“The minute I heard my first love story – I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere – they’re in each other all along.” (Rumi)
The Hindu god of love is named Kama. My favorite story of Kama is told by the classical Sanskrit poet Kalidasa in the text known as the Kumarasambhava. Once upon a time, there was a demon named Taraka. Taraka had been promised that he could only be killed by a child of Shiva. The god Shiva is the great practitioner of yoga. He wears cremation ashes, is emaciated and wanders in cremation grounds. So the demon decided that surely he will live forever because no one would ever become the wife of Shiva, and therefore Shiva will never have a child, but there was a goddess named Parvati who, in a past life, had already been a wife of Shiva. She took birth as child of the mountains: her father was Himavat, the Himalayas. She was very beautiful, and, from an early age, she loved the god Shiva. She recited his name, and rejoiced in his presence, and there were special markings on her body that foretold that she would become the wife of the great Yogi, the god Shiva.
Parvati, assisted by Kama, the god of love, set out to try and seduce Shiva, to lure him into marriage. She tries with her beauty, her radiance, her sensuality, but Shiva only becomes angry that his meditation has been disturbed. So Parvati begins to seduce him by her own practice as a yogini. She becomes as strong a practitioner as he, and she wins him through the heat of her own spiritual practice. Shiva, who wears the moon in his hair, says: “From this moment, O Parvati, I am your slave, gained by the heat of your spiritual practice, O woman of healing beauty”, and all the weariness of her effort left her in that instance, for out of exhaustion, once desire is satisfied, a new strength arises.” They were married, and the poet Kalidasa, in Chapter 6 verse 91, tells us: “With the day and the night the same to him, Shiva spent his time making love, and he passed twenty-five years as if it were a single night, and his thirst for the pleasure of loving never became any less in him, as the fire that burns below the ocean is never satisfied by the rolling waters.”
Kama, the Hindu god of love, shoots with an arrow and a bow like Cupid, the winged matchmaker well-known to those in the West who recognise Valentine's Day. Cupid is inspired by the Roman god of love, desire, attraction and affection. He is the son of Venus, the Goddess of Love, and Mars, the god of war. His Greek counterpart is Eros, and the one who is shot by Cupid's arrow is filled with uncontrollable erotic desire.
Cupid, they say, has wings, because lovers are flighty and likely to change their minds.
His symbols are the arrow and torch, because love wounds and inflames the heart. Cupid carries two kinds of arrows. One has a sharp golden point and the other with a blunt tip of lead. A person wounded with the golden arrow is filled with uncontrollable desire, but the one struck with lead desires only to flee. In both ancient and later art, Cupid is often shown riding a dolphin, perhaps portraying how swiftly love moves in its wild ride.
The modern mid-February festival of love and romance is, like Imbolc, inspired in part by the Roman festival called Lupercalia. It was a fertility festival celebrating the coming of spring.
The mid-February fertility festival becomes Christianized in the 5th century by Pope Galaceus who declared February 14 to be Valentine's Day, the day of St. Valentine.
There is more than one St. Valentine canonized by the church. One of these St. Valentines was a defiant Roman priest who lived in the third century under the Roman Emperor Claudius the second.
Claudius was an ambitious ruler, and his armies required vast armies of men to abandon their families for long periods of time. It meant that there was a military that was often downhearted and homesick. So determined was Claudius to strengthen his army by stripping it of love that he banned marriage altogether.
There was, we are told, a priest named Father Valentine who thought the ban was unjust, and he defied the ban by continuing to marry young lovers in secret. The Emperor eventually found out about the priest's actions, and arrested him and sentenced him to death. It is believed that young couples that he had secretly married visited him in his cell, passing him flowers and notes through the bars as symbols of their gratitude and appreciation. The condemned Father Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, and, on February 14th, the day he was executed, he passed the young woman a note which was signed “from your Valentine”.
So, it is said, the tradition was born.
