Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. It’s such a strange holiday, it made me think about it more. I decided to do a little reading and found that it has its roots in a pagan Roman festival that celebrated the rites of spring, particularly mating. Valentine’s Day itself was celebrated formally in the 14th century and by the early 1500’s came to resemble what we know—sending formal notes of cordiality, followed later by commercial cards and celebrations. It’s unclear how it got its name, but it’s speculated that it was named after a priest named Valentine who purportedly secretly married couples so men could avoid going to war. Another (or the same) priest who was imprisoned sent a note “from your Valentine” to the jailer’s daughter who had befriended him. (From the Encyclopedia Britannica.) Today, we know it as a “Hallmark” holiday, a pretty commercial venture that can bring both joy and disappointment, as most expectations do.
In full disclosure, my husband of 33 years and I don’t celebrate it at all. We jokingly tell each other that “every day is a day of love” with each other. Well, we try. But I HAVE used Valentine’s Day to send a note out every year since my oldest child was born 25 years ago. Then, it was a way to announce my baby’s birth (and then two other January babies) without sending both a Christmas card and a birth announcement! Since then it’s been a time to connect, share a few photos and let people know I care.
Fast forward to today, and I’ve decided to make all of February, which in the Northern hemisphere can be long, cold and dark, a month of love—lovingkindness that is! Rather than my typical response to cold, bracing myself with shoulders forward and up around the ears with the heart collapsed, I try to open my heart and get as clear as I can to beam good will toward all.
The practice I find most supportive of this effort is called “metta,” a traditionally Buddhist lovingkindness meditation in which we extend caring energy toward ourselves and all others. Teacher Acharaya Buddharakkhita says that as we practice metta, we overcome a transactional sort of love and self-seeking and the “mind becomes universal by identifying its own interest with the interest of all.”
It’s usually easy to think of sending love and compassion to those we love. Sometimes we unconsciously send that love with invisible strings, “Love me, love me!” Only when we learn to extend graciousness to ourselves and actually accept it (despite our many imperfections) can we also truly wish all beings well and release the need to “earn” or manipulate for acceptance and caring. We see others as we see ourselves-- striving, doing our best, succeeding and failing, good and bad, and we embrace it all. With it, we begin to love what is vs. what we think life and others should be for a good outcome.
Part of the metta meditation extends peace and ease to ourselves and to others. By cultivating an attitude of lovingkindness, peace and ease become more available and our interactions with the world become less fraught. If you don’t believe me, try this meditation practice yourself! There are many, many interpretations of it, but the general idea is to send thoughts of goodwill, devoid of judgement, to yourself, to loved ones, to those in your community and eventually, to all beings, including those who challenge us! Trust that this is the best way to heal oneself and others.
This month, we set the intention of cultivating metta throughout our practice. It’s a beautiful self-awareness tool that helps you to unearth the situations, relationships etc. where you fall short of wishing others well. When is it difficult? Where do you shine? How can you create more equanimity toward yourself and others? This is a fun one, and it can be quite profound.
I've taught and lived yoga for more than 20 years. I know it can be intimidating. But it can also be fun--and rewarding--regardless of your starting point or challenges. On this blog I share some of the yoga wisdom that sustains me.