I Want a Yoga Kind of Love...
Yesterday was Valentine's Day, and along with all the mushy posts about partners and kids, all the expected hearts and cupid's arrows, there was a whole bunch of cynicism and sass. And I get it, why one would feel resistance to Valentine's Day as a corporate-created holiday designed to celebrate (and spend money on) a standardized version of love.
I know that the typical Valentine's Day message is that romantic (hetero-normative) love is #1 and that being single is some kind of unhappy failure. I'm married and I still think that's pretty lame.
Speaking of being married though, a few months before my wedding, a friend of mine asked me how I was reconciling myself with joining the institution of marriage. He doesn't have a particularly high opinion of marriage, and he expected that I would share his views that it was just an unnecessary bind on our natural human freedom. My answer was that even though there are a lot of things I don't agree with about the institution of marriage (like the tradition of seeing wives as property, ahem) it was my opportunity to create a partnership that I find inspiring, nourishing, even freeing. I felt like I could shape my marriage to reflect my values, rather than reject the idea of marriage outright.
Just because I don't like the way some people, or even most people, practice something doesn't mean that I have to abandon it all together.
Back to Valentine's Day... In yogic philosophy, romantic love for a partner - even the most sensual, passionate love - is considered the lowest expression of love. That's because it contains the most ego. It's possessive and conditional. If our partner leaves us for someone else or acts in a way we cannot tolerate, the love is quickly ruined.
As yogis, we aim for higher expressions of love, such as maitri or friendship. This is the unconditional regard and support we offer someone that we consider a friend. It reminds me of my friend Anne from high school who used to make construction paper and glitter valentines for all her friends and leave them on our desks when everyone else was buying single roses and teddy bears for whoever they had a crush on that week. I can't remember any of the "romantic" gifts I got in high school, but I still remember Anne's cards. That's the power of maitri. I've seen lots of people bringing this type of love into V-Day in the last few years. Personally, I always send a few galentines to some of my fave ladies to tell them how much I appreciate having them in my life.
But even more elevated than maitri is the practice of bhakti. Bhakti is when your feelings of maitri begin to extend beyond your personal friends to encompass all beings. This is also known as karuna or compassion.
The experience of true bhakti is heart-overflowing, stranger-hugging, pure and generous L-O-V-E.
It feels amazing, and it feels even better to give it away. That's because the purpose of bhakti is to get you in touch with the highest part of yourself that recognizes the sacredness and beauty in all things. Which makes you capable of recognizing the sacred beauty in yourself.
To practice bhakti means to infuse all of your daily actions with a sense of love and reverence. How would you treat others if you genuinely saw them all as dear friends? How would you treat yourself if you saw yourself the same way? How would you treat your home? Your food? Your planet?
Some practical ideas for expressing bhakti are:
- bring a bunch of fresh flowers into your home, or give a bunch to someone else
- set up an altar with objects that are meaningful to you and inspire feelings of love for others and for the world
- give someone the gift of genuine listening without trying to fix or judge their situation
- write someone (or yourself) a love note
- create something beautiful in a public space
- pick up litter with the intention of showing respect and care for the earth
And those are all ways of celebrating a day of love that I can totally buy into....
What ways can you think of to express maitri and bhakti in your life? No need to wait for next February 14th!
With so much love,