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Understanding Love

‘Every human being wants to love and be loved. This is very natural. But often love, desire, need, and fear get wrapped up all together. There are so many songs with the words, “I love you; I need you.” Such lyrics imply that loving and craving are the same thing, and that the other person is just there to fulfill our needs. We might feel that we can’t survive without the other person. When you say, “Darling, I can’t live without you. I need you,” we think we’re speaking the language of love. We even feel it’s a compliment to the other person. But that need is actually a continuation of the original fear and desire that have been with us since we were small children.

As babies, we were helpless. We had arms and feet, but we couldn’t use them to go anywhere. There was very little we could do for ourselves. We went from having been in a very warm, wet, comfortable place inside the womb to being in a cold hard place full of harsh light. In order to breathe our first breath, we had first to expel the liquid from our lungs. It was a dangerous moment.

Our original desire is to survive. And our original fear is that no one will be there to take care of us. Before we could talk or understand language, we knew that the sound of footsteps coming closer meant someone would feed and take care of us. This made us happy; we really needed that person.

As newborns, we could distinguish the smell of our mother or the person taking care of us. We knew the sound of her voice. We came to love that smell and that sound. That’s the first, original love, born from our need; it’s completely natural. When we grow up and look for a partner, the original desire to survive is still there in many of us. We think that without someone else, we can’t survive. We might be looking for a partner, but the child in us is looking for that feeling of safety and comfort we had when our parent or caregiver arrived.


When we were infants, the smell of our mother was the most wonderful smell in the world, because we needed her. In Asia, people use the nose more than the mouth when they kiss each other. They recognize and enjoy the smell of the other person.

We might relax into a relationship, thinking, “I’m okay now, because I have someone to love and support me.” But the infant in us is saying, “Now I can relax; my caregiver is here.” That feeling of joy does not come simply from a true appreciation of the presence of the other person. rather, we are happy and peaceful because with this person we can feel safe and at ease. Later on, when our relationship becomes difficult, we aren’t relaxed anymore, and happiness is no longer there.

Fear and desire are connected. Out of our original fear came a desire for the person who made us feel comfortable and safe. An infant feels, “I’m helpless; I have no means to take care of myself. I’m vulnerable. I need someone, otherwise I’ll die.” Unless we recognize, take care of, and release those feelings, they’ll continue to determine the decisions we make. If, as adults, we continue to feel insecure and unsafe, this is the continuation of the original fear that we haven’t yet recognized and understood.


If you have fear, you can’t have happiness. If you’re still running after the object of your desire, then you still have fear. The fear goes together with craving. If you stop the craving, the fear will go away naturally, and then you can be free.

Sometimes you’re fearful, but you don’t know why. The Buddha says the reason you’re fearful is because you’re still craving. If you stop running after the object of your craving, you’ll have no fear. Having no fear, you can be peaceful and free, no longer drifting and sinking and no longer dependent on external conditions for the peace of your body and mind. With peace in your body and mind, you aren’t beset by worries and you have fewer accidents. Releasing that craving, you are free.

One of the greatest gifts we can offer to other people is to embody nonfear and nonattachment. This true teaching is more precious than money or material resources. Many of us are very afraid, and this fear distorts our lives and makes us miserable. We cling to objects and people, like a drowning person clinging to a floating log. By practicing nonattachment and sharing this wisdom with others, we give the gift of nonfear. Everything is impermanent. This moment passes. That person walks away. Happiness is still possible.

When we love someone, we should look deeply into the nature of that love. True love doesn’t contain suffering or attachment. It brings well-being to ourselves and others. True love is generated from within. With true love, you feel complete in yourself; you don’t need something from outside. True love is like the sun, shining with its own light, and offering that light to everyone.’

by Thich Nhat Hanh, Fidelity: How to Create a Loving Relationship That Lasts.

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