By Jack Adam Weber —
Some months ago a friend sought my support for her relationship heartbreak, and during that conversation a voice in my head said, “We should be putting all this love energy into our relationship with the natural world and the condition of the biosphere, not into our private love affairs.”
If you think this is a reasonable proposal, at least in part, you can let this be a seed for inspiring a shift from personal and insular love towards a more global love. While this voice spoke in hyperbole, we don’t have to consider it in either-or terms, but on a spectrum for whatever feels like our natural next step into caring more for our world.
Romantic love, as marked by the celebration of Valentine’s Day, is a small part of the whole of love, and certainly has its pitfalls, as we all know. According to legend, Valentine’s Day is named after Saint Valentine, a Roman priest who became famous and was eventually executed for marrying young men and women in the Christian church. He was punished for his acts because then-Emperor Claudius, banned marriage among youth, believing family ties made weaker soldiers. Eventually, Saint Valentine disobeyed the mandate of Emperor Claudius, was caught, and was sentenced to a brutal execution. For this, Saint Valentine has remained a hero of romantic love.
In parallel, we discover that romantic love has its origins with the Troubadours. They invented romantic love, also referred to as courtly love, which is where we get the expression of “courting.” Despite this invention, what remains a reality of romantic love today is that first phase of falling in love with another person marked by hormone chaos and cloud-nine feelings, all of which have also been shown to mimic the experience of being on cocaine. This is why it’s tough to think rationally and break the addiction-like desire while in love. But wisdom tells us that if we can harness this power and use it as a practice to bring out something better in ourselves for the betterment of a greater good, the rewards stand to be even greater. This brings us to the genius of the Troubadours and the wisdom of romance.
If Valentine were here today, he would say to married couples that there comes a time where you’re going to have to suffer. It’s not going to be easy to maintain your commitment and your vows in marriage.”
The Troubadours made a name for themselves not only through their poetry, but through their attempts to transcend romantic love. Their modus operandi was to fall in love with married women, yet demand nothing of them. This way they could enhance their feeling of unrequited love and their pathos of longing, which they devoted to God. This was the Troubadour’s psychic technology for moving beyond the small container of romantic love (so revered during modern Valentine’s Day) yet not denying it. They used romantic love as a practice to fall in love with something greater than themselves and one other person. This begs the question: how can we employ Troubadour’s way of loving for a modern world crying out for our participation?
Nowadays we don’t have to fall in love with married women or men to burn for God and the grail of unconditional love. But we can learn from the Troubadours of old insofar as not limiting the longing in our hearts to the whims of romance. Just like the Troubadour’s heart that filled with unrequited love, we might consciously choose to experience a little of this sacred burning, which feels like deprivation, for the sake of something more. Certainly it could serve as a welcome reprieve from the rollercoaster of romantic love, as well as a modest consolation for the collective burning we have done on Earth. Apart from holy penitence, though, such withholding of desire fulfillment can be a more mature and worthwhile use of our energy, time, and other resources, especially because our dear Earth needs as much love as we can give her.
For those of us who understand “God” to be all of creation, we might consider shifting our love towards the earthy realms of divinity. The good news, however, is that we get to see our Earthly love requited before our eyes, not just behind them, as was the case with the Troubadours. Our giving comes back to us in the form of satisfaction for the results of our actions, or knowing we acted with justice. We also gain respect from those who care and appreciate our efforts. We also make good friends in the process, and benefit our communities. So, just like the Troubadours we can embrace the love in our hearts and channel some of that care to the plants, animals, waterways, air, and soils of our beloved biosphere.
We can all strengthen our vows with the beloved beneath our very feet, who composes and daily nourishes our very bodies. Indeed, the passion of romantic love and the commitment of marriage can extend to our relationship with the natural world. Frank O’Gara, a priest from Ireland says of Saint Valentine:
“If Valentine were here today, he would say to married couples that there comes a time where you’re going to have to suffer. It’s not going to be easy to maintain your commitment and your vows in marriage. Don’t be surprised if the ‘gushing’ love that you have for someone changes to something less ‘gushing’ but maybe much more mature. And the question is, is that young person ready for that?”
So, as we approach Valentine’s Day and celebrate love, we can sanctify this largely superficial and unsustainable holiday to look more deeply into how and what we love to what degree and ask if this is where we want our love-energy to go. Devoting more of our energy to something larger than our personal love affairs is a noble endeavour because it means that we will likely feel the loss of immediate pleasure for delayed gratification and deeper fulfillment. This is what Father O’Gara refers to when he says, “Don’t be surprised if the ‘gushing’ love that you have for someone changes to something less ‘gushing’ but maybe much more mature.” To devote more of our love towards the Earth, no matter our age, requires our bigger selves. This is maturity and responsibility, passion, and compassion, for which Father wonders, “…is that young person ready for that?”
And this is the question I leave with you this Valentine’s Day, for no matter your age, there is youthful vigour in your heart that burns for something greater.
Jack Adam Weber is an author, celebrated poet, organic farmer, and activist for Earth-centered spirituality. His books, artwork, and provocative poems can be found at his website PoeticHealing.com. He is also the creator of The Nourish Practice, an Earth-based rejuvenation meditation, found at www.thenourishpractice.com
Many of Jack’s articles and essays can be found at www.wakeup-world.com.