A mindful Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s day is a celebration of love, relationships and connection. Mindfulness is training in paying attention, in the words of Simone Weil
‘Attention is the Rarest and Purest form of Generosity’
Mindfulness, paying attention , on purpose, in the present moment can help strengthen our relationships. The following tips can be applied to any relationship. Try them this Valentine’s day if you are spending time with someone special in your life. If this doesn’t apply right now, see if you can apply these tips to the most important relationship of all – your relationship with yourself!
Intention How do you want to be this Valentine’s Day?
By setting an intention we are identifying our focus and energy follows focus. When we set an intention we are tasking our brain to make something happen, we are setting our direction of travel. By intentionally setting our intention, we are increasing the likelihood of it happening, we are more likely to notice when we have veered off course and come back to where we want to be. Set an intention to feel love and to share your love. This might sound a bit obvious but by taking some time to just sit and set your intention you are reinforcing it. You might also choose to write it down or say it out loud.
The longer we know somebody, often the less we pay attention. Instead, we rely on our assumptions about them. It is often easier to fall back on assumptions rather than to look at ourselves and others with beginner’s mind, bringing a fresh perspective to every interaction. When we first meet a new friend or partner, we take an interest in finding out as much about them as possible. After a while, we become complacent and we believe that we know our friends inside out. Why not see if you can find out something new? This Valentine’s Day, spending time with your special one, try to approach the evening as if it was your first date.
Non-judgement in relationships can sometimes be as simple as an acknowledgement of difference; that we all have different habits and idiosyncrasies and just because our way of being makes sense to us, doesn’t make it the best way. Practicing mindfulness gives us the space between something happening – stimulus – and our response. By taking a pause we can notice our immediate judgement and then choose our response rather than reacting in our automatic way. Just because something irritates us, we don’t have to react by challenging or criticising the source. Instead, see what happens if you just let it be.
When we practice gratitude, we learn to appreciate what we already have, giving a sense of richness and abundance. We realise all the things that we take for granted and learn to take pleasure in the small things. Gratitude can have a positive impact on our relationships. We learn to appreciate others rather than focusing on (and even pointing out) their faults. This can make us a lot nicer to be around! It can be easy to take our loved ones for granted, noticing the times when they have let us down but overlooking the countless times they have supported us and been kind to us. Sometimes we can believe that our gratitude goes without saying and yet it needs to be said – both for our benefit and for those around us. Writing down things you are grateful for can help to reinforce a sense of abundance. This Valentine’s Day morning, take some time to write down all the things you appreciate about the special someone in your life.
Acceptance in relationships means learning to accept ourselves as we are and then showing our true selves to our partners. It is also about accepting others as they are, not how we want or think they should be. Intimacy isn’t about being on our best behaviour but is about being real with each other and accepting difference. We change throughout our lives, we learn new things, develop new interests etc, this is equally true of those we have relationships with. Accepting change helps couples to grow together.
Non-striving is a reminder that when we try too hard we often create tension and our focus becomes blinkered. When we strive we get overly focused on a particular outcome and a particular goal and become future-focused to the detriment of the present moment. We might strive with our partner to have the perfect home, the perfect party, the perfect relationship. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that but if we become so focused on working towards these future goals, we neglect the present; we overlook those precious little moments in our everyday lives. When we strive for the future we are often striving for something that may not ever happen. We can spend too much time planning how we want our life to be and not enough time just being with each other. Mindfulness can remind us to pay attention to what is happening in the present moment. So, rather than ‘fixing’ other people’s problems for them, mindfulness reminds us to be fully present for the other person, paying attention to what they are saying and how they are saying it. Sometimes they may want your advice, sometimes they might want you to solve their problem and sometimes they might just want a hug.
When we practise letting go, we allow both the pleasant and the unpleasant to come into being, change, and fade away – moment by moment. Instead of clinging onto an experience that has passed, we can embrace the next moment. We need to let go of the past in order to embrace the present. Change is intrinsic to our very existence and yet we often try to deny it and avoid it. In relationships we might want our loved ones to stay the same forever. When we allow ourselves to let go of the way a relationship was, we create the space for the new to emerge.
