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A man lamented to an Elder in his Church that try as he might, he could not love his hyper-critical, unloving mother. The Elder told him, “My son, you don’t have to love her, you just have to love.”

That was a freeing thought to me years ago when I was having the same problem with a difficult-to-love mother. I knew I loved her, in the sense I cared about her happiness and well-being. But I was plagued by floods of unloving thoughts about her. Me being, probably, as hyper-critical of her as I believed she was of me, and just about everyone she met.

The Elder’s advise seemed to lift a heavy burden from my shoulders. I didn’t have to love the hyper-critical person, but I could be loving in my words and actions toward her, and gentle with myself for my shortcomings as well. I could love her humanity, her challenges, her struggles, and be compassionate toward her inability to be what I wanted, as well as compassionate toward my own inability to live up to my highest aspirations.

But how do we do that in these hyper-partisan times where so many people and political leaders acting out in ways that are hateful and violent and dangerously unreasonable? With the rise of tyranny and fear-mongering; the assault on truth, plain hard facts and overwhelming evidence? One worries about the fate of our nation and democracy itself, not to mention the fate of the world, plagued by firestorms, hurricanes, floods, with so little effort directed at making the changes needed to halt or even slow this global meltdown.

The world we love is being threatened by those we have come to hate. What is a loving-minded person supposed to do with all these intense, negative feelings and fears?

The answer is: You don’t have to love them. You just have to love.

But what do I “just love,” if not them? How can they be excluded if we’re “just loving” without a particular object to love?

Then I realized something, and it was like a hard, obstinate, ugly dam had been broken and the love I’d been withholding and resisting broke loose. The anger and resentment I’d been nurturing and justifying, and the fear that had been terrorizing me, were swept away.

The thing I realized is that genuine Love—the unconditional, not the personal kind —isn’t an add-on, something we choose or chose not to have. Genuine Love, the big kind with the big L, is the ground of being upon which all of us rest, that supports and sustains us all, the loving and unloving, the good and bad, the tyrant and saint.

We’re all delusional in one way or another. All living our lives on limited information and understanding about the world around us and each other, about what’s right and what’s wrong, about who we are, where we came from, and what our purpose is. Whether we like it or not, we’re going to rub up against each other and each other’s delusions, no matter what we do or how we chose to live. We can’t get out of it. We’re stuck with each other. And while things may get better for us personally, at the same time they are getting worse for others. And new challenges are on the way.

That’s where the compassion of genuine Love flows, from the realization that the one we are prone to hate or fear for their hateful deeds is just delusional, a rube to his own delusions, as we are to ours. Our sympathy, our love, extends to all of us, because we are all suffering, even while not condoning the acts that cause our suffering, and doing what we can to relieve it.

We can “just love” the whole human drama as it has rolled out over the centuries and through our own few days of existence, knowing that it will continue to roll on without us, perhaps forever in the way delusions always seem so real while they last.

But beneath all the drama that is heaving us about like storms at sea, is this deep sympathy, this oceanic peaceful presence of unconditional Love that supports and sustains us all even in the midst of all the turmoil we are experiencing.

Within that maelstrom, we each, like tiny bubbles thrown up and tossed about, clashing with each other, opposing or uniting, go about the business of being separate and apart until the delusion of our bubble of existence dissolves and we know each other as we always have been and always will be, an essential part of the underlying, unifying whole. Part of that tender, exuberant, endlessly creative flow of Love.

To sum it up: Don’t love “them,” just love “Us.”

This Metta (Lovingkindness) Prayer, which can be adapted by anyone to fit any circumstance, helps to bring that loving aspiration into focus:

In gladness and in safety, may all beings be at ease.
Whether they are weak or strong, great or humble, wealthy or needy, omitting none,
The wise or foolish, friend or foe, neighbor or stranger,
Those who have wronged us and those we have wronged,
Those who love us and those who do not,

May all beings be at ease!

May all beings have happiness and cause of happiness.
May all beings remain free from suffering and the cause of suffering.
May all beings remain unseparated from the sacred joy and that is free from sorrow,
May all beings rest in the boundless and all-inclusive equanimity that supports and sustains us all.