“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
February is rough. There, I said it. We’re in the last stretch of winter—the deep bottom of the earth’s exhale, when you think there can’t be any more to let go of yet somehow there is. The festivity of the December holidays is over, the hype of January’s promised resolutions and new beginnings is over, and the encroaching feeling of needing to be in love permeates the air. For a long time, I leaned into the starkness of this “season” by embracing moments like Lent, a forty-day period before Easter in which you give up something enjoyable as a means to prepare for salvation. I would choose the things I loved most about life—usually food items—and even abstain from them on my birthday, which inevitably falls during Lent.
At some point, the focus of my spiritual practices became less about sacrifice and restraint and more about celebrating the abundance of my life. I can’t pinpoint a moment, but I know it was pre-COVID because that mindset was already in place when every day, for two-ish years, could have felt like Lent, but didn’t. In fact, the tragedy of my COVID experience happened the day before Easter; I woke up excited to break my fast of sourdough bread, that year’s sacrifice. Instead, I found myself facing a whole new reality I had not at all prepared for. Or, so I thought. I had to dig a whole lot deeper than refrain from a slice of bread to feel the promise of salvation, but thankfully what I found, in that cold, early April, was a wellspring of love I had been nurturing for even longer than I realized.
For me, loss has been the main agent of reframing my attitude toward and definition of love. Sure, it doesn’t sound like a particularly enjoyable experience, but when I think about it in Ayurvedic terms it offers a very rational, manageable explanation appears. If we consider the state of “love” to be kapha, the state of “loss” to be vata, and the state of “transformation” to be pitta, all three doshas are working hand-in-hand to maintain a cycle of birth and death, passion and stillness, complete certainty you are where you need to be and complete and utter helplessness. We might think that we can simply feed ourselves with more kapha-like qualities—foods, but also connection, relationships, practices, etc.—to get to a state of love, but it’s not that simple. Like spring can only be sprung after the dark, bareness of winter, love can only be fed when there is space for it. The space doesn’t have to come from tragedy or grief, but space is required nonetheless.
When wellness people talk about “space,” there is a tendency to call on phrases like “letting go” or “releasing.” My early days of yoga practice were as much about this as they were about learning the postures, and my tension-writhing body didn’t speak that dialect of healing yet to participate. I’m sure some space was being made on a subtle level, like a river working over rock to make a crevice, but it took a more radical change in my mental outlook on life to understand the process, and the value, of making space. After all, if you’ve spent you life guarding against uncertainty, it just doesn’t make sense to open yourself up—you might think you’ll be fed love, but what if you’re not? What if instead of the warm, creamy golden soup, you get served another paltry salad—the kind with iceberg lettuce and flaccid red pepper strips?
Everybody’s journey is different of course, but the first step I found necessarily to releasing the tension I built around love—this month’s theme—is forgiveness. It was as surprising as it was to me when I acknowledged it, but this act is possibly the most difficult and most freeing process we can make as humans if we want to be truly in love with our lives.
Forgiveness is not about “letting go” in the wellness-world sense. Forgiveness acknowledges there is a hurt, and chooses to not hold onto it for the sake of space. Forgiveness doesn’t forget, just like the body doesn’t forget the areas it stores tension; rather, it surrenders. As I’m wont to do, I see this distinction happening even with these words themselves: to for-give is an act that allows us to give more of ourselves, to let the ocean of love that is all of ours to share flow through us with ease; to for-get is about acquiring—vengeance, victory, even peace of mind—there’s a definite end-goal that doesn’t really make space but instead just reverses the flow of energy, trying to fill us with something there isn’t space for.
What do we really get when we forgive? It might imply an apology, but you can forgive (or not) with or without an apology. When I’ve forgiven, I’ve gotten nothing—except confirmation that expectations are overrated, even dangerous, and that being prepared for surprises is not only more reliable, but more enjoyable.
When I forgave myself for getting sick in a way that chronically impacted my mental and physical health, I realized I had a lifetime of new choices I could make as long as I made space for a new way of thinking. When I forgave my father for—well, a lot of things I never got to say or try to repair—I discovered a whole new relationship with him that has buoyed me even though he’s gone. With forgiveness, I realized that love is not about what you get at all but realizing the greatness you’re capable of giving. Forgiveness assumes that you already have an endless capacity for love, just waiting for a space to accept it.
This is not easy. We are often taught we need to prove our worth, and even when we do we need to endlessly work to do/be/give more. Forgiveness says to stop all that. To stand in the cool, clear February sun and say this is it. This is it!
Indeed, the dosha I haven’t talked about yet, which is still crucial in this process is pitta—the transformation. The process of moving from vata to kapha requires just a bit more heat, yet yields a completely opposite reality. Pitta (or agni) also needs space in order to do its job, and together these elements signal to us its time to take in food (someone else’s for-giving). That hunger tells us we are not fundamentally alone, that the system we are part of has enough even when we can’t see it. (Maybe it’s been a long winter.) And that light allows us to acknowledge that even if life didn’t feed us what we expected—the thing for which we’re holding a grudge, a mismatch between expectations and reality—we still have the capacity to digest it all the same.
February is a time for this to begin. We are seeing the amount of sunlight in our days slowly waxing; the need for double-gloves waning. We may be starving for 70 degrees and sunhats, but this gradual shift is much more easily digested than a pendulum-swing of seasons would be (though, of course, that is already happening). Spring cannot be rushed. Forgiveness cannot be rushed, either.
When I think about love, this quote from Dr. Vasant Lad always comes to mind. I remember reading it as homework in Ayurveda school and stopping in my tracks to re-read it; one of the first moments I realized this stuff was about more than getting people to poop daily.
Mobility and stability go together in para ojas. There is freedom and freedom is love, freedom is awareness. Therefore, awareness is love. Awareness is an all-inclusive state of consciousness. It is expansion. Therefore, love is expansion and selfishness is contraction. The moment one becomes selfish, one contracts the mind. This contraction dries ojas. Awareness enhances ojas, because para ojas becomes awareness.
Forgiveness is, I think, one of the many shades of awareness Dr. Lad writes about here. And as much as I value a good poop in the morning, knowing that my efforts to create good space (sukha) in my body and environment, in practicing an attitude of equanimity and faith that we are all endowed with the capacity and substance to love (kapha), lose (vata), and transform (pitta), makes me feel like the most worthy Valentine of all.