Gratitude, Intimacy, Love, Ten Thousand Days

A Valentine’s Day Love Letter

February 14, 2020

Photo: Annie Spratt

Day 1994 – Day 2008

When I was younger, I used to feel like the limp leftover lettuce leaf at the back of the crisper drawer if I was single when Valentine’s Day rolled around.  As I grew up and matured, I transformed my sadness and diminished self-worth that inevitably resulted from the cultural imperative to be in a couple.  I celebrate the sacredness of love in all its forms and offer a middle-finger salute to advertisers and businesses that turn the most sacred act – loving – into an opportunity to sell their regular wares at radically inflated prices.  During the years when I was in a loving relationship, I refused to succumb to the commodification of love (and thankfully, I choose men who express their love regularly, who are self-possessed and who refuse to be bullied into herd mentality).  During those years when I have been single, I still celebrate whole-heartedly.

This year, I am single.  I will have an early dinner with family and then I will be out with some dear friends from the paddling community, who will be gathering to celebrate the visit of a fellow paddler from out of town.  I’m not the least bit sad that I am single.  I recently developed a rather annoying crush on someone.  It is annoying because he’s kind of a dork to me.   Maybe he’s a dork to everyone, but he’s not behaving like a suitor.  I’m a kind person, by nature.   There comes a point when you just have to go against your nature, in order to validate the right messages to your own psyche.  I’m not going to be unkind, but I’m not going to make an effort anymore, unless he does.

I’m grateful for the reminder that I can still get hooked by a man who pushes all the right buttons on my childhood wounds, and that I’m aware of it, and am able to make different choices.  Repetition compulsion is a good phrase because it encapsulates that misguided wish to have a do-over on all the childhood wounds, with the hope that if the outcome could somehow be different as an adult, it would fill the childhood hole.  And, the term compulsion conveys the almost irresistible pull of these dorks when they come along and treat us poorly.  Almost irresistible.  Almost.  I’ve done too much work on myself in this lifetime, and seen how precious this short life is, to spend any more time on unrequited love.  The best way to heal those old wounds, I think, is to give myself what I should have been given from those unavailable and inconsistent caregivers who gifted me with an insecure attachment style.   And so, I’m never grateful to anyone for treating me with indifference or disdain, but I am grateful for the opportunity to face this old nugget, again.

Romantic pain isn’t what you want on Valentine’s Day but I think back to this time 3 years ago, and I was absolutely shattered by a horrendous and sudden breakup.  This is nothing compared to that pain and I’m certainly grateful I’m well beyond that grief.  On the positive side, I’m so grateful for wonderful memories of quirky Valentine’s Days in college, loads of Palentine’s events wherever I’ve roamed, and lovely romantic getaways throughout Europe.

I haven’t really begun the exploration of love and gratitude, but I’m a day late on my self-imposed schedule for posting, and so it might be worth thinking a little bit about love today.  I am reminded of the Sufi Sheikh Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee who talks of the two faces of love.  There is the masculine face that quests and declares: “I love you.”  And, there is the feminine face of love, hidden behind the veil, longing and waiting.  He is, of course, talking of the deep mystery of Agape love but the same applies to all sorts of love, including the romantic love of Eros that we celebrate today.  It applies to all forms of love because real love is the meeting of two souls in Oneness.

He speaks of the way in which our modern society has glorified the masculine and killed off the feminine spirit.  And in my life, I can see this.  Even someone who is inherently feminine, like me, has always approached love as a quest.  But it is not my role to quest, no matter what childhood wounds might tell me.  It is my job to be the feminine force of receptivity.  That feminine face of love has been all but lost in modern society, and the vulnerability that accompanies it, is almost unbearable.  Almost.

When that vulnerability of it becomes too strong, it helps me to remember that the ancient Greeks recognized at least 6 manifestations of love: Agape, Philia, Storge, Philautia, Xenia, and of course, Eros.  Even Eros, when matured, draws the person toward beauty – embodied or not – and not simply toward human attraction. Looking at or making art, watching a sunset or photographing the beauty around us, reading or writing poetry or listening to and making music can all be ways to express and experience the soul’s need for Eros in one’s life.  I’ve been doing all of these things, and doubling down on them recently, because I recognized that my life has become arid where my practice of watching the sunset on the Thames used to be.  And, I need to fill my well with love – even Erotic love – so that my longing can be bittersweet, without being all consuming.

Today, dinner with my family will fulfill my soul’s calling for Storge and Philia while my date with friends further provides more Philia love as well as Xenia.  My personal spiritual practice is centred on Agape and I am painting and photographing much more than I used to, and that just leaves Philautia – the love of self.

A deep experience of Philautia is another aspect of love that gets short shrift in our drive for romance.  I recently heard someone on YouTube suggest that one cure for depression is to get out dating or get into a relationship.  I’m not at all sure about that.  Maybe it depends on the cause of the depression and whether it is really depression or just a bit of loneliness and sadness.  (Edit: I’m not saying not to date or to love someone who is depressed. I am saying that dating or looking for love outside oneself is not a cure for depression)  I think that looking outside of oneself for hits of feel-good hormones like dopamine and oxytocin is a weak strategy for what is essentially a sickness of the soul that can only be cured with deep processing.  If we look outside ourselves for validation of our worthiness to be loved, who are we, when we are rejected?  If we love others only so that they will fill us up, then what is the quality of our love? And, how fragile is our sense of self?

In our times, dating without a solid sense of self-love is a common remedy for hard soul work and the progress toward self-actualization.  Ultimately, it leads to unfulfilling relationships and a terribly transactional approach to love and life.  Nothing ever gets healed, it just gets avoided.

Today, I make a joyful promise to myself that I am done with the quest that reveals itself in the pursuit of the unavailable man and his unattainable love which will never heal me.  I do myself and the “runner” a service by stopping this game and standing still.  I am, with no small amount of fear, surrendering to the forgotten call of the feminine soul which travels with me through time and space, and I am giving in to the mystery of the oneness of the collective unconsciousness.  I am resurrecting the Divine Feminine in my life.

I am longing for you; I am waiting for you.

Photo: Billy Williams

For what are you most grateful, today?

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