Originally a religious holiday (Saint Valentine), today Valentine’s Day is recognized worldwide by many people who are not religious at all. The holiday has evolved into an informal day to celebrate romance and love.
Love is a popular topic to discuss in yoga communities; many yoga teachers believe love is central to the practice of yoga. However, most often yogis refer to universal love instead of romantic love as the goal we ultimately strive for.
What is the difference between romantic love and universal love?
“Love: a strong feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection” (dictionary.com)
Love is an emotion that draws us towards another person or object. It is the opposite of Hate, an emotion that drives us to push another person or object away, out of our physical and mental space. In terms of energy, love would be attraction, and hate would be repulsion.
Because we usually interpret love romantically (or sometimes familial) we think of love as being between specific people. Love’s opposite, Hate, is also usually between specific people – perhaps one person, or a group of people with similar traits/affiliations.
But, what if we disconnected the emotion from the object it is directed towards? If the emotion simply existed without an impetus to create it, or without somewhere to send it to, that is when it becomes universal love.
“Duality: the quality or state of having two different or opposite parts or elements.” (merriam-webster.com)
From a yoga philosophy perspective, we are born into a world of duality, one in which our mind is constantly volleying between polarizing forces – attraction to certain experiences which bring us pleasure, and aversion to other experiences which bring us discomfort and pain. This is of course completely natural, and in fact, acting on our attractions and aversions is frequently necessary for our own physical survival.
Let’s keep in mind, though, that yoga has traditionally been a spiritual endeavor more than a physical one. And so, part of what we try to achieve through yoga exercises, is to learn how to transcend our limited individual perspective of likes/dislikes, to understand the world from a perspective where our individual self is not at the center. This type of different perspective brings valuable wisdom. Otherwise, our perspective is naturally a bit selfish, and less beneficial to society.
Yogis recognize that our entire experience of the world is processed and interpreted by the mind. And as such, we actually don’t require an external source to create an experience of love. In other words, our limited individual perspective believes that an external stimuli made love arise. Yogis believe the external stimuli only helped us recognize our inner potential to feel love. In fact, we can use our imagination to make love arise anytime we want, by simply focusing on the concept. In other words, love already exists inside us. That person we “love” did not create the love.
If we follow along with this sort of logic, we can assume that love’s opposite, hate, also is an internal construct, arising simply because we hold the potential to feel it, not because an external stimulus created it. Just think about that, for a moment.
Yoga = Union (literal translation from Sanskrit)
If we can train the mind to remember the feeling of love all day long, without needing an external stimuli, then instead of being pushed and pulled between attraction and repulsion all day long, we will only feel the energetic force of attraction, or drawing together/connecting. Apply this to something we usually experience as pleasant, something we are normally already attracted to, and the strong pull we used to feel is neutralized. We no longer need the experience to sustain our love feeling, and it is therefore much easier to allow the experience to naturally expire (and not create an addiction).
Apply this permanent energetic force of attraction to something we usually experience as unpleasant, and the natural repulsion is counter-balanced and softened into acceptance. Unpleasant experiences remain unpleasant, but they don’t disrupt our energy and push us away as much as before. Instead, our thoughts flow around the unpleasantness, just as a river flows around a boulder lodged in the middle of the stream.
Despite the promotion of universal love in yoga texts and communities, there are no short-cuts on the yoga journey. Which, makes romantic and familial love an important step on the path! Because in order to adopt an attitude of universal love, it is necessary to experience love in general, first, to know what love is and what it feels like.
And so, I encourage you to celebrate Valentine’s Day! Spend the day with someone you love either romantically, or with a family member, or with someone who is like a family member to you. Then, at the end of the day, use those feelings of love for a person(s) to help you contemplate love in general, for no “reason” at all. And, if you take some time every day to contemplate the love which already exists inside you, you’ll watch your experience of love begin to grow into a deeper experience – universal love for all living beings.