Secret Admirer To the World
The red and green tinsel is barely off the shelves December 27th or so, and suddenly, there are the hearts – red, flowery, and insistent, in every size and style. Valentine’s Day candy and cards and decorations are everywhere to be found, reminding us for weeks ahead that this is the Day Designated for Love.
I’ve seen those hearts cause several reactions: giggles and delight for those who have a special someone on whom to bestow them. Swooning-yet-eternally-hopeful longing by young girls who have crushes yet unrequited, whether on schoolmates or rock stars. Exasperation by folks who just think all the fuss is silly. And looks more poignant – grief for those no longer here, or those who never arrived in time – by those for whom the holiday is more stiletto in the ribs than Cupid’s arrow in the heart.
Like so many other holidays, Valentine’s Day has been co-opted by marketing and media expectations. If we don’t have that special Someone on whom to lavish our emotions, they say, then our value on February 14th is just a little less than everyone else’s. Better luck next year, you know? Or maybe you should go to one of those swirling, desperate singles dances, just in case you can find someone in time.
So how did the idea of love get so co-opted, anyway?
The day first became associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. In the19th century, England took things to a greater elevation, with the reinvention of Saint Valentine’s Day in the 1840s as a real card-sending, bad-poetry-creating sensation. Jump to the 20th century and you have the introduction of heart-shaped chocolate boxes, an insistence on long-stemmed red roses as the only true Flower of Love, really awful heart-themed underwear for both sexes, the jewelry houses’ “February is for Diamonds” promotions – you get the picture.
But it’s possible to take the idea of “true love” back from the moneymen – to show it to be something a little greater than their expectations.
All of us, at one time or another, have had the phrase “if you loved me, you would…” thrown at us – as a challenge, a complaint, or a plea. Yet the phrase, in and of itself, is a lie. When we love truly, we love because we decide to. Love, like happiness, is a choice, and those moments when we choose to open ourselves to love without reservation or condition are overwhelming in their beauty and bliss.
It works the same way when the object of our love is the one in the mirror: when we peel love away from being a bargaining chip, a reward, or a prize in the Cracker Jack box of life, we have an inexhaustible refuge for ourselves. When we love ourselves deeply and truly, we don’t hold ourselves to impossible standards. We don’t use love as either a carrot OR a stick, but simply recognize it as that in which we dwell – safe, secure, strong, and at peace. When we are the face and form of love, and completely accept that for ourselves, then and only then can we turn and wrap others in its infinite comfort and magnificence, bestowing that same absolute peace which we have gained.
Yet if we don’t love others with that same depth and intensity, we cannot love ourselves.
Conundrum? Only if you see yourself as separate from others. When you realize that to love one is to love all – to love everyone else is to love yourself perfectly – you fall into that seamless tapestry of compassion, joy and equanimity.
I think my favorite book on love – real love – is Teachings on Love by the beloved Vietnamese monk and Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. “Thầy,” (“Teacher”), as he is known, has devoted his life to bringing people together in the idea of “interbeing,” or the conception that there is no independent self. When you accept that there is an unlimited, unbreakable state of connectedness and interdependence with everything in the universe – both in form and otherwise – you understand that in order to love everything around you, you must love yourself. And in order to truly love yourself, you must love everything around you, for everything touches and affects you.
Just as a mother loves and protects her only child at the risk of her own life, we should cultivate boundless love to offer to all living beings in the entire cosmos. Let our boundless love pervade the whole universe, above, below and across. Our love will know no obstacles, our heart will be absolutely free from hatred and enmity. Whether standing or walking, sitting or lying, as long as we are awake, we should maintain this mindfulness of love in our own heart.
Years ago, I attended a conference where author Robert Schwartz was the keynote speaker. Listening to him address the audience, I was struck by Rob’s description of his sudden introduction to how love truly is the warp and weft of the universe:
I took a break from work and went for a walk – and had a profound experience. I suddenly felt overwhelming, unconditional love for every person I saw! No words can adequately convey the power of this love. It was of an intensity and depth I had never experienced and did not know was possible. For each person – the mother pushing her baby in a stroller, the cab driver waiting for a fare, the child playing at the corner, the barber cutting hair behind the window of his barbershop – I felt pure, limitless love.
Though I had never before heard of such an experience, I knew intuitively what was happening: I was in enhanced, immediate communion with my soul. In effect, my soul was saying to me, “This love is who you are.”
That description, though I have heard it and read it a dozen times, still hits me right in the heart. If we could touch that incandescence even occasionally, how different the world might be!
Rob was just at the beginning of the incredible experiences that would lead him to write Your Soul’s Plan. He was not a lifelong seeker of Truth. He was not someone steeped in metaphysical or religious thought. He was simply someone open to the message. And if it is possible for him to experience such a miracle, it’s possible for any of us.
This year, change your idea of Valentine’s Day. Do what Rob did. Go for a walk. On your street, at a mall. No matter who comes into your line of vision, look deeply. Acknowledge, heart-deep and unconditionally, the beauty and courage of their wants and needs, their own strivings to fit into the world and understand it, their own loves and longings. Honor everything that makes them a brave and courageous soul that has incarnated Earthside to learn, to heal, to serve the Universe through their learning. Recognize that what moves them, that spark of soul, is also yours – for if we all in the end go back to the Central Point, if we are all merely emanations of the One –there is no difference.
Then, come back home and imagine taking a walk with yourself next to you. Take the time to study yourself the same way you studied those on your “love excursion.” Honor the choices and challenges you’ve made. Know that there is absolutely nothing about you that is less than completely deserving of love. Embrace your stumbling, your backslides, and even your moments of defeat and failure as valiant efforts to understand the world and your own being to the best of your ability. Credit your bravery and your resilience, the fact that you get up every day willing to learn, to change, to grow. Love – forgive – embrace. Until you are completely saturated in your own unconditional love, forgiveness, and acceptance.
Now you’re ready to give your own Valentine to the world. Go outside and fling your love with joy unrestrained, not measuring whether to give in this place or that, or caring if it will be accepted in return. Give joyously and without rules or restrictions, seizing each moment as a chance to bestow a spiritual embrace on every person who crosses your path. A smile unexpected. An angel act, picking up a stranger’s tab at a restaurant, with nothing asked in return and perhaps without their even knowing who did it. A kind word to someone, unanticipated but heartfelt. And an eyes-to-eyes acknowledgment of appreciation for someone’s everyday work, whether it’s the store clerk who bags your groceries or the car-wash fellow wiping down your car on a very cold day.
Your life and how you live it IS a Valentine – to yourself and to the world — every day. Sign it with a flourish. Bestow it on everyone who comes in contact with you. And watch your own inner mailbox fill to overflowing with messages of love from the Universe.