“Oh, what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was made personal, merely personal feeling. This is what is the matter with us: we are bleeding at the roots because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars. Love has become a grinning mockery because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the Tree of Life and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilized vase on the table.”
― D.H. Lawrence
For years, I have been disillusioned with the temporary, shiny, red plastic feeling of Valentine’s Day. Can we please aim to make every day Love Day? I sense love as a feeling of warm connection. Feeling part of something bigger than ourselves. Feeling a sense of belonging and being a part of this world. A warm glow in the heart.
Or a certain vulnerable rawness in the chest - tender compassion that can be almost painful, but is more of an opening than a heartbreak. When heartbreak does happen, there is the potential for closing down, or opening up. We can shut off, shut down, push vulnerability away, or we can tenderly care for it, and over time, sow and water seeds of love and compassion.
“Love is the bridge between you and everything” - Rumi
What would it be like to see love as a bridge when we feel cut off? We can notice the walls and defences that we construct: our ill will, aversion, resentments, anger, hatred, wounds. These need time and love, too, to heal. We can also explore how to build a bridge between ourselves and the world.
Have you ever examined a slug? Their shine, and subtle textures? I used to hate them, feel disgusted by them, but in recent years I have fallen in love with slugs. My heart broke a little when they ate our young sunflowers last summer, but the sight of acrobatic slugs delicately balanced on top of the tall stems was a joy to behold.
I felt initial disgust at them invading my yoga mat when practising outdoors, but learned to enjoy their slow probing investigation of my mat and their otherworldly, gliding movement. I love the way their eye stalks retract when they slide under a blade of grass, then their eyes slowly extend up again. Next time you see a slug, notice the reactions you have and then see if you can be curious about the slug. Can she be beautiful? Can hatred and disgust be overcome with curiosity and enjoyment?
“Whatever a (person) keeps pursuing with his thinking and pondering, that becomes the inclination of his awareness.” - The Buddha.
We can become very bitter about the nature of reality. The reality of change, impermanence, ageing, sickness and death. The failures of humanity. Love is an attitude and an infinite resource we can cultivate over time. In the dark and difficult days there may be potential for creative engagement as a deep act of love and compassion. Love can be like a radio frequency we can tune into.
I have been struggling with asthma symptoms for a few weeks, and notice how my experience varies – and how a loving response to these difficulties can be very varied too.
Sometimes I hold myself with love and tender care, saying ancient Buddhist loving-kindness and compassion phrases: “May I be safe. May I be happy and healthy. May I live with ease. May I be kind to myself. May I accept myself as I am.” Then extending this to all beings: “May all beings be safe. May we all be happy and healthy. May all of us live with ease”. Sometimes I need to distract myself with uplifting TV or podcast. Sometimes I just let myself be overwhelmed with despair and let the emotions flow. Sometimes I need to be brave and go out for a walk. Sometimes I need enjoyable activities: cooking, singing, dancing, hugging.
Sometimes I am overwhelmed with profound joy and gratitude when I notice I can breathe easily and my chest feels open and expansive.
“Bring a compassionate attention to your body…. hold your body tenderly, with its joys and its tightness, its longings and its love, as if you would hold a child who is frightened, exhausted and weary. Say thank you to your body for carrying so much.” - Jack Kornfield.
Love requires cultivating certain qualities and inclinations of the mind – curiosity; forgiveness of ourselves and others for not being perfect; acceptance; humility; compassion; kindness; gratitude; empathy; joy; and being willing to begin again, over and over – in spite of failures.
This quote is worth repeating and pondering, over and over: “Whatever a (person) keeps pursuing with his thinking and pondering, that becomes the inclination of his awareness.” - The Buddha.
The bridge of love and connection can arise when we contemplate the truths of our existence. We are made of dust formed in stars. We are intimately interwoven with our planet home. As we may be painfully aware at the moment, our bodies are habitats for microscopic organisms, bacteria, fungi, viruses – most of which live in beneficial, symbiotic harmony within in and around our bodies, microscopic ecosystems that enable our bodies to function well.
The challenges of space travel show the bridge of love between us and everything on this planet. The earth’s molten iron core creating a magnetic field shielding us from harmful radiation. The perfect balance of atmospheric gases for us to breathe. The perfect gravity to keep our bodies strong. The perfect food, water and ecosystems around us to meet our needs.
“There’s a revolution that needs to happen and it starts from inside each one of us. We need to wake up and fall in love with Earth. Our personal and collective happiness and survival depends on it.” - Thich Nhat Hanh
How do we cope with the addictive pain of the news cycle, and stay informed without shutting down? Love shuts down when we become immersed in the pain, sorrow, violence, tragedy, failures and bitterness of this world. But love is a great remedy for this suffering, and there are courageous souls who act out of love to try to change the world, against all odds.
As Bishop Michael Curry said: “There’s power in love. Love can help and heal when nothing else can. Love can lift up and liberate for living when nothing else will.”
Nonviolence is a key guiding principle of the ancient Indian wisdom teachings of yoga and Buddhism. Not as a commandment, but as one of the ways of liberating us from suffering. As Martin Luther King Jr said: "At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love", and: "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."
I sometimes despair over our politics, and find myself falling into the same trap of judgement and anger that seems to curse our world. “Denunciatory rhetoric is so much easier and cheaper than good works, and proves a popular temptation. Yet is it far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.” - William L. Watkinson
I heard this poem recently and found myself laughing, it's absolutely spot on for how I’m feeling about our government right now. It’s a good one to read aloud:
A Charm Against the Language of Politics
by Veronica Patterson
Say over and over the names of things, the clean nouns: weeping birch, bloodstone, tanager, Banshee damask rose. Read field guides, atlases, gravestones. At the store, bless each apple by kind: McIntosh, Winesap, Delicious, Jonathan. Enunciate the vegetables and herbs: okra, calendula.
Go deeper into the terms of some small landscape: spiders, for example. Then, after a speech on compromising the environment for technology, recite the tough, silky structure of webs: tropical stick, ladder web, mesh web, filmy dome, funnel, trap door. When you have compared the candidates’ slippery platforms, chant the spiders: comb footed, round headed, garden cross, feather legged, ogre faced, black widow. Remember that most short verbs are ethical: hatch, grow, spin, trap, eat. Dig deep, pronounce clearly, pull the words in over your head. Hole up for the duration.
I cultivate love by noticing what experiences, activities and thoughts stir my heart and generate a feeling of warm or tender connection. I highly recommend doing this as an antidote to all the crap that’s going on. I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes from Jack Kornfield:
“Wisdom says we are nothing. Love says we are everything. Between these two our life flows.”
“We must look at ourselves over and over again in order to learn to love, to discover what has kept our hearts closed, and what it means to allow our hearts to open.”
May you be safe. May you be happy and healthy, and live with ease. May you be kind to yourself. May you accept yourself as you are.
Oh, and happy Valentine's Day!