What Is Love Asking From Us?

In Gaza, says Buddhist teacher Tara Brach, it is asking us to open our hearts fully to all the victims, all the harms, all the needs. Only then is there a real pathway to peace.

Tara Brach
11 March 2024
Residents amid the destruction in Deir Balah, central Gaza Strip, on February 23, 2024. Photo by Majdi Fathi / NurPhoto / Shutterstock.

Like so many around the globe, the shocking violence perpetrated by Hamas on October 7 and the continuing, horrific reprisal by the Israeli government that has devastated Gaza has broken my heart and riveted my attention.

Until last fall, the conflict and violence in the Middle East was in the background of my awareness. I had little understanding of the history or the causes and conditions of the trauma that has driven current violence.

Although my immediate family didn’t observe Jewish rituals or traditions, both my parents were Jewish and lost relatives in the Holocaust. At times I’ve been the target of antisemitism, and when he was a young man my idealistic dad spent time working on a kibbutz.

Yet my sphere of connections is deep and wide. I have friends and students who are Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, some of whom live in the Middle East and/or have family and friends there. Many have shared their pain about the scale and intensity of human suffering that is taking place in the region.

Since October 7, I’ve sought how best to hold and respond to the immensity of this suffering. My practice as a Buddhist and my work as a psychologist have taught me that our wisest actions arise from full presence with all that is moving through us. We need to be intimate with our inner life so that rather than being hooked by fear or anger, we can touch the loss, grief, and caring underneath. My own process of opening in this way has unfolded both in solitary practice and, importantly, with others.

If we are to contribute to a pathway toward peace, we need to feel and let in the pain of others, and to grieve with them. In late October, I led a meditation gathering for Israeli therapists who have been tending those most traumatized, and the next day, for 2400 Israelis who practice mindfulness.

Each group had time to share their losses and grief. One person’s three-year-old son was taken hostage; another recalled watching a parent be killed; another spoke of a brother who lost his whole family. Many described a gripping, existential fear that is with them constantly. During this time I was also in touch with Jews from the United States who shared a crushing sense of betrayal by friends for not recognizing the horror of Oct. 7.

Through this time I’ve also connected with numerous students and friends anguished by the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, and am scheduled to lead an event in March with a Palestinian meditation group. In Gaza, tens of thousands of people — many women and children — have been killed; with few supplies getting in, millions face starvation; more than half the buildings — including hospitals — have been damaged or destroyed. I will never forget one woman telling of her family going to bed alive but found dead in their apartment building’s rubble the following morning.

Beyond the immediate tragedy, my Arab and Muslim-American friends share their despair at the long-standing racism that dehumanizes the Palestinian people — the devaluing of Palestinian lives that lets the occupation, the injustice, and now, the carnage, continue.

Even with so much undeniable suffering for all involved, our world is so polarized by a sense of “us against them” that for many, and especially for those who are themselves traumatized, it’s impossible to empathize with and grieve the losses of those considered on the opposing side. Rather, they are objectified and perceived as bad others. This bad othering locks our brains and bodies in limbic reactivity, and our views and actions become shaped by fear and hatred.

The only hope for a more peaceful, loving world is for us to open our hearts to all who are suffering, to value and cherish all life. From that inclusive and compassionate presence, we will naturally seek to relieve the suffering of all beings. It is our caring, not fear or anger, that can guide us into wise action. And act we must. Each one of us belongs to this world, and we impact others by our silence or our words, our passivity or activity.

In contemplating how best to serve, it helps to pose a deep inquiry to our own heart: What is love asking from me here? Let me share what has emerged for me from this question.

My heart knows that I need to keep connecting inwardly, so I’m aware of habitual fears and biases, and remain intimate with loss and grief. When there’s an awake tender presence with my inner life, there’s a natural compassion and feeling of belonging with other beings.

My heart asks that I continue to deepen my understanding of the historic trauma, causes, and conditions leading up to the current conflict. And to remember that other humans are never the enemy; it is the universal forces of greed, hatred, and delusion that take over and lead to violence and suffering.

My heart asks that I recognize and name as harmful any actions that violate others and create suffering. This includes the violence perpetrated by Hamas on October 7 and the ongoing, indiscriminate killing of Palestinians in Gaza perpetrated by the Israeli government.

My heart asks that I recognize and name as harmful antisemitism, islamophobia, racism, and any dominance hierarchy that leads to hatred and/or violation of other beings.

My heart does not conflate Jewish and Israeli people with the actions of an extremist right-wing Israeli government. My heart does not conflate the Palestinian people with the actions of Hamas.

My heart honors the rights of Israeli and Jewish people to exist and seek safety. It honors the rights of Palestinians to seek liberation from oppression and to pursue justice, equality, and dignity.

My heart realizes that how we seek what we long for determines what unfolds in the future. Martin Luther King, Jr. and so many spiritual leaders have expressed what is also found in the Buddhist texts: Hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed. This is the ancient and eternal law. When Israel, in the process of trying to destroy an enemy that has committed atrocities, kills and displaces a huge portion of the population in Gaza, its violence will only beget more violence.

From these understandings and from deep caring, I feel called to use my words and actions to support a pathway toward peace and safety for Jews and peace and liberation for Palestinians. This pathway includes: an immediate and complete ceasefire in Gaza and the West Bank with eventual administration of Gaza by the Palestinian Authority or other Palestinian partner; the return of all Israeli hostages, along with expedited and meaningful humanitarian aid for Gaza; and a clear path toward the creation of a Palestinian state living in peace with Israel.

At this time, this is what seems wise to me, and in all humility, I realize I have my own conditioning, biases, and places of not seeing. As I continue to pay attention, my understandings and views will evolve.

My hope for each of you is that you will pause and keep connecting inwardly to your awake and tender heart, and that you will consciously include the suffering of all beings in your heart, inquiring deeply as to what love wants from you.

We belong to this world. May we be blessed to speak and act from love, may we plant the seeds of peace.

Tara Brach

Tara Brach

Tara Brach is a meditation teacher, psychologist and author of several books including international bestselling Radical Acceptance, Radical Compassion and Trusting the Gold. Her popular weekly podcast on emotional healing and spiritual awakening is downloaded 3 million times a month. Tara is founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington and along with Jack Kornfield, leads the Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program (MMTCP), serving participants from more than 50 countries around the world. tarabrach.com