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A Valentine to Love

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Valentine's Day has us all thinking about love. We can't escape the ads, the decorations in the stores, the promises of chocolates and roses at every point of purchase. We get caught up in the celebration and romance of this holiday. And yet, we know that there is much more to love than cards and candy.

Love is all there is.

Really. There's nothing else. It's what we're made of. It's what we live for. It's who we are. Love is at the source of all creation. It's something we all strive to understand and that we all have in common. It's what connects us.

Love is our greatest teacher. It is so big, so all-encompassing, that individually we could study it throughout our entire lifetime, and as a society we have studied it throughout the ages. We can learn about love, we can learn from love, we can learn to love.

Bhakti yoga is the path of love. Bhakti yoga teaches us to love everything and everyone, because all of it is divine. Each small thing is a part of the greater whole, and that whole is divine. So when we practice Bhakti, we experience the feeling of love in the recognition of divinity, with everything we come across.

We experience love the most profoundly through our relationships. Although there is only one love, love is expressed in many different ways. There have been sonnets and songs written about love throughout the ages, yet it is still difficult for us to define, because it is so vast. The Indian sages have come up with terms to help us understand some of the many aspects of love.

-Santa: Santa is peaceful, calm, and slow. This is a love we might feel for ourselves. It is gentle, steady, and natural.

-Dasya: Dasya is the love that we might feel toward a teacher, a mentor, someone we respect and want to serve.

-Sakhya: Sakhya is the love we feel for a dear friend. In friendship, there is a kind of equality, a give and take, an exchange of feelings, a sharing of ourselves.

-Vatsalya: Vatsalya is the love that a parent feels for a child. A baby is so innocent, and we can't help but to want to give love to that child, without demands or expectations for anything in return. Children are pure and completely lovable. We recognize this without hesitation.

-Madhura: Madhura is the love of our beloved. This is the "in love" feeling when we are swept off our feet, blissful, devoted, and intense.

Bhakti yoga continually reminds us to "love the highest." When we find ourselves infatuated with our jobs, our cars, any material thing, Bhakti tells us that we are misguided. When all of our human desire for what is new, fun, novel or beautiful is instead directed toward love, we then experience the greatest delight.

In our human experience, love is not all hearts and flowers. Sometimes it's messy, it can be complicated, and it can hurt. Love itself is pure, simple, and perfect, but we tend to muddy it up with our humanity. We question, we expect, we desire, we need. And in our attempts to understand, we come up with definitions, we analyze, we discuss, and then we filter all of this through our past experiences to come up with what we think love should be, would be, could be. And every one of us is doing the same thing, with oftentimes very different results. Jealousy, temptation, broken hearts and bitter break-ups are the inspiration for many songs and screenplays.

But the basic truth is that love is. It just is. Love is beyond definition, beyond space and time, beyond any relationship. Love is a true constant in this world. It does not need to be created, it is always here, it has always been here, and it always will be here. We have only to know this to notice it. Eyes open, mind open, heart open, love is available to us in all of its myriad forms, essential simplicity and spectacular glory.

"Namaste" is a Sanskrit greeting that means: "The Divine in me recognizes and honors the Divine in you." That recognition of the divine is Bhakti, or love. On Valentine's Day, and every day, let's try to practice Bhakti a little more often. Not just with our valentines, but also with everyone we meet. Let's love the highest, starting with ourselves. This is where we start. This is where the seed is planted, where love can grow, and thrive, and blossom within each one of us into a delightful bounty that can be shared. We can feed our souls on this banquet of love. No one need go hungry.

Happy Valentine's Day. Namaste!

For more by Lissa Coffey, click here.

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