Be My Mindful Valentine
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.” – Bruce Lee
Valentine’s Day was invented for the greeting card and florist industries but it caught on because there are few things more worth celebrating than love. Valentine’s Day is usually considered a celebration of romantic love, but I prefer it to be a celebration of love in all of its magnificent manifestations. Mindfulness is an important part as there is nothing more beautiful than mindful love. It’s pure, non-judgmental, and non-contingent love. It’s a completely unfettered outpouring of the heart.
Mindful love is not necessarily expressed with romantic greeting cards, roses, and chocolates. There is nothing wrong with these concrete expressions of love except when they are used as a substitute for the real thing. Too often we go through the motions of buying symbols of love and believing that these are all we need to express our feelings. True expressions of love are not concrete and tangible. They are deep connections and feelings that flow direct from the source and, if the truth be known, are the source. Let this love flow first and if it leads to giving tangible symbols, wonderful. Let it flow in any and every way it wishes to express itself.
The great sage Thích Nhất Hạnh said that “When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?” This sounds so simple, but it is not. What he means by “presence” is much more than being in physical proximity to another. It means to be really there for them, mindfully and totally, with the mind dedicated to them and not off thinking of something else. Rather the mind is totally focused and attentive to the other person. You are deeply listening to their words. You are deeply sensing their non-verbal messages. You are totally committed to them in the present moment. So, on Valentine’s Day offer the people you love your mindful presence. There is no greater way to express your love.
Mindful love is non-judgmental. It is accepting the other person for exactly who and what they are. It is appreciating their humanness with all its flaws, physical, psychological, and social. It is encouraging their aspirations and supporting them in their pursuit of them. It is filled with loving kindness and compassion. Thích Nhất Hạnh teaches “You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.” In other words, there’s no clinging or holding on. If there is, then the love is not mindful love, it is needy love.
Before mindful love can be given to others it must first be given to the self. Each of us has to truly love ourselves before we can freely and completely offer mindful love to another. For many westerners this can be a real challenge as many do not even like themselves. This is frequently due to westerners having unrealistic models, and beliefs and expectations about themselves. It is imperative to overcome this as this lack of self-love is the foundation of needy, demanding, self-centered love. Learn to fully accept your humanness and to understand that what you see as imperfections are nothing more than expressions of your humanity. Begin to accept that you are extraordinary, beautiful, capable, and special; a one of a kind, never to be seen again, exemplar of what it means to be a living, imperfect, human being. Recognize that you are worthy not only of your own love but the love of others. Realize that you are just as capable and competent and simultaneously just as inadequate and ineffectual as everyone else. Learn to love yourself and then you can truly love others.
It is nearly impossible to divorce romantic love from sexuality. From an evolutionary perspective the feelings between members of the opposite sex are driven by the needs to reproduce, making sexuality an integral part of romantic love. Unfortunately, many people separate love and sex, but this is often due to religious morality or societal dictates. There is no need to separate the two, in fact, they both are best when they work together. When mindful love is accompanied with mindful sex, each reinforces the other, producing an upward spiral of positive feelings. Recent research discovered that people are the most mindful at any time in their lives when they are engaged in sex. So, the phrase “mindful sex” may actually be redundant. But, when combined with mindful love, sexuality is a shared giving experience. Each partner is not simply engaged to satisfy their own needs, but to give, be present, and be sensitive to the other, to be non-judgmental and accepting of the other, to share one of life’s extraordinary experiences, and to truly come to understand why the word intercourse is used to label it. With mindfulness sex becomes an expression of deep and satisfying shared love.
Mindful love includes but expands far, far, beyond romantic love. When practiced it extends to everyone around the individual, including family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, acquaintances, and even enemies. As you practice mindful love it will slowly begin to become evident that deep in the core of your being is nothing but love. The more aware you become of this the more that love gushes and envelops you and everyone around you. It even extends to all of existence. Unless you are exceptionally blessed it will take a while to get to this level. But, it doesn’t have to be sought as it is a natural outgrowth of the practice of mindful love.
The words, practice mindful love, are so easy to say. But, it is not easy. It’s very hard. It, like most things about mindfulness, is a practice. We work at it and try to get a little better all the time, but knowing that the ideal is not humanly possible. But the effort itself, is a true expression of mindful love. The practice of loving kindness meditation is a method that can help in the development of mindful love. But, if you work at it, invest in it, and patiently practice you will be deeply rewarded. The more you love, the more you love, the more you are loved, and the happier you become, not just superficial happiness, but the deep and abiding happiness of being a mindful valentine.
“We come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly.” – Sam Keen
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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