After a Bloody Valentine’s Day, A Meditation on the Human Heart

Many times before in human history violence and mayhem have prevailed, people have wailed and groaned with fear and pain as anger and hatred have roiled society. We’re in such a time now, of personal and political suffering, compounded by the planetary environmental imbalance that threatens, tsunami-like, to blow us all away.

Literally and figuratively, this is a bleak, frightening time to be alive, and everyone I know is feeling the weight of everything that is going wrong. The daily news of mass shootings, civil wars, refugee crises, xenophobia and hatred writ large and small—not to mention the extinctions, polluted landscapes and waterways, and continued unbridled greed of the captains of the industries that are destroying our individual and ecological health—well, it’s overwhelming.

It’s been a while since I posted on Transition Times, and overwhelm is part of the reason I’ve been quiet lately. Another reason is because I try to resist being purely reactionary in my TT writing. Lately the outrages and calamities have come so fast and furious that if I tried to keep up, I’d spend all my time denouncing the bad guys and bewailing the latest tragedy. That’s not how I want to spend my precious time, or yours.

Sages like Margaret Wheatley are counseling now that we try to move beyond hope and despair, to the realm of what she calls “faith.” I think she means that when we take the longer view, and give up our fear of change, we can rest assured that no matter how things unfold in the short term, in the long run everything will be OK.

Well, in the long run you and I will be dead, and there is a release in that, no matter what you believe about the afterlife or rebirth. In the long run, our Mother Earth will regenerate and new, marvelous life will flourish here on the planet, the DNA spiraling on as it did when some of the dinosaurs became our present-day birds.

So in that sense, yes, eventually all will be well. But that still doesn’t absolve us of responsibility now, in our own time, to do what we can to alleviate suffering and cultivate individual and ecological health, harmony and balance.

One thing I can do is try not to be a mirror for the violence I abhor. It doesn’t mean I’m putting my head in the sand, it just means that, as with the ancient Buddhist practice of tong-len­, I can try to breathe it in and transmute it, in my own being, to compassion that I breathe out.

For example, with the most recent horrific school shooting, in Parkland, Florida, I feel the suffering like a rain of fire. The suffering of the victims, and also the suffering of the shooter, alone in the world, evidently left to his own violent, mentally disturbed devices. Now he will spend the rest of his life in prison, and that will be no real atonement for the innocent lives he snuffed out.

I breathe in the horror of that scenario, and although my first thought is of gun control, and rage that the politicians who could make things better continue to sit on their hands and mouth sanctimonious prayers—I try to breathe through that too, and think about how all of us are caught in webs of fear, greed and power-lust not of our own making, unhealthy systems that hold most of us fast, no matter how we try to struggle free.

It’s the systems that need changing, but change always starts with the personal and radiates outward. The question is always, how can I touch the heart of another human being and melt its hardness with compassion and love?

We live in a time of hard-heartedness. Callousness and indifference reign, nowhere more evident than in the U.S. government.

listening for Gaia copyBut I won’t let them harden me. I will continue to cup my hands around the fragile flame of loving-kindness that burns indomitably at my core.

We human beings are born loving. Every infant turns its head blindly towards its mother, searching for love and comfort. Our entire ecosystem runs on the pure positive energy of the Sun, which shines its love down on all equally, warming the seeds and nourishing the plants without which we humans could not live a moment.

Yes, the circle of life includes pain and suffering. Predators have to eat, but when the system is in harmony, death feeds life.

tree heart copyRight now Western civilization is in a death-frenzy that is not life-giving. Let us admit that to ourselves, and imagine the many ways that we could seize the opportunity now in front of us to transition to a healthier system.

It all starts with the human heart. In the wake of this bloody Valentine’s Day, I want to use my heart to send love out into the world, and meditate deeply on what I have to give that is positive and life-affirming.

That is the only way we can be the change we want to see in the world.

Love is all we need

Most people I know don’t pay a whole lot of attention to Valentine’s Day.

In its pop culture guise, it’s pretty trite, after all—candy, flowers, champagne perhaps, aimed at seducing the beloved into bed at the end of the evening….

Eve Ensler has tried hard to put a harder, more political edge on V-Day.  She’s got thousands of women dancing for freedom—rejecting the pervasive violence against women that forms the backdrop of so many of our lives.


But for most of us, well, we’re just here in the trenches, and we may or may not have a loved one to honor as a Valentine this year.

Me, I’ve got no particular human Valentine at present. Such love as I have to give, I want to dedicate to the forests and the birds, the butterflies and the flowers that are, to me, the most beautiful manifestations of LOVE on this planet.


Any expression of love is far and away more potent than expressions of hatred and violence.

If you love someone, you should, by all means, shower them with kisses and caresses.  You should be extravagant in your appreciation.

Likewise, if the object of your affection is a tree or a landscape or a bright, joyful living thing—say, a tadpole or a fish or a magnificent coral—go ahead and shower that being with the love it deserves.

The only meaningful counter to the hatred, disrespect and violence that has become the norm in Western culture is the intentional distribution of LOVE.

Love is all you need, crooned the Beatles.  Maybe they were on to something.

Looking for Valentinaville….

So far, my number one, all-time most popular blog post on Transition Times has been my 2012 Valentine’s Day post, “There’s More to Love than Cupid and His Arrows,” which was read by nearly 30,000 people worldwide in the past year.

