How to be More Understanding

on February 20, 2019 by Evolutions
tonglen meditation technique

Love is not enough. Yes, you read that right. In all of our relationships, it’s easy to love. We love our spouses and/or significant others, we love our parents, our kids, our friends, our pets. Love is a built-in instinct, something that binds all of us, and it’s the thing that makes us take care of each other.

However, sustaining love is the challenge. Many marriages fall apart, not because they no longer love each other, but because there are so many differences that seem too vast to overcome.

Understanding is the major component for all types of relationships. It’s understanding that’s the challenging part; it’s what helps us grow, overcome hardships, and maybe most important of all, it’s what helps us find ourselves.

No one complains that in childhood, his or her parents were too understanding. Rarely, after a divorce does anyone say he or she understands why things turned out the way they did. Understanding is love in verb form. Understanding demands an attitude of support, patience, thoughtfulness, sensitivity and kindheartedness; much like love.

“I love you, but I’m no longer in love with you.”

The willingness to understand is the crucial part of love and it’s the most difficult because oftentimes, we’re not even aware that we’re unaware. Real love is strengthened by the willingness to understand.

Happily married couples who’ve been together for decades all say that it takes a lot of work. The key ingredient is the willingness to accept, understand and adapt to the other’s evolving needs as the years go by. Alternatively, couples that separate and divorce typically had a breakdown in understanding.

“I guess we just drifted apart,” or “It was never meant to be,” are things we hear a lot. What likely happened is that they relied on their feelings of love (the feelings that initially attracted them to the other), rather than on the understanding to get them through difficult challenges and the inevitable evolutions of the other’s needs. This often becomes translated to “I love you, but I am no longer in love with you.” Most people would implode when they are on the receiving end of this statement as if just love wasn’t enough. In a way, it’s true, since what’s lacking is the willingness to understand. The real meaning was probably, “I love you but I don’t understand what it takes to sustain it.”

When parents, children, spouses or friends shout,  “I’m done with you,” what they really mean is, “I can’t (or don’t want to) understand you.

Hearing this from someone you love, or even if you are the one saying it can be painful. When this happens, think of what the underlying reasons are. Oftentimes, it’s really about the lack of willingness and wholehearted attempt to understand.

Understanding Others Leads to Understanding Ourselves

Whenever we feel heard and understood, in most cases, that’s all that’s needed to feel loved. We feel recognized, validated, and we experience a glimmer of egolessness. Naturally, we’d want others to feel the same way too. Our wish for others is the same as our wish for ourselves.

“As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.”

― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

Our minds judge all the time, and it’s the mind’s duty to “problem solve.” Some issues are so complex, they may never be fully solved, but with effort they will help us to grow and become capable of assimilating difficulties. The best way to achieve resolution is through mutual understanding.

Pema Chödrön suggests a better way, a middle ground of understanding instead of seeking resolution that oftentimes doesn’t exist. The state of mind that can find peace without resolution is achieved through understanding.

be more understanding

Tonglen: a Meditation Technique to Cultivate More Understanding

When we fail to understand others, we often bring them pain. Likewise, when others can’t or won’t understand us, we feel unimportant, belittled, hurt, and angry. Just as how understanding others can lead to our own understanding, getting into the mindset of healing others can be a way to heal the self.

Here’s a tonglen meditation technique that can help with strengthening our understanding. Tonglen means “giving and taking” in Tibetan, and this will help you cultivate a better sense of understanding.

  • The first stage is to pause. Feel and embrace a moment of stillness and space. If helpful, you can visualize a wide-open space such as the ocean or a beautifully lush valley.
  • The second stage is visualization. As you inhale, breathe in the heavy, thick energy. Breathe it in deeply, through all the pores of your body. Then, as you exhale, breathe out a sense of freshness, bright energy. Imagine the energy radiating out from you, 360 degrees. Continue for a few minutes, or until the imagery is in sync with the in and out breaths.
  • The third stage involves breathing in a specific painful situation, embracing it as fully as possible, then breathing out relief. We can also begin with our personal experiences, such as a feeling of hopelessness, frustration or anger. Use this feeling as a stepping-stone for connecting us with the painful feelings of others.
  • In the fourth stage, we extend tonglen further out from ourselves and onto others. If we’re doing it for a friend with cancer, we extend it to all of those with cancer. If we’re doing it for our alcoholic brother, we extend it to all alcoholics, to all of those suffering from addiction. There is no limit: we can do it for everyone in the world, should we choose to.

Meditation brings us back to ourselves because we’re actually spending the time to understand ourselves at both the unconscious and the subconscious level. Through understanding ourselves, we can understand others, especially during hardship and broken hearts.