... a dreamer, freelance writer, massage therapist, naturopath, mother & drop-out social work student living, working and writing in the Blue Mountains. When not occupied with the real world, she writes fantasy.
Published February 6th 2013
The Greatest Love Of All
Unbeknown to many, the origins of Valentine's Day celebrated a far greater love than the fleeting romantic variety bestowed by Cupid.
In our culture we only have one word for love, which sometimes creates confusion. "What do you mean when you say you love me?" is a common question new lovers might ask each other.
The Ancient Greeks distinguished at least four types of love and had words to describe them. The romantic, passionate and erotic love we feel for lovers, they termed eros love. Storge was their word for affection-based love such as a parent might hold for a child. Philia or friendship love is that which we typically hold for friends. Of all the loves, agape, a selfless, charitable love, is the most spiritual and pure.
C.S. Lewis examined the four types of love in his book The Four Loves. He considered affection (storge) common and friendship love (philia) the least common. Though no-one could deny the intensity of eros love, the subject of Valentine's Day, it can also be destructive or counter-productive to happiness.
Which takes us back to the origins of Valentine's Day.
Saint Valentine's day (as it was formerly called) was originally a celebration of the martyrdom and sainthood of a Roman priest called Valentinus. Valentinus was imprisoned under the reign of Claudius II for continuing to wed soldiers and to minister to persecuted Christians. Condemned to death, Valentinus was beaten with clubs and stones then beheaded at the Flaminian Gate in Rome on the 14th of February.
Far from scoffing at Valentine's Day, I think any occasion for people to experience and demonstrate love can only be beneficial to this world. Yet, as the above story illustrates, Valentine's Day isn't the exclusion of romantic lovers and couple, but originally a celebration of 'agape' love. While I wouldn't knock back a free feed or a trinket from Prouds, in keeping with the true origins of Valentine's Day, I offer these alternatives to romantic rituals on Valentine's Day.
1. Light a candle and dedicate your life to a greater purpose in the world. It may be to self-improvement, a cause or person.
2. Call your parents and tell them you love them.
3. Send all your friends a text message and tell them how much they mean to you.
4. Invite your friends to dinner and tell them they are here because they are the most important people in your life.
5. Buy flowers for someone who has done a lot for you. It could be your babysitter, a teacher or the neighbour who always looks after your animals while you're away.
6. Text your brother and sister a "Happy Valentine's Day" message and an "I love you."
7. Spread the love around on Valentine's Day. Give chocolates to your work colleagues, your elderly neighbours and young, single friends.
8. In the spirit of Saint Valentinus, minister to the accursed and suppressed, the lonely or sick.
9. Visit the local nursing home and wish everyone a happy Valentine's Day.
10. Meditate on love, connect to the Greater Being and foster the spirit of love within you.
While romantic love is a beautiful thing to experience, it's only one form of love, and neither is it the greatest love.
According to the Dalai Lama in his book The Art of Happiness, the notion of falling in love with a true love is pure bogus and at most an ephemeral satisfaction. Instead, he believes that demonstrating compassion and fostering intimacy and closeness with humanity is the truest love and one of the key factors in happiness.
Valentinus inspired Valentine's Day with his actions, but every day provides an opportunity to be a hero to some other human, child or animal through small but significant acts of love.
May this Valentine's Day be a chance for you to explore the greater meaning of love.