On Monday (Valentine’s Day) there will be as many seeking love or letting go of its disappointment as there will be celebrating it. There will also be those who contentedly choose their own company or perhaps commit to a love even greater than their own personal attraction.
I was reflecting upon these different perspectives on relationship last weekend, following a performance of the Dave St-Pierre Company award winning performance – Un peu de tendresse bordel de merde! at the Fleck Dance Theatre in Toronto. This was a riveting study of the need for tenderness and the painful yet undeniable desire we have for love, while we buttress ourselves against its injury. The narrator, who dialogued directly with the audience about our love obsession and challenged us on the vulnerability within us she abhorred, eventually succumbed to the loneliness she herself felt behind her wall of superiority. While putting the pieces back together again, she witnessed many forms of love available. In the end, after her judgment, avoidance, and collapse, she returned to embrace the happiness and self-love her single life afforded her, but with a warm certainty that one finds only having openly considered and explored all the possibilities.
It would seem a good occasion during this annual festival of love we refer to as Valentine’s Day to fully honour all the many meaningful paths our heart takes us in search of the deeply rewarding experience of love.
Physically, tender physical touch calms us and helps us cope with stress, moderating our heart rate and improving our immune response. Biologically, the euphoria we feel when we fall in love is mother nature’s gift; the release of dopamine in the brain encourages us to pick and remain with one mate, thus improving the likelihood of survival of our offspring. Psychologically, the sense of a shared future and close companionship is rewarding and fills us with optimism. Spiritually, the illusion of separateness dissolves when we allow ourselves to experience love, we are able to transcend our ego to realize a devotion to something greater than our individual concerns.
what are the many ways we can experience love?
The wheel of life appears in the teaching of many indigenous peoples around this world. It would seem a good place for us to look if we wish to find a model for all possible ways love can be experienced.
The following are my impressions of love, overlaying onto the wheel what I know about love and the challenges we face with it. See if you can find yourself here, if you can recognize what you are currently learning about love in your life. There is always more to learn of the wheel of life and I encourage you to work with it.
Four directions concern relationship with oneself, stages of personal development:
We begin in the southeast, the place of self-concept. It is here that love for oneself must be born and sustained or we will endlessly be seeking that affirmation in another, ever disappointed. For some, this is of profound importance, to develop a deep and meaningful relationship with self. To truly know the pleasure of one’s own company is a great gift.
love of one’s dream
What is our relationship with our own sacred dream, the greatest vision we hold for ourselves this lifetime? That is found in the southwest. If we are seeking fulfillment from another rather than following our own heart, we will inevitably feel resentment. To love ourselves we must birth and love our own sacred dream. If you feel an emptiness weighing you down, this may be a time to explore what you are meant to do with your life.
learning the lessons of love
Love and loss of love is a mirror to us. From the outcome of every interaction with another we receive a northwest mirror or karmic lesson to help us understand ourselves better, to help us grow. Through our love of self and our commitment to our own personal growth we can examine those patterns in our life which no longer serve us and which we are ready to let go of. We can choose to maintain our highest self-image, identify what is of greatest personal value to us and ensure that all our actions have integrity to that end. This is our commitment to step into dharma.
love that trusts in the universe
The final teacher in our personal journey of self-love is chaos. How do we handle disappointment when our vision fails, our dreams seemingly dashed? It is, in fact, self-love that allows us to feel secure while letting go, trusting the universe to carry us in the flow of life to the place we need to be even when we cannot imagine what is to come. Because our vision comes from ego, it will always remain more narrow and limited than the vision Great Spirit holds for us. We must trust that and, as the Serenity Prayer suggests, have the courage to change the things we can, the serenity to accept what we cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference. Buddhism refers to this as non-attachment.
The remaining four directions concern relationship with another, in stages of deepening intimacy.
In the south, the direction of the heart, we experience trust and innocence. This is a youthful, blissful experience of love for another. It lifts the spirit. What is required is to leap into the relationship rather than hold back in fear. Create a joyful story for yourself about this relationship.
Walk to the west, the direction of earth and of substance, and we will find a commitment that deepens our relationship with another. When we see the human-ness in each other, the good and the bad, we can experience a compassion that provides us with the energy and determination to remain present in difficult times, to work through the most difficult moments, to remember that our lover is human, vulnerable, and as much in need as we are.
There is a time within every relationship when we must recognize that our lover has an equally valid perspective. Our conflict offers us the opportunity to learn. If we fail to do so, the relationship will be strained under a competition of egos. This is the relationship in the north, the direction of air, the mental realm. Our guide is the hawk, bringer of the gift of clarity and multiple viewing points. Recognize that our vision is broadened as a consequence of conflicts with our partner. The challenge is to use open questions and empathy to understand our partner rather than judge them. Learn to see the world through another’s eyes. When our mind can accommodate more than one belief system, we have matured enough to accommodate a long-term relationship.
The east is our connection with Great Spirit. Through love we can find a connection to something that is greater than the ‘little me’ self. The challenge is to take responsibility to look after our own needs first. The universe is available to help, we can send our prayer to Great Spirit on the wings of the eagle. This frees us to connect with one another without making that person responsible for our healing. Choosing then to step into our relationship with our needs filled, the illusion of separateness dissolves; the I and the Thou become one, the I-Thou that Martin Buber named. We discover the God in each other.
so whichever direction you find yourself experiencing love today,
I encourage you to celebrate that you are an open-hearted human striving for love in all its facets, no one more meaningful than another. Recognize what type of love you are creating in your life in this moment, whether for yourself or another, and embrace it. If you are exploring self-love, take yourself out on a date. If you developing love of your dream, create a collage of what you would like to do in the year ahead, if you are the learning from love, create a journal and reflect upon how you have grown in each of your previous relationships, how they have made you a better person, and to develop a love that places its trust in the universe, create a day of relaxation, have a bath, read a good book and turn your worries over to spirit. If you are in romantic love, write a poem to your love, if you are developing compassion, give him or her a massage, if you are expanding through love, acknowledge to your partner all you have learned from them, and if you are deepening your devotion to your partner, create a quiet moment together, put the kids to bed, make sure there are no pressing needs or interruptions and simply appreciate each others presence, experiencing a moment of oneness.
In the wheel of life, there is no wrong place to be.
For all my relations,