In that post, I reflected on how the Valentine’s Day celebration of love could and should extend to more than just romantic love—we should celebrate family love, I said, the kind of love that runs “like molten gold at the core of a happy family like mine.”

A year later, and still without a romantic attachment this Valentine’s Day, I feel no different—but my thoughts on this issue are more defined.

marilyn-monroe-diamonds-gentlemen-prefer-blondes-blonde-movieIn American culture, and I am sure in many other cultures around the world, it is viewed as a shortcoming to be without a romantic partner.

To be alone, without a significant other on Valentine’s Day, is a source of shame.

Well to hell with that, especially for mature women!

I see so many women my age, midlife or older, without partners.

Is this just an American phenomenon?  I wish my non-American friends would chime in and let me know.

Here in the States, the divorce rate is astronomical, and we seem to have a surfeit of single women—either the 30- to 40-something put-career-first-and-never-married cohort, or the 40- to 50-something just-couldn’t-take-it-anymore divorced group.

And then at the upper edge of the age scale, there are the 70-something widows, too.

For men in all of these age groups, there are plenty of women to choose from.

After all, it’s not unusual for a man of 60 to take up with a woman 20 years his junior.

But when was the last time you heard of a woman of 60 partnering with a 40-year-old man?

For heterosexual women, the field narrows considerably as we age.

And the risks grow.  Why would I, as a 50-year-old, really want to take up with a man twenty years my senior?

If I were to enter the dating market now, I’d be lucky to find a guy my age to partner with.  Most guys my age are looking for younger women, and they don’t seem to have any trouble finding a match.

On Valentine’s Day, 2013, I’d like to affirm the fact that women don’t need romantic love to be happy.

I’d like to suggest that women be more appreciative of the love and support we get from each other, and from all kinds of non-romantic attachments.

In the old days, women who sought to avoid marriage ensconced themselves in nunneries, and had a pretty good life there (check out the life of Sor Juana for an example).

I am wondering if today we need a modern form of the nunnery, a place where women of a certain age could go to live full, empowered, mutually supportive lives free from the pressure of romantic attachments.

Maybe we should found such an institution, and call it Valentinaville.  Just for us.

Why waste away in Margaritaville when we can be happy in Valentinaville?

There’s More to Love Than Cupid and his Arrows

One of the reasons I was unhappy in the last five years or so of my marriage—which lasted 21 years—was because my husband, who had been so apparently social and outgoing when I fell in love with him, had become taciturn and isolationist.  He scorned Valentine’s Day as a commercial holiday, and considered buying me flowers or taking me out to dinner on February 14 as a distasteful concession to marketing pressure.

While I can’t deny that Valentine’s Day is seized upon as a marketing ploy by all kinds of industries, I also think that it’s wonderful that we take a day of the year to celebrate love.  It doesn’t have to be romantic love between sexual partners, or would-be sexual partners—that’s where I think our American capitalist version of Love Day has taken a wrong turn.

Valentine’s Day should be a time to celebrate love in all its guises.

Today I celebrate the great love I feel for my parents, who gave me life and have always been so thoughtful and unreserved in their nurturing, from the time when I was an infant to right now, as I contemplate my 50th year.   My parents have taught me so much about being loving as a parent—which is not the same thing at all as being permissive or indulgent.

Today I celebrate the love that flows both ways between parents and children.  After my parents, it is my sons who have taught me at every step along the road about what they needed from me as a loving parent.

Sometimes they needed to be enfolded in my arms, and sometimes they needed me to step back and pretend we were strangers, but always they needed that firm, unbreakable assurance that no matter what they did, I would always be there for them.  That is the bottom line love that I learned from my parents, and no doubt they learned from theirs.

Today in my Art of Autobiography class we wrote and talked about the legacies of love that are passed down through generations in a family.  Even though there are other, less positive legacies that are also passed down, I asked the students to focus on the positive, loving side today, in honor of Valentine’s Day, and to think about how each generation gives a loving gift to those who come next.

It may not always be a gift parents or grandparents recognize that they’re giving, because it may come from such a place of automatic second nature.  For instance, I wrote in class about how my father’s family placed such a high value on education, and that is certainly a legacy that I received, put to good use, and am in the process of handing down to my children.

Who knows how long into the past that chain of valuing education goes, or how far into the future it will penetrate as my sons begin to have children of their own?

I come from loving people who have always wanted the best for their children, even if they didn’t always know how to make it happen.  Even the most loving parents don’t always succeed in doing right by our children. For example, my older son will always regret that he did not have a chance to play soccer earlier in his childhood—his father and I did not realize how important that was to him and did not make it happen for him.  But I have no doubt that he will correct that failing when it comes his turn to parent.

Each generation is imprinted by their parents and grandparents, and then goes on to add a few new tricks of their own, often responding to the exigencies of the time or to what they’ve learned in their own process of coming to maturity.

But what runs through, like molten gold at the core of a happy family like mine, is love.  Deep, abiding love, untainted by self-interest or vanity.

This Valentine’s Day, I celebrate family love.  Maybe another year I’ll be beckoning to Cupid and his arrows, but right now that bright red heart, ancient symbol of the yoni that welcomes us all into life on this planet, needs no romantic glitz or glitter.  It’s calling me home.

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