BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE
I was “moaning” (what the Brits say instead of “bitching”— just sounds nicer) to my friend about having to come up with yet another fresh take on Valentine’s Day and mentioned it wasn’t really my favorite holiday. She said, “Oh, really? It IS my favorite.” When I asked her why, she said it was low-pressure, compared to all the other major holiday, with the light inducement to buy gifts restricted mostly to cards, chocolates and restaurant dinners. “And it’s all just about love, and everyone loves love, right?” Surprisingly, no. Some people beat themselves up about love. All the damn time. Just like Christmas and Thanksgiving make them feel bad because they don’t have the perfect family to exchange gifts and overeat with, Valentine’s Day seems to judge them for their failure at perfect romantic love. But my friend’s take is decidedly the better one, and the one I am adopting from here on out. I never bought the ideal of perfect romantic love in the first place, and I am a militant non-perfectionist, so previously I was just grumpy that there seemed to be a holiday, and yet another line of capitalist merch, based on a concept I didn’t accept, but my friend is right, I do love love. As long as it’s freed from the taints of patriarchy, heteronormativity and cursed perfectionism.
The great spiritual traditions of the world have a lot to say about love. There is a paradox at its heart—that the ability to love is founded first on loving one’s self, but not on dwelling within one’s ego, which is the false self. So, for those who want emotional and spiritual health, this self-love thing is essential, but tricky. My friend Howard Kranz (whose wonderfully quirky yet profound music can be accessed online at howardkranz.com) has written a humorous song about this conundrum.
Now you know the story of Oedipus, and that old Marquis de Sade
And other persons who seem like us, whose love is excessive, or odd:
For horses, or Porsches, or chocolate, or shoes, or computers, or wealth.
I make confession to my own obsession—I love myself!
Howard’s song goes on to play around with the tropes of egotism, and the tropes of romantic love but turned inward (“I love to flirt with that sweet introvert”) and thus to dance around the challenge of self-love vs. the ego trap. Like all spiritual projects, it sounds simple when proposed, but is actually the work of a lifetime. So, if you haven’t got 40 years to spare taming your ego, how can you safely practice self-love, say this year around February 14? Here are a few suggestions, that rely on simple human nature and basic good intention, in lieu of deep metaphysical study. These are all ways, to quote another profound song on the subject, to “give yourself to love.”
Love your family. The trick here is to realize who your family is. You may be childless or the parent of one or many. You may be orphaned by circumstance or age or in the midst of caring for an aging parent, or still trying to become independent of parents. But truly all children are your children. All elders are your elders. Looked at this way, you see that focusing on your own genetic kin or lack thereof is simply ego and bio-determinism. I often think of this in my mostly failed crusade against child slavery in chocolate. What if everyone on every continent could truly see that the 2 million children in slavery producing chocolate were their own children? I think once you see this, you can’t help but seek justice for them. But here are ways to give love to your family that can work for blood relations or family of choice. Write memoirs for future generations. I have been using an online app (storyworth.com) that sends me prompts every week. It’s not perfect, but it helps. Stay in touch with distant family. Use FaceTime or Google Hangouts to video chat with, for instance, grandparents or grandkids, who don’t get a chance to see you in person that much. Read to little children. If you don’t have any nearby, use video chat, and if you don’t have any kids or grands, borrow someone else’s. Teach your family’s and your culture’s foodways to another generation and/or another culture. Learn some yourself. The food co-ops and community education offer lots of classes like this. Many people include non-human beings in their idea of family. Don’t feel sheepish about this! Shower your guinea pigs with Valentine’s goodies! Take your puppy out to a brewery for a date! Here’s a guide to taprooms that allow dogs inside: https://www.sidewalkdog.com/twin-cities-breweries-that-welcome-dogs-inside/
Love your planet. A meaningful way to spread the love is to love the endangered spaceship we’re all on together: Planet Earth. Lately I have been working on various waste reduction initiatives in my life. I have been getting a biweekly box of food, mostly produce, from Imperfect Foods (imperfectfoods.com). It’s cheaper and more customizable than a CSA and uses food that would be wasted due to esthetic or other minor flaws. I highly recommend it. We have written before about Tare Market, just one of the many local zero-waste initiatives you can support. I have also discovered an online seller of dye-free, plastic-free, laundry pods, shipped in a simple cardboard box, and another company that sells near-zero-waste dish and house cleaning and personal care products, such as super concentrated dish soap in a little paper tube, and loofah or coconut dish scrubbers, and bamboo paper products. Beyond your own needs, if you have money to spare, consider paying to plant trees, rescue wildlife, support those fighting against pipelines, fracking, or open pit mining, or fighting to preserve national parks and wilderness. Or maybe just spend V Day loving the earth directly, by taking a meditative walk or retreat in a beautiful place, alone or with quiet close friends, to renew your dedication.
Love your body/mind. I have a little homemade inspiration poster with a quote from Aldous Huxley: “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” Sometimes people, even I, identify not with their body, but with their mind. They think they are a mind, which makes sense, since it’s the mind that’s thinking. But this too is a false dualism. Huxley was right in that your “being” is your soul, while the body is a temporary possession. But the mind is not really separable from the body, so it too is a temporary possession. Realizing this deeply is a powerful antidote to egoism. St. Francis of Assisi called his own body “Brother Ass” (but in Italian, presumably). That’s a nice way to frame it so that you give your body/mind proper care and attention. Feed your body real food, nurse it when it’s sick. Nourish your mind too, with delicious and healthful books, films, music and conversation. One book on my to-read list right now is “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy” by Jenny Odell. I would also recommend binge-watching “The Good Place” if you haven’t already seen it. Join the body-positivity, or fat-acceptance if it seems relevant to you, movements. Dress up your body lovingly and playfully. Try “cosplay,” the art of costume + playing a part, purely for fun. Visit the Really Really Free Market (check their Facebook page) if you don’t have a lot of money, or one of the many vintage clothing shops in the Twin Cities, including plus-size shops Cake in Minneapolis and Stacked in Shakopee. Visit a hot tub, sauna, or heated swimming pool. Exchange amateur massages with a platonic friend.
Surrender yourself to your passion. Even if your passion is horses or Porsches, don’t feel guilty if you have passions. You’re only human; it’s OK to love some things more than other things. As long as they don’t dominate us, or distract us from other life essentials, or hurt other people, our passions can enrich our lives and those of others we touch with them. Indulge your passion but don’t hoard it. No matter how quirky it is, someone else might love to hear or see it. Give of your gifts rather than disparaging them with false humility. Tell your story from a stage, read your poetry at a slam, bring your strange tater tot creation to a potluck. If your passion is politics, find a group you can organize with. If your passion is religious devotion, you’re in luck, you can do that in a group or completely solo. You can write a book about it, or maybe just a blog. Turn your passion into a mission by giving. Embrace the ancient concept of tithing, but instead of just money, try to give a fixed percentage of your time and attention to your passionate project. Whatever you do, if you do it kindly, generously, honestly and without judgment, you are giving yourself to love.
* Lyrics from “I Love Myself” used with permission