Editor’s Note: This is a contribution by Alexander Dunlop
“Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here.” ~Marianne Williamson
Valentine’s Day. Yes, that day—the much maligned, much cherished, much hated, and much misunderstood day of the year.
I remember being traumatized in adolescence. Not only were we supposed to, according to peer-reviewed social norms, like people and get liked back on this holiday, my school made us do Valentine’s day card/candy exchanges.
We exchanged, in class, little pre-packaged cards and those infamous heart-shaped candies stamped with subtle expressions like “be mine.”
Do you recall these candy hearts that I’m describing? They come in variety packs, taste like chalk, and have words stamped on them like “marry me” and “real love.”
How traumatizing it was for me to pick the right heart to give to the right person in my class—I didn’t want to give the wrong person the wrong heart—and then, for the one girl I did have a crush on, to sheepishly hand her the candy that said, “kiss me.”
Part of the trouble was: Which candy heart to give to my friends that wasn’t too sissy or too heart-wrenchingly sappy? Certainly the one that said, “let’s cuddle” was not the right one.
But the worst part was feeling bad for the loner who didn’t get any candy exchanges and frantically trying to dig up one to give him that didn’t say “hottie” or “crush on you.”
And then after giving him something, having him give a candy back that said “best friends forever.” (Which now I find touching, as I write this. But, at the time, only found it to be extremely disconcerting.)
And so it is that we all grew up, those of us in American culture, with an awkward, adolescent impression of Valentine’s Day.
And this impression has remained stamped on our hearts like the messages of those silly heart-shaped candies. Our entire belief system about this holiday has been formed by these adolescent foibles that first stamped our impression of it.
Even as adults we sometimes still have the same visceral reaction to Valentine’s Day as we did when we were adolescents. We have been programmed with a mixture of fear and false expectations around it. And this holiday, as such, has remained entirely in its adolescence.
What I want to do is reclaim Valentine’s Day. Let’s reclaim it as a holiday of real Love. Let’s reclaim it as a holiday to express the true meaning of love.
Picture the famous image of Cupid sending an arrow to pierce the heart. This ancient image of love has come to be synonymous only with romantic obsessions.
I propose, however, that the real meaning of this Cupid image is piercing the heart to release the flow of love in our lives.
So, underneath the adolescent mish-mash about Cupid and Valentine’s Day, I think there is actually a beautiful holiday waiting to be discovered. It’s a holiday about real love. It’s a holiday to remind us to share love in our lives—that love is only love when it’s shared.
The heart must be opened for love to flow out. That, I believe, is the meaning of this day.
How can we make love flow in our life? I propose these 4 Steps to reclaim Valentine’s Day:
1. Take heart-opening breaths.
This is a modern-day variation on the Cupid-arrow theme. If you want to open your heart, emotionally, learn to open your heart, physically.
While sitting or standing, take a deep breath in through the nose. As you inhale, relax your shoulders, roll them back and arch your chest open, pressing your rib cage up and out. Visualize your heart being pulled out and open, expanding. Exhale. Relax the chest. Repeat.
2. Put your hand on your heart and say “I love you” out loud.
This is not the pledge-of-allegiance (another unfortunate adolescent memory). This is you speaking love to yourself.
You know why our hearts stay closed, right? It’s because we’re afraid to love. And there may be many stories we have about why it’s “smart” to hide our hearts. But the truth is that this hardens our hearts, and makes it impossible for love to flow into our lives.
Place your hand on your heart. Close your eyes. Speak into your heart. Say, “I love you.” Out loud. Practice saying it in all different tones of expression. Whisper it. Say it emphatically. Say it like Christopher Walken. But make sure you say it in all its variety. Repeat Step 1.
3. Call or write to your friends and family and tell them you love them.
Here is the heart, pun intended, of the reclamation process. To reclaim Valentine’s Day as a holiday of real love, let’s actually spread a big banquet of love in our lives.
You know how we do for Thanksgiving, the holiday for gratitude? Well, we are claiming Valentine’s Day as the holiday for a banquet of love. The feast in this case is a feast for the heart, not the belly.
To make a big feast of love in your life, start with an easy one. Call someone, for whom it’s easy for you to say, “I love you.” And then move down your list. It will get easier as you go, I promise. Remember the Cupid image. Once your heart is pierced, then it flows easily.
4. Forgive anyone you need to forgive, especially those in step 3.
Keep in mind what the word forgive means. It means giving before you get something.
It doesn’t mean waiting for an apology. Or calling and demanding they explain their actions. And, this is important, it also does not mean calling up and telling them you forgive them and then launching into a long monologue about how they hurt you “but it’s okay because now I forgive you.” No.
The word isn’t post-giveness. The word means to give first, as in giving the right-of-way at the stop sign. You give way first. And then, you don’t yell at the other driver afterwards telling him how great you are because you gave first and what a jerk he is because he didn’t give first.
You simply give. You open your heart first. You choose to let love flow. Why? Because you want love in your life.
You may need to repeat steps 1 and 2 several times before approaching steps 3 and 4.
And now you know how to reclaim Valentine’s Day as a holiday of real, true love.
May this special holiday bring a banquet feast of real love into your life.
Photo by Rebecca L. Daily