What is Real?

A Meditation on Love

The first time I considered the idea that love is real was the night my father died. My mum, David, and I left the hospital at around 9 p.m. We went back to Mum’s house. We stayed up for a while. We didn’t eat dinner. We weren’t hungry. Death does not feel real. I couldn’t comprehend how my father wasn’t here anymore.

Twenty years later, I still think he will walk through the door any moment now. I stayed up after Mum and David had gone to bed. I made a fire and watched the flames dance around the logs and coals. I was tired, but I didn’t want to sleep.

After a while, I noticed that my mind had fixed its attention on a question. The question was What is real? I didn’t mean to ask this question; it just appeared. What is real?  The question wouldn’t go away. What is real?  I tried to think about something else. What is real?

I tried not to give it any attention, but that didn’t work either. What is real? I didn’t try consciously to answer the question. What is real?

But an answer did appear, just as the question had done. The question and the answer both formed a loop in my mind. All I did was listen.“What is real?” “Love is real.” “What is real?” “Love is real.”

I believe that this conversation was one of my father’s parting gifts to me. I still feel my father’s presence every day. His body doesn’t exist in the form it once did, but his presence lives on, and it is as real as anything. When I think of him I remember that love is real.

Spiritual literature is full of the idea that love is real. Sufi poets, Christian mystics, Hindu saints, Buddhist monks, Muslim leaders, and Jewish teachers have given discourses on this. Poets like Percy Bysshe Shelley and writers like Leo Tolstoy also recognized that love is more than just a passing feeling or entertainment. The spiritual aphorism “only love is real” also appears in literature and art all over the world.

In the Loveability program, I often play Carole King’s song “Only Love Is Real.” The lyrics are especially poignant for me. They tell the story of someone staring at a “just-lit fire” and contemplating the nature of real love.

At first glance, the idea that only love is real seems too big, and too abstract, to be of any use, but really it is central to the practice of love. An inquiry into “only love is real” is not a small thing, but it can help you with every little detail of your life. To do this inquiry, you are asked to let go of all your small ideas about who you are, what the world is, and what your life is really for.

This can be unsettling at first, but if you stay with it, you will learn much that will help you to love and be loved. You will also experience yourself to be a far more loving person than you ever imagined you could be.

Excerpted from my book, Loveability


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