Letting go is also about letting go of expectations, or at least holding those expectations more loosely. We often have expectations about people and relationships without even realising. Perhaps we need to recognise and let go of our ideas about how other people ought to be. We are bombarded, through the media, with messages about what romance should look like. When we buy into this we can become irritated when our partner doesn’t buy us flowers, throw fabulous dinner parties or look forward to visiting our parents! However, when we let go of our ideas about how people ought to be, we can allow people to be as they are and appreciate them in all their uniqueness. We can notice the romantic gesture that our partner does that nobody else would think of; we can notice the simple acts of kindness we receive each day.
There are the five styles in which people prefer to give and receive affection with their loved ones. These are:
- Words of Affirmation (To be verbally acknowledged)
- Quality Time (To enjoy companionship)
- Receiving Gifts (To be given tokens of love)
- Acts of Service (To have their partners do tasks for them)
- Physical Touch (To be in contact via the body)
It is important to be able to communicate our generosity styles with our loved ones so that we know the best way to give and are able to ask for what we want. For our generosity to be truly generous we need to take the time to properly see the other person, so that we know that our act of generosity is a reflection of them not us. When we practice awareness with others, generosity becomes spontaneous and heart-felt.
Patience is the calm acceptance that things can happen in a different order than the one you have in mind. – David G Allan
You might have planned your perfect evening, but this may not be the same as your partners, it doesn’t mean that what you want won’t happen, but it may mean that you have to be patient. Try not to focus on some future outcome, instead allow things to unfold in their own time, enjoying each moment along the way. Patience is the active acceptance that things take time, hold your plans loosely and allow things to happen naturally.
Trust is a huge issue for many people; one that is bound up with expectations and fear of betrayal and abandonment. We can never really know how another person is going to behave. We cannot ever truly protect ourselves against betrayal. Some of us believe that if we don’t trust then we won’t be hurt when people inevitably let us down. However, it doesn’t work like that, if we don’t open up to trust we can’t open our heart to love. If we trust people to be themselves, to be human, to be flawed but to ultimately try their best, then we stand more of a chance. Afterall, remember they have chosen to be with you in this moment, you want to be with them, they want to be with you, don’t overthink it just trust in each other and enjoy the moment.
Playfulness – Have some fun this Valentine’s Day
We should never underestimate the value of play and having fun. We often take ourselves far too seriously and this can get in the way of us having perspective and being happy. Ditch the phone, switch of the television and do something fun together.
Play a game, go back to your childhood and choose something you both enjoy.
Play your mutually favourite music sing along and dance together. Don’t try and dance well. The sillier the better! This isn’t about looking cool!
Go outside and skip together down the street, seriously try it, and just embrace the moment and the joy of being together.
You may have planned a meal this Valentine’s day, maybe going out to a favourite restaurant or preparing a special meal. Eating together can be an intimate shared experience. Mindful eating involves taking time to fully appreciate and experience the act of eating rather than eating on autopilot whilst doing something else. Agree with your partner to start the meal mindfully to fully embrace the experience. Take a few minutes to follow these steps at the beginning of the meal.
- Notice your surroundings, soak in the atmosphere and notice any sense of anticipation. What are your feelings and hopes about this meal you are about to eat? Tune into any feelings of hunger, signal to your body your intention to eat. Appreciate your surroundings and the person you are sharing it with.
- With the food in front of you, be curious about it. Engage the senses, notice the colours and textures. Take time to take in the aromas. As you begin to eat notice the textures, flavours and sounds of each bite.
- Reflect on where the food came from, the plants or animals involved, and all the people it took to transport the food and bring it onto your plate. Be grateful and appreciate all of the people and processes that made this meal possible.
- Continue to eat slowly as you talk with your companion.
Any activity can be mindful, see if you can be fully present in all that you do this Valentine’s Day.
Pay Attention and listen
Mindfulness is about taking an interest, being curious. Yet we are often so distracted when we talk to one another. How often do we truly give somebody our undivided attention? We can learn to practice active listening with a partner. This means taking the time, putting aside the TV or phone and just being with them. Often when we talk to people we aren’t really focused on them; we are simply waiting for our turn to speak. The old adage of ‘being born with two ears and one mouth, use them in proportion’ should be a constant reminder to us all.
In any interaction we do may not always remember everything that was said or done but we generally remember how it made us feel. When we are truly present for another person they feel appreciated, valued and cared for. So this Valentine’s