Here is the full transcript of Mia Hansson’s TEDx: What is Love? A Journey Through the Heart at TEDxDouglas conference.
Mia Hansson: My parents met against all the odds. My father was born in Sweden, and my mother in the Philippines, and they lived 6,000 miles apart.
They were born during the Second World War. The way they met was that their schools arranged an English exchange for them to learn English through letters and letter writing. They loved sharing their curiosity about the world and about different cultures, and they exchanged photos that they’d made themselves.
After three or four years, they started falling in love without even having met. Dad, as soon as my mother finally made it to Denmark, dad hotfooted it over, after about five years of letter-writing immediately proposed the same day.
My parents have now been happily married for almost 50 years. So I thought love is this easy ideal of a man and a woman meeting and having three healthy children, and everything works out wonderfully because they made it look so easy.
So I spent the next 20 years of my life following this ideal and trying to match it with what I’d seen when I grew up. When I was 17, I put out a pen pal advert because I thought I’d meet somebody in the same way as my parents because that’s obviously the way it works. Unfortunately, all I got in return for the advert was pictures of penises, and an invite to Florida from a middle-aged man that I’d never been in touch with in my life.
Eventually, I did meet a tall dark handsome stranger, who was a very kind man, but, unfortunately, we weren’t matched. The thing is I didn’t care about that because I had this ideal, and I was going to make it happen no matter what.
Sadly, after seven years, we split up because we finally had to acknowledge that we weren’t getting on. At the same time I was working with developing countries and with charities, and I had also grown up in a lot of poor countries. My heart was breaking in more ways than one.
I no longer had faith that the world was a good place to be. I was close to 9/11 when that happened; I was very close to the London bombings when they happened four years later. At the same time, two people who were the closest to me said that they hated each other and never wanted to see each other again; my sister was in a near-fatal accident, and my heart just absolutely broke. I thought, “I don’t want to be in a world like this”. I just thought, “There isn’t any point”.
It’s a very dangerous place to be because, if you’re depressed at the same time that you think that, you might well consider suicide and I thought, “I don’t really want to be in this life, but I’ll give it one more chance.” I’d heard about a Zen monastery which is in England. It’s run by 25 English monks, both men and women, fifty-fifty, and they run it in the Japanese Zen Buddhist tradition. All we did all day, apart from gardening and cooking, was hours and hours of meditation.
When you meditate, what you do is, you turn down the volume of everything that’s going on, inside you as well as everything that goes on outside. So you don’t engage with media, you don’t engage with your usual opinionating, and your thoughts, your worries, your concerns; it’s all happening, but you dive underneath that as if into an ocean, and when you dive into a ocean, for people who’ve tried that, everything outside becomes quiet, and you go into a totally different world. So I did that.
When I did that, what I came across was absolute abject terror .It was like there was a layer of emotion that was utter fear. Not for any particular reason, but it was like a primal fear that we’re born with already. If you listen to a baby crying in terror, there’s not necessarily any particular reason; it’s just there, it’s an instinct. I realized that that’s what I’d been channeling in my usual surface irritability, that I’d been carrying around in what I thought was my personality, was that fear that was coming up.
But I had to persevere because there wasn’t any way out; there was suicide or it was find out a way that I could live with, the way that the world was, and the way that I was. So I kept going and about seven or eight months into my meditation, I came across something utterly unexpected that I didn’t even know existed.
The only way that I can describe it is love. It came to me in the most unexpected way. I was gardening with a nun, and she handed me a tiny little plant, about 5 millimeters, and it had two little leaves standing. It was light green, I remember it so well, and it was beaming, and I’m not even exaggerating about that. It looked like light was emanating from it, and it’s only because I’ve been turning down the volume on everything else that I noticed this tiny little thing.
And it said, “I am extremely precious, I’m life itself. And it’s your responsibility to take care of me.” Normally, I hate gardening, I grew up in a city, I don’t care about stuff like that, but I felt I had no choice but to honor it. So love exists in things, it exists in plants, it exists in nature; not just in people and not just in romance. There’s something that the Buddhists call Indra’s net, which connects all of us and all things.
It means that everything that we do affects other people, even the tiniest little thing. Once I took care of an old friend, an elderly friend at the monastery. Her feet were very painful so I was putting band-aids on them, and I found myself in this posture, sort of supplication; I was kneeling, of course I realized that that is what love is: taking care of other people’s tiniest needs, if you can, if they need you, and always looking out for that.
Also, there was another nun, who said, “How are you?” I’d never been asked “How are you?” in exactly the way that she did because the difference was that she really meant it, and then she waited for my answer, and she really cared what my answer was.