“Valentine’s Day: the most horrible day of the year.” —So says Faith, our sixteen-year old.
Like all holidays, Valentine’s Day is fine for those with something to celebrate, but heartbreaking when you’re reminded of what you don’t have.
There’s more to love than romance. There’s the love of family, friends, siblings — even pets. And there’s more to romantic love than make-believe, or flowers and chocolates on Valentine’s Day.
It hurts to feel lonely, isolated, unloved or unlovable, and this day brings it to everyone’s attention. Our instinctive remedy is to fantasize about the emotional security of true love, but that doesn’t make things better. As the Buddha points out, we react to pain by dwelling in illusion, not in reality. That’s escapism, a contrivance — just like the notion that your ‘soul mate’ is somewhere out there, just waiting for the stars to align.
Yes, we need to feel loved. And no, at a certain point in your early teens your mother’s love isn’t enough. You want a peer to see you for who you really are, to bring out the best in you, to challenge and support you without getting the two confused.
And, of course, you want to feel like a million dollars.
And so you go out looking for it. Is that a bad idea? Well, that depends on your attitude. Are you trying to make it happen?
The teenage version of romance is all about that heady hormone feeling, but there‘s also such a thing as mature love. It has a powerful hormonal side to it too, but so much more. It’s not just about feeling good together; it’s about finding your path through life.
Getting to the Heart of Who You Are
If you’re reading this blog, you’re presumably trying to get strip away the outer layers to find yourself. There’s no more challenging method than mindful reflection, and no more potent situation than the chaotic, unpredictable, organic daily life of family and friends.
For a new couple, Valentine’s Day is a time to look forward to that challenge, to see what riches lie beyond that mutual good feeling.
For parents, it’s a time to step back and see how simple romance overflows into our far more complex, unconditional love for children.
For those who’ve lost their love it’s time to look inside and see whether that experience has left you bitter or made you wiser. Any negative experience can help you grow if only you choose to face it.
Finally, for those who’ve never found that sort of personal love, it’s a day on which your deepest expectations will stand out. When I asked our teen daughter if she thought anyone else felt like she did, she shook her head. When I told her that she was probably in the majority, she shrugged. Perhaps she’ll think about it.
The idea is to see life from the inside out, to start by seeing what we bring to it. It’s not easy to let go of expectation without losing hope. It takes courage, but helps us wend our way in and out of this simple and yet most complicated thing called love. It’s so easy to get caught in our own tangled dreams.
Love and Attention
Valentine’s Day is a reminder and an opportunity to pay deeper attention to love.
It’s all very well to believe in the beneficence of God or the Universe or Fate or Karma or whatever you want to call it, but love is unpredictable. When you encounter it, it’s a stroke of luck, but if you expect it to be a certain sort of love – especially romantic – you’ll miss every other moment.
It all comes down to attention. So many people think of meditation and the spiritual life as an alternative to the stresses of life, as an escape or an achievement of ‘enlightenment,’ when life’s sufferings fall away. I don’t believe any of that. I think life is miraculous because it’s as full of joy as pain, as confusing as it is enlightening. To embrace it fully you have to stop dreaming and open your eyes. I think that deep down, we all know there’s no other way.
So yes, be skeptical and cautious of commercial holidays, but don’t let that stop you from finding an authentic way to be on Valentine’s Day.
If you’re alone and lonely, that’s okay. Your feelings are real, but you can work with them. You can be excused for feeling you’re the only one, but you’d do well to let go of that particular fantasy. It’s just not true.
Love is not just a good feeling between two people. It’s an opening of your heart towards life and its infinite possibilities. Valentine’s Day is a hurtful trap if you allow it to be.
Instead, open your heart to this greatest thing that life has to offer. Love your parents, your siblings and children, your friends and acquaintances. Express your love not by declaring it out loud or by hanging on to it sentimentally but by simply opening your heart to the mystery of being connected to life itself. Celebrate the love that others share.
It’s an old saying. Call it a cliché if you want, but it’s as true today as ever it was: Love makes the world go round. Really.