It's in the 1300’s, under the influence of Chaucer who fostered the idea of courtly love, that this holiday in the spring – at the beginning of the bird’s mating season - becomes clearly associated with romance. By the 1400’s, the first Valentine's Day greeting cards had appeared, and by the 1600’s people in Great Britain had begun the tradition of exchanging Valentine's Day letters and cards. Valentine's Day cards begin to be mass produced in the 1840’s. Today, one billion cards are exchanged on Valentine's Day along with, I'm told, some 220 million red roses.
In the spring, when life begins to return to the world, our attention moves to the celebration of love, with cards, and flowers, and chocolates, and the sweetness of things: this flow of the sweetness of life itself that we know, and we feel, and perhaps - at times like these - we remember even better how to see.
“If you press me to say why I love him, I can say no more than because he is he, and I am I”
- Michel de Montaigne.
“Love is never lost. If not reciprocated, it will flow back and soften and purify the heart.”
“You never lose by loving. You always lose by holding back.”
--Barbara De Angeles.
“Those who love deeply never grow old. They may die of old age, but they die young.”
-Sir Arthur Pinero
Love is a verb, a behavior, an action: to love, honor and cherish. It's part of what is implied by the Hindu term “bhakti”. The word is commonly used to name the loving relationship between the human and a god such as Krishna.
Bhakti. The word is derived from BHAJ- which means “to participate”. “To love, honor and cherish”: it is to participate, to engage fully in life itself by bearing witness, by showing up, engaging fully, and participating in the life of another and the life of ourselves.
The cards, the chocolates, the flowers - at the time of the old English mating season of birds: the fertility festival that is Valentine’s Day - at the beginning of the beginning of spring - is a celebration of the sweetness of things, the sweetness of being alive, the sweetness of life itself. We discover this sweetness – represented by the chocolates, the flowers and the cards - when we connect and participate in our experience of being simultaneously both separate and one. To love, honor, and cherish: it is showing up with patience, good humor and the strength and resilience that comes from the seeds of that basic meditation posture with its strong back and open heart, a heart open to receive whatever it is that comes and then to work with it. In bearing witness, we participate and then draw out this sweetness, that inner taste of things we call love
For a long time now, I have been a proponent of the “birth week”. A birth-day is just too much pressure. Something goes wrong, something messes up, and somehow there is a loss that - even if we wait a whole other year – we will never again be able to set it right.
The solution is very simple: welcome the birth week! It gives time to set things right in the moment, to try and help what we wish, and what is, to begin to be able to match.
So I offer this suggestion, that - in the same way we can celebrate a birth week - we also celebrate Valentine's Week, or at least Valentine's weekend. Let’s consider celebrating Valentine's Week: to love, honor, and cherish, to participate and show up, to share cards and letters and chocolate as we move towards Spring and remember that sweetness of being alive.
If you are inspired and if you wish, consider choosing what it is that you can do to offer this gift of sweetness for yourself. Your relationship with yourself is your longest term relationship. How can you honor, cherish and celebrate that relationship with yourself this Valentine's week. Then if you are inspired, if you wish, choose someone in your life that you very actively appreciate, and choose some way this Valentine's Week that you can acknowledge and celebrate the sweetness of the presence that person brings to your life.
Oh and then - if it registers on your vibe-o-meter, if you're inspired and if you feel it - consider choosing someone that you would like to invite to participate in your life in a deeper, dynamic and more engaged way. Celebrate that sweetness by leaping and asking for a date. It can be intimate, romantic or otherwise; it can be with someone that has four feet if you wish. Invite that person on a date this Valentine's week.
Remember, as you celebrate love, that life itself is worthy of honor, dignity and respect. You are alive. Therefore, you are also worthy of honor, dignity and respect.
To show up – to honor and cherish ,and participate in the flow of life itself - is to taste that inner sweetness we call love.
Says George Edward Moore: “The hours I spend with you, I look upon as a sort of a perfumed garden, a dim twilight, and a fountain singing to it. You and you alone make me feel that I am alive. Others, it is said, have seen angels, but I have seen you, and you are enough”.
Copyright © 2019, Adela Sandness