The Importance of Love, the Primal Refuge

An Openhearted Reflection from Rick Hanson's 2016 Symposium Address

Rick Hanson

By Rick Hanson

Life is often a hard trail---and nonetheless, hopefully a long one.

To walk it with joy and love and peace, we all need refuges: people and places and activities that repair and refuel us, that give us sanctuary.

Refuges like finally getting home and being able to sleep beside your wife. Like a chocolate chip cookie, a hot shower, a quiet sunset, or a poem from David Whyte. Classic refuges of wisdom teachings, sacred places and practices. Art and beauty. Reason and science.

What feeds your own heart?

And of course there are the refuges of those who have loved us. This is the primal refuge, the universal medicine, since feeling loved takes care of all three of our core needs at once: it’s a deep source of safety, a rewarding and satisfying experience, and a strong sense of connection.

For example, Fred Rogers---Mr. Rogers to millions of children and adults---once said, “When I was a boy and I’d see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You’ll always find people who are helping.’"

There’s a remarkable YouTube video of Mr. Rogers accepting an Emmy for lifetime achievement. After the expected and genuine thank-yous to his wife and others, he paused and looked around the hall. It was filled with several thousand people, most of them in gowns or tuxedos, glittering, polished, and beautifully masked in their own ways. He said that each person was there because “someone has loved you into being.” Then he asked for ten seconds of silence to remember that someone, tapping his watch with a smile and saying in that Mr. Rogers way, “Don’t worry, I’ll keep time.”

As you can see in the video, at first many people were startled and guarded. But then the masks began to drop and for 10 long and powerful seconds, the tears began to flow.

Who has loved you into being? As Mr. Rogers showed, even a few seconds of openhearted reflection about this can be deeply moving. And as therapists or people in related professions, we can probably stay with this practice even longer, perhaps a minute or more.

And also, whom have you loved into being? Loved into being with your attention, compassion, interest, restraint, skillfulness, generosity, support, guidance, affection, respect, or love? Friends, family, children, pets, students, clients, strangers to whom you gave an unguarded smile, people on the other side of the world? Here, too, you can take a few seconds or longer to open to and rest in and sink into the sense of caring about some of the many people that you have loved into being.

As a psychotherapist, one of the great refuges for me has been the feeling of fellowship with others in the helping professions. The sense of this can be concrete as you speak with a colleague, or sit among others at the Symposium. The sense of camaraderie, of shared values and actions, may be more abstract, but still real, as you read this magazine or think about the millions of people worldwide who are deeply engaged with the care of others.

At this time in human history, it’s all too easy to see the “them-ness” of others, and then to stop looking. So there’s nothing more important than to find refuge, again and again, in the “us-ness” of the person sitting next to you, or across the street, or across the world.


This blog is excerpted from "How Hard Times Can Open the Heart" by Rick Hanson. The full version is available in the May/June 2016 issue, Unexpected Gifts: Six Master Therapists Recall Their Most Unforgettable Sessions.

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Topic: Anxiety/Depression | Mindfulness | Professional Development

Tags: compassion | love | love and relationships | Networker Symposium | Psychotherapy Networker | Rick Hanson | Symposium

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