Sprawled out on a blanket on my living room floor with columns of books and magazines stacked all around me, I curl into my comfy blanket with my computer keeping my thighs warm to begin this mini journey on love. To the left of one hip is a book on the life of Pablo Neruda that sits open to page 33; tucked under my right foot (some books have spilled over) is a collection of sonnets by Shakespeare — I’m ready for this process.
Around mid-February statistics show that there’s a 40% increase in requests for divorce lawyers, perhaps it has everything to do with the expectations and pressures couples place on the importance of Valentine’s Day. Writing and delving into the topic of love is something I have, on plenty of occasions, savored, but having to do it for the February issue gives me the sweats. If feels as if there’s an expectancy of my delivering some kind of Yogananda-esque epiphany on the subject.
Am I to write about what the ideal gift should be? As if a material possession authentically measures the amount of love an individual feels toward another? Or maybe I should make my focus on how amazing falling in love is? While at times it can be lascivious and even brutal on the most vital organ we have — our heart; all those intoxicating hormones have us confusing lust for love. Why should it only be focused on love that lovers share? For that’s not the only way to feel and give love. And now I ask you to contemplate: What is the most important kind of love, after all?
“There are many ways to love and to give and receive love, but the most important relationship you will ever have in your life on this planet is the love of self.”
In the movie Wild, based on Cheryl Strayed’s 3-month solo Pacific Crest Trail trek after the death of her mother from cancer, and the author’s departure from her self-loathing stage, the character of Strayed jolts the heart like a defibrillator when she delivers the line: “My mother was the love of my life.” Those 8 words felt like un credo in the church of my heart. There are many forms of feeling, experiencing and sharing love. The love of an inamorato or inamorata is not the only one.
I had been commenting to friends for several years now how badly I wanted the experience of attending service at a Southern Baptist Church. Whenever I’d watch old clips of famous rhythm & blues performers like Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, or even the flamboyant Little Richard, where they discussed their musical influence, it always turned to the subject of gospel music they heard in church. I finally had the opportunity to attend service at the oldest African American church in Coconut Grove: Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, founded in 1895.
The red carpet, wooden pews with plush yet worn-down red cushions and cascading matching cinnabar-hued drapery, welcomed (and invigorated) the heart chakra…but when the gospel music began, that’s when, as they say in the south, “church was out.” It was impossible not to sway to the music, or join in, even if mumbled beneath the breath, as the congregation communed in calling forth a higher power through prayer. Some of the church goers were so moved that they stood up with hands in the air, feet tapping and bodies shifting, as if following the beat like a mad lover, all the while attempting to contain their mini-ministerial convulsions.
I imagined I was witnessing what is considered the Holy Spirit moving through them. This too is a form of love. A Course In Miracles reaffirms: “Divine love is not human ‘romantic’ love, it is of a spiritual nature; it is all-encompassing, and unconditional Divine Love is often attributed only to God and/or spiritual beings. Yet as we are all sparks of The Creator (The Divine), and as The Creator IS LOVE, we are therefore also Love. Divine Love is who we really are, yet in our human state and using mostly only our 5 senses, we have forgotten this and we perceive other people and animals and nature as ‘separate’ from ourselves. But we are all made of the same ‘stuff’ and are all therefore ONE and all connected. This is confirmed on a scientific level with Quantum Physics.”
Social Psychologist Dr. Terri Orbuch has stated that love has a physiological foundation, because when we are in love we produce the hormone oxytocin which triggers relaxation and bliss. Divine love incorporates that; we no longer have to rely on another to feel that calmness, that fulfillment…that joy. We can foster it within our spiritual practices. As Oscar Wilde said: “To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.”
How powerful it would be to grasp that concept early on in life and to live by it. But, like most things in life, hindsight is 20/20 and things aren’t always as simple as they seem…at least not initially.
“It takes courage to be vulnerable. You must have a love affair with yourself; from that place we can be love, have love, share love and invite love in.”
As ‘90s supermodel and now activist Carre Otis has shared in her work counseling individuals on how to reclaim their body and their self-esteem, loving yourself is more important than loving someone else. “You must understand that you’re a divine and sacred being,” she says. “It takes courage to be vulnerable. You must have a love affair with yourself; from that place we can be love, have love, share love and invite love in.” And she’s right. How are you going to love somebody else if you can’t even love yourself?
In the end, there are many ways to love and to give and receive love, but the most important relationship you will ever have in your life on this planet is the love of self. If you aren’t currently your own best friend, you must realize that it’s never too late to call yourself BFF. Don’t ever compromise your integrity, your voice, your beliefs; learn to always have your back — as out of the ordinary as that may read.
And yes, as you might have already imagined, I’ve already had my own yogi-esque awakening so I will close with the following quote from Buddha himself: “You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”