As much as Valentine’s Day can be a really sweet time, I can’t help but cringe as it rolls around each year. Is it the commercial overtones? The awkwardly out-of-character expressions of love? Are we all going through the motions to avoid seeming like we don’t care?
My inner rebel has always been conflicted about Valentine’s Day because I don’t quite know how to handle it. It feels rather churlish to ignore people who launch a barrage of hearts and messages of love, and it feels unfriendly not to say it to others myself.
The social pressure – not to mention the commercial pressure – is even harder to avoid than Christmas celebrations, because we can’t even plead Atheism, Judaism or Islam as a way out! Are we all feeling pressured in this way, I wonder, or am I just becoming a cranky old lady?
So it got me thinking about how we tend to relate to love, how easily that word is bandied about, and how difficult true love is to experience. Most of what we think of as love is attachment disguised as affection. True love is a much more challenging endeavour.
Some of our wise anscestors taught that the love we seek outside of ourselves should above all be cultivated within ourselves, and they shared a powerful antidote to those pesky, prickly emotions that prevent us from loving and being loved. These are known as the four brahmavihāras, or sublime attitudes (literally meaning the four abodes of Lord Brahma, the source of life). They appear in the Upanishads, in Buddha dharma, and in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra as reliable ways to cultivate true love and peace of mind.
We can cultivate Metta (from the Buddha’s Pali language; a.k.a. Maitrī in Sanskrit), or ‘loving kindness’ when we feel separation from others in the form of inferiority or superiority, or religious or political distinctions. Metta spreads our best wishes to everyone, without exception, and beginning with ourselves. May all beings be happy, may they be well, may they be at peace. All beings. No exclusions.
For healing our jealousy and meanness, we can practice Mudita, meaning ‘sympathetic joy’. By sharing in other peoples’ good fortune and celebrating their successes and blessings, we feel uplifted while uplifting the people around us in an ever-expanding upward spiral.
If we need to remember our interconnected nature, we can cultivate compassion – Karuna. Karuna lets us see the inherent vulnerability in everyone, and having compassion helps to ease the suffering of those around us. One person suffering results in our own suffering, sooner or later; we simply need to read the news on any given day to understand this.
Finally, and most tricky of all, is equanimity. Called Upekkhā in Pali and Upekshā in Sanskrit, being equanimous means we are balanced and fair, not getting attached to things or people as good or bad, fun or no fun, but allowing them to be the fleeting, ever-transforming things they really are. It is said that a true yogi doesn’t care for honours or pomp and ceremony (which helps to make it easier to spot the fake ones!), nor do they fear criticism and insults (ditto!).
Treating everyone impartially and not caring for hierarchy or privilege allows for a human connection with each person you meet. Since our culture and society are built on hierarchy, celebrity and privilege with a smattering of religion and politics in the mix, it’s a really challenging but deeply rewarding practice.
Developing all four qualities in your relationship with yourself, and then in all of your relationships, is a lifelong balancing act that will bring you personal fulfilment and enhance the romantic love you might also be blessed to experience, and I wish you many more years of Valentine’s Days to continue your practice!
Yet, even without Valentine’s Day this is an extraordinary week to explore the theme of love and relationships in all forms, starting with Maha Shivaratri Tuesday night (13/2) in honour of Shiva, considered the very first yogi (adiyogi) and therefore the Lord of Yoga symbolising the pure awareness of our true, blissful and peaceful nature, beyond emotions and thought. Once a year, in the darkest phase of the new moon, yogis sit in meditation throughout the night, opening their hearts to their own Shiva nature. Om namah shivaya!
Plus, late this evening (15-16/2) we experience a partial Solar Eclipse bringing us a strong theme of partnership and following your heart to new life adventures. This New Moon also signals the start of the Tibetan and Chinese New Year on Friday (16/2), celebrating the year of the Earth Dog, and its humility, trust and devotion. If you have ever experienced the love of a dog, you have understood everything you need to know for your practice.
With much love and light,