What desire prompts the child to push that red construction paper Valentine into that little envelope this time of year? What hope lives in the heart of every youngster trotting off to school on Feb. 14? Could it be the same thing that rekindles yearning in the majority of Americans who believe finding that "romantic other" will bring their greatest source of happiness? But, even when romantic love is found, does it last?
According to researcher Barbara Fredrickson, the answer is no. Author of Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become, as reported in The Atlantic, suggests research chalking love up to mirror neurons, oxytocin, and vagal tone.
Not too sexy, is it? The scientist part of yours truly rejoices that research is identifying aspects of human nature that can be measured. But this is not the whole story when it comes down to report of the human condition. We are more than the sum of our parts.
All I need do is reflect on couples I know who have had long and rich marriages to suspect love is more than meets the eye. One cousin has been married, happily, for 59 years. His older sister has been happily married for nearly 70 years. Both couples have endured challenges that have only deepened their connection to themselves, one another, and life. They are not in love starvation. Pay attention to that word, "connection." Contrast the above against the following.
Reports of neglect, isolation and depression are rising in America. So, it should not be surprising that the impact of love, and its absence, warrants our attention. According to Bill O'Hanlon, at a conference I attended in May 2012, "65 percent of Americans spend more time with their technology than their spouses."
Why would it be surprising then, that loneliness is so common, even amongst those who have found their mate? More importantly, what can be done to rectify the situation?
Says O'Hanlon: "Connection is the key element to healing." For those of us who are part of the 65 percent, one surefire way to fire up the love scene this year is to put all technology aside this Valentine's Day, unless it is directly related to some marvelous plan for your loved one. Ouch. I know this hurts, but recall the statistics and heed the warning. There's nothing that says "love" more than paying attention, being present. Your mirror neurons will rejoice. Just saying to a loved one, "I'm putting aside my phone/iPad/it's gotten in the way of letting you know how much you are loved," can get the oxytocin and vagal tone doing the happy dance.
What is the message? Many years ago, one winter, I was given a teaching dream. The so-called "2-million-year-old man" appeared and said: "If the universe is ever to evolve, all people must learn to be in good relationship with all things." All things? Even the people who are hardest to love? Even those days when the incoming tally of valentines is scant? Even when you are not feeling so fine and dandy about who is in your life and who isn't at the moment?
Step 1: Begin where you are. Take a love inventory. Who do you find hardest to love? What is it about them that are most difficult for you? These people reflect our own shadow. How can you ease up on your own self-judgment? This is probably the most difficult work of transformation: to "love it like it is."
Part 2: Make another list of the people easiest for you to love. Their qualities? This, too, is part of the shadow. Let them know they are easy to love and why. Sure, it will take time, but it is a gift for you and them. Just what is more important than letting them know today? You just never know.
Here's where the words of Henry David Thoreau may be helpful: "What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us." That "something" to which Thoreau refers, I cannot help but believe, is beyond the domain of physiology and biochemistry. That "something beyond" is mysterious, compelling, and knows no words. It lives in the territory of your heart as wisdom, the divine feminine that knows how to "love us up" better than anything, if we lay aside our distractions, and practice in the quietude, letting it arise. There is no more fruitful practice for a lifetime.
Step 2: How have you allowed your troublesome person/s to diminish your sense of self in your own thinking? What causes our undoing is not what is happening, or not happening, but rather, what we choose to make of it. Our greatest suffering comes when we decide to make ourselves small, reducing our self-worth. Never, ever allow yourselves to be diminished by someone else's low opinion of them.
A very effective practice to help comes from the Buddhist tradition. Place yourself in whatever atmosphere allows you to feel centered. Bring your awareness to the faces of the people to whom you have hardened your heart. Imagine sending each person kindness, love and compassion. Continue the practice until you feel a lightening in your heart. Breathe deeply. Release that image that face and repeat for each person. Wish each person kindness, love, compassion and peace. Do likewise for yourself.
Step 3: Expand your belief in your "love-ability." There's plenty to love about you! Make a list, even if it gets down to counting your freckles or aging spots. I'm serious. Keep a running list. Add to it daily. This will help your doubting Thomas when you are in a funk and need evidence that you are love-worthy. So, let's get started. Hey, you got up this morning, didn't you? Put it on the list. You cared enough about yourself to brush your teeth, right? Put it on the list. You've decided to look at what is love-able about you, rather than dwell in junk, right? Deciding to base your well being on somebody else's evaluation, or failed action, is a set-up for disaster. This is the single biggest reason behind hardening our heart, which helps no one. As Howard Thurman puts it: "Harden not my heart."
Step 4: Step it up, a little! Spread some secret love around this place. Heaven knows the world needs more sparkle and good surprises. Become a secret ambassador of love. The following will give you a few ideas just to get you started.
Take a piece of paper. Fold it in quarters. On each quarter of the paper, write a few lines that say something encouraging, such as: "Someone loves you and is too shy to say it out loud." Or, "I want you to know you are special, on Valentine's Day and every day." Or, "Know that you make a difference to me and others." Or, "Your smile goes a long way to warm my heart." You get the idea. Now, dare to go out into the world and leave, anonymously, these notes where people will find them. It helps to put them into appealing envelopes with some sort of message on the outside, such as, "Just for You on Valentine's Day." Note your response in making them, and leaving them. There's information here for you.
St. Germain has said: "In order for an individual to consciously let go of a thing, he must have something that he feels stronger to which he can anchor." To let go of our fear of vulnerability, and allow love exchange, we must practice whatever gets us back into flow, back into life. This means birthing a deeper level of love through the heart.
Step 5: The biggie. Write the best Valentine's love letter you've ever written. Pretend you are writing it to the most loving, kind, compassionate, inspiring, connecting person imaginable. Reread, and add more details. You are writing to your ideal Valentine's self. Date it. Mail it to yourself today. Open when most needed. It is far too easy to hang on to old stories you tell yourself about your flaws and failings. They are boring. Find something about your best self that stirs your heart. Focus with clear intention on embracing this part of your nature and celebrate this bigger part of who you are. We cannot love anyone more than we have learned to love in ourselves.
Love Letter to You for Valentine's Day:
How happy I am that Valentine's Day has come at last! It is far too easy to get distracted by the demands of life and keep you waiting. This is not right. Forgive me for the times I've left you waiting. If truth be told, it is your heart, your compassion, your humor, your joy, your differences, your sense of wonder that enrich my life more than I can say. You know how to be in good relations with life, with nature, and with the process of growth and connection. Although we do not live next door, (as I wish we did), the fact that you are on this earth, that you are part of my family enriches my life enormously. Keep shining. People like you make people like me rejoice, for you are part of life's real gold.
Today and every day, I say thank you, my friend, for being you, exactly as is.
Be the Love,
Your turn: What helps you feel loved? What does Valentine's Day mean to you? Favorite memory? Thank you for forwarding this.
Thank you for continuing to consider and pass along this year's Love Project 2013, which can be found on carabarker.com. We have only nine more children to match so really could use your assist in forwarding.
For more by Dr. Cara Barker, click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.