And love is such a small word
For something that is so vast
But in it lies the future
The present and the past
"January Song," Alan Hull/Lindisfarne
This afternoon I got to spend some time doing something I hadn't done for a long time - play guitar. Just me, on my own, at home, strumming and noodling around.
I used to love playing guitar. As a teen I was a little obsessed, and when I wasn't playing I would be reading music magazines or listening to my favorite guitarists.
Now, I am really not a very good player. Even at my best in my early twenties I was just OK, and now I am seriously rusty. But today I still had a lot of fun and enjoyed it immensely. Note to self - I should do that more often. As long as no one can hear.
One of the songs I was remembering (poorly) as I played was "January Song" by Lindisfarne. They were one of my favorite bands as a kid, and the songs that Alan Hull wrote for them were top-notch. And, more importantly, fairly easy to play so they formed a big part of my repertoire as a youngster.
Hull's words - "And love is such a small word / For something that is so vast" have always resonated with me deeply. As I have observed before, in English we overload the word love in so many ways. We use the same word for our feelings toward so many things. From love of a good curry to love of music to love of a life partner - same small word.
Today is Superbowl Sunday and for many it is the day to express their love for their team, or for the sport as a whole. Or Rihanna. And in two days time it will be Valentine's day, when those with romantic partners celebrate love for each other. And of course, thanks to Leslie Knope there is Galentine's Day tomorrow, to celebrate the love of friends.
All using the same small word. Love.
Sometimes I think this is a real weakness of the English language, that we overload the word in so many ways. At other times I think it is just fine. The word is just a word. The various emotions and states of being it represents are so different and so impossible to put in to words it is OK to just give up and use the catch-all. After all, when I say I love tacos I don't think there are many people thinking I am romantically attracted to them.
The name of this newsletter is "Metta Letter" and the Pali word metta describes a form of universal love. There is no direct translation of it so depending on context we might use the words love, lovingkindness, friendliness, goodwill - the reality is that they all describe a facet of metta, but none of them describe it fully. So we keep using the Pali word.
Which brings us to a big question - if we can't translate metta into English words, then how do we know what it really is? On the one hand I would say we can't, as we really don't know the minds and the understandings of the first scribes who wrote down the words of the Buddha after his death. But at the same time, we have a very vivid practice - Metta Bhavana or 'cultivation of metta,' and as we do this practice we learn and grow in how we understand it's meaning. I was first taught this practice some twenty five years ago, and my understanding has changed radically over that time - and continues to do so. As we put metta into practice in our daily lives we continue to learn, and our understanding continues to grow.
Wittgenstein once observed "How small a thought it takes to fill a life." For us, you could ask "How small a word it takes to fill a life."
That's my Love-Letter to you.
PPS: I have linked below a fully guided Metta Bhavana meditation. If you aren't familiar with the form then this might be a good place to start. If you are familiar you will already know how powerful it is, so feel free to use this in your practice if you wish.