How's Your Love Life?

by Sandra Ladley

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Many of us in the U.S. first encountered Valentine’s Day by exchanging valentines in elementary school. Our parents and teachers would purchase boxes of small cartoon-themed valentines and our teachers would set aside time for us to create and deliver them. I remember my fourth-grade teacher making a construction paper mailbox for us to drop them in. She then ‘delivered’ the valentines around the classroom.  So, there we were at a young age considering love in our lives. 

Who would we send valentines to?  

Did we have friends or crushes?  

Would we sign our names to the valentine, or leave a question mark as a secret admirer? 

Who would send us a valentine? 

Did we have friends? 

Was anyone interested in us?  

Or, did we think the whole thing was ridiculous and we’d rather be running around outside, or reading?  

These early Valentine’s Day rituals could be playful and fun - or awful and lonely - a horrible popularity contest.  How were you first imprinted by Valentines?  

What is very much a U.S. commercial holiday has its history in Saint Valentine, a complicated figure from early Christianity. What’s come to us in the name of Saint Valentine are tales of advocacy for love. He may have died around February 14th 270 AD. However, some scholars think he may have died at another time and his commemoration was moved to February to coincide with the feasts and fertility rituals of the early spring pagan celebration Lupercalia. It makes sense that a proclamation and celebration of love would happen in February as it’s the time of year in the Northern hemisphere when we’re still huddled under the covers, waiting with anticipation for the bursting out into the frolic of spring.  As the lyrics from the Cole Porter song say “birds do it, bees do it … let’s do it, let’s fall in love!” 

Our Varied Love Lives 

Our culture is dominated by the message that love is ... love, marriage, and the baby carriage. However, in actuality, we find love in a variety of ways, and it changes over time. Some of us find love in partnership(s), romance, and sexuality. Some of us find it in family and domesticity.  Some of us find it in close friendships. Some of us find it in community and service. Some of us find it in the arts and creative expression. Some of us find it in devotion and spirituality. Some of us find it in the natural world. Where do you find love?  What have I left off this list?

We find love in varied ways because of the conscious and unconscious choices we’ve made based on our passions, circumstances, patterns, and sense of safety. We learn to speak different dialects of love languages and try to learn them from each other, which can be very trying. We win and lose love battles and lick our wounds in heartbreak.  We sing along to love songs, longing to swoon again.   

No matter how we find love and whether we feel like a success or failure in the love department we all experience the DRIVE TO CONNECT throughout our lives. This desire for loving connection is deep in our human experience, and we recognize it when we feel it. How would you describe it? How does a loving connection feel in your mind, heart, and body?  

We also know the experience of longing for love, longing for connection, and how we experience this varies too.  It could be named, for example, a dis-ease within ourselves, loneliness, neediness, anxiety, depression, numbness, craving, loss, sadness, grief, and isolation. 

How would you describe your experience of longing for love? 

What does it feel like?  What do you tend to do when it comes up?  

Do you wish it could be different? 

What would you like to change? 

Do you feel stuck? Where are you holding back? 

How can you move on?   

Relationships Make for a Happy Life 

It has been shown that loving connections are essential to our well-being, regardless of our temperament and age. The New York Times recently published a series on happiness. The first article in the series cited the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the biggest multigenerational in-depth study of human happiness in the world. This study has shown that strong relationships make for a happy life.

Karuna Training is Relationship Training 

In Karuna, we work on strengthening our relationships: our relationship with ourselves, our relationship with others, and our relationship as part of a community.  

Strengthening our loving relationship with ourselves

In Karuna, we start on the meditation cushion, sitting down to notice the rise and fall of the stories we tell ourselves and hear the voices we have going in our heads.  For example, when it comes to love, things like ‘I’m unlovable, there’s something wrong with me, I’m unworthy, I’m stuck, I’m condemned.’ We quickly recognize these voices of self-criticism that Tara Brach calls the toxic gas we’re all breathing.  We become familiar with the stories we replay over and over and our fantasies, perhaps developing a sense of humor – ‘Oh that again.’ We settle down, relax, and begin to practice Maitri, making friends with ourselves just as we are, and open to our vulnerable hearts. 

In Karuna, we also look at how we care for ourselves, the healthy - and not-so-healthy – habits and rituals of our everyday lives. How we practice self-care and extend loving kindness to ourselves is a good foundation for our love lives, always a work in progress.  

Strengthening our loving relationship with others

In Karuna, we tap into the fact that we are continually sensing and feeling others as a source of human strength.  We train in the practice of compassionate exchange, a form of extending natural warmth and deep listening. We open to another person as they share and practice listening without judgment and without giving advice or fixing, which helps them to find their own way.  We so rarely hold space for each other in this manner and it can be incredibly healing.  

We also do the traditional deep Buddhist compassion practice of Tonglen, the practice of actively connecting with the pain we feel in ourselves, in others, and in the world. We train in reversing our usual tendency to push away the pain, bring it closer, and extend the ease and loving kindness that arises in our hearts, a form of natural ventilation.  

Strengthening our loving relationship with a community 

We’re living such isolated lives during this time. We feel lucky when we can make meaningful connections online and in person. When we meet in person it’s often behind masks with social distancing and without handshakes and hugs. How will we adapt and find our relationship with a community over the long run? In Karuna, we gather in an open circle in deepening week retreats and online. We practice speaking the truth of our experience, and witness and hold each other without crosstalk.  This sacred circle practice is time-tested and transformative for our relationship life.         

In closing

Despite these fraught times I continually see people falling in love with the world in big and small ways. I see people opening their hearts and experimenting with where they find love and intimacy. In the Karuna Live on Saturday, February 18th we’ll have a chance to look at how we manifest our love lives, how we feel about it, and how we might like to change. It’s never too late. Spring is in the air.   

From the heart,

Sandra Ladley

Article written by Sandra Ladley

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