Love and Death: A Small Zen Meditation on Valentine’s Day

Love and Death: A Small Zen Meditation on Valentine’s Day February 14, 2023

Puritan Valentine’s Cards from College Humor.

Love and Death: A Small Zen Meditation on Valentine’s Day

James Ishmael Ford

I notice the semi-sort-of Christian holiday St Valentine’s Day will be followed in a week and a day by the Christian holy day Ash Wednesday. Basically. I love you. And you’re going to die. Works for me.

Me. I think a lot about love. What it is and what it is not. Heck, recently I wrote a whole sermon on love.

I’m particularly taken with the two assertions “God is love” and “Love is god.” I know people who rail at one assertion or the other. And others who say they’re both true. And others, well… Humans. A glorious mess.

And with love, well, even more so. A glorious mess.

Love is such a mysterious thing. The Greeks only started the list when they claimed love includes our desires, our friendships, our families, and our sense of ultimacy.

In an Etymological dictionary I once owned, it claimed that the word love had some ancient Indi-European root. That root was “Lub” which was said to mean “desire.” That catches me up. As a Buddhist, I am awkwardly aware that the second noble truth is that the cause of our suffering, as opposed to pain, is our clinging to things that are passing. Sometimes that clinging is called desire. Messy. Messy.

So, love…

And, of course, there’s another aspect to our lives we cannot ignore. Any consideration of the great mess, that term I notice I increasingly prefer to signal the totality of our existence, must include in some way the often conversation stopping fact of our mortality. All things composed of parts, the Buddha told us, will come apart. I’ve never seen anything that contradicts that observation. Wishful thinking yes. Convincing assertions, no?

I am more impressed by the suggestions of a half-life, of the continuity of our actions in many, some even very mysterious ways. Within causes and conditions, absolutely. And within memories. Memory is powerful. Memory is even something holy. But, the “I” thing continuing on after the dissolution of the body? No, it seems to me as plain as the nose on my face that like that nose, it has an expiration date.

So, death…

Me, I look at the many things of the world. I look at my own life. I look at my loves. And, I realize the truth of the matter, the thing that joins Ash Wednesday, that pause to recall I come from dust and will return to dust, and St Valentine’s Day, of chocolate and hearts and the person I love more than any other person. And with that my gratitude and complex blend of emotions, are all caught up together.

Love and death…

There is for me, in this day, an invitation into something. That something is fully appreciating the passingness of all things, including me and the things and the people I love. And, that there is something that comes with attention, that I believe, genuinely believe is holy, is good, maybe even deserves the word God.

We find it as we turn our attention, as we turn our minds, as we turn our hearts toward something or someone. That attention is love. This attention is some gentle and, often not so gentle play of energy that gives life to the world. But. Is it excused from the inexorable law of change? How could it be? In fact. Actually. Love is change, change itself.

Love. God. Change. God. Perhaps not the God of the Abrahamic stories. Something more subtle. More terrifying, perhaps. Change. Love. Holding and letting go.

Love as our human experience is found in our attention to change. It is our holding onto things as life itself. But, also, also, also it is our letting go when we must. Like a kiss and a hug. Like morning and dusk. Intimate things these. This part cannot be ignored. And. But. You know. Everything in its time.

Learn this secret. Let it all happen, birth, life, loss, death. What else can we do? But, with attention we find it is all those moments, and at the very same time, it is one thing. It is wild and connected, and the very substance of what is.

The whole great mess.

As lovely as a kiss…

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