"Gaining Divine Love, the Yogin realizes his/her perfection and Divinity and becomes thoroughly contented."
-Narada Bhakti Sutras 1.4
There is a tradition said to go back to fifth-century Ireland, in the time of Saint Patrick and Brigid of Kildare, whereby women may make marriage proposals -- but only in leap years. A highly disputed law passed in 1288 by Queen Margaret of Scotland levied fines on the man if the proposals were refused. The man would, in order to soften the blow of rejection, pay in compensation one kiss and a silk gown (not a bad deal actually). But because the men felt they were at too great a risk for unwanted overtures, the tradition tightened, restricting proposals to only the modern leap year day, February 29th, also called "Intercalary Day."
As if the month of February, with the imminent pressure of Valentine's Day isn't enough! What we humans do for love. Like hungry tigers, we go out on the hunt and we'll eat it up in any form; romantic love, parental love, sibling love, love for a pet, adoration from our peers, approval from our teachers -- we'll take anything. Most often, we don't get love in the form we'd like it, but even if we do, somehow we feel like it isn't enough.
It's like filling up a bucket that has a hole in the bottom -- no matter how much comes in we are left empty. If we can't contain love, we come to the popular assumption that there is not enough love in the world. We experience an additional discordance when the people around us are telling us that they love us, but we just don't feel it somehow. No matter what people say, it just doesn't change how we feel on the inside.
This disconnect is a function of looking for love in all the wrong places -- outside ourselves. The only way to get love is to give it -- to OURSELVES first. No matter how much love people pour onto us, we won't feel any different if we are not loving ourselves.
Yoga has an answer for this -- it's called 'Bhakti Yoga.'
"Only love of the absolute, eternal Truth is the greatest; this love, indeed is the greatest."
-Narada Bhakti Sutras 1.81
Westerners have one day, Valentine's Day, dedicated to love. For the Bhaktas -- every day is Valentine's Day. Bhakti is the practice -- and it does take practice -- of unconditional love.
The practice of Bhakti often takes the form of 'Guru Devotion,' which can scare people. ("Guru" is Sanskrit for "teacher." The word literally translates to 'dispeller of darkness,' or 'one who brings light.') The idea of loving a teacher, who doesn't speak your language and in some cases, that you never physically meet, can freak some people out. Why would you, a nice normal, smart person, offer your love to someone that doesn't even know your name? The concept of Guru Devotion, or love of the teacher, is that the guru loves the devotee, the "Bhakta," unconditionally.
Almost everyone has some conditions on their love. We are humans, even the greatest love has its highs and lows. But an enlightened master is beyond these karmas. The master looks past our foibles, mistakes and imperfections to see what is pure in us. They love the REAL us, the being beneath our "samskaras" (repeated mistakes.) The guru doesn't care about the list of successes or failures, they love all beings, equally and unconditionally. Unconditionally.
"Primarily, it [Divine Love] is got only through the grace of great souls, or through a slight measure of Divine Grace."
-Narada Bhakti Sutras 1.38
When the guru shows us that unconditional love is possible, then we might, for a moment, be able to feel that pure love for ourselves. When we risk loving ourselves, we inspire others around us to do the same. When they love themselves, they spread that love to those around them, and so on.
This may not be an easy task, but like anything else we practice, the more we do it, the better at it we get. Practicing love of ourselves is our way of "plugging up the bucket," so that whatever form love comes to us, we are able to receive it, to feel it -- to share it.
And if that fails, ladies, on February 29th, try out a marriage proposal!