day, whenever you meditate, direct your breath to reach the pain and longing, that flatness you described. And, as an experiment, set aside thoughts about what may or may not happen. Baby steps! Is that something you’re willing to do?

We bowed, got up, and straighten our sitting cushions.



3 responses »

  1. lovely post. how lucky your friend was to have you to offer this wise help. Carol

  2. from the person in question:

    “Thank you for your encouragement Peter.

    Carol verbalized my feeling that I am lucky to have your support. I have been practicing what we discussed and I’m surprised how often I’ve redirected to that place with loving attention since [we talked]. Many, many times.”

  3. Life is a journey,
    and love,
    is what makes that journey

    We may enter,
    without knowing
    what we are to find
    behind the doors of the heart
    yet one thing is certain,
    what we find there
    will forever change us.

    To learn to love
    is to once again
    return to that door
    where nothing is certain
    and everything is possible.

    Love rests
    not in what we take
    but in what we create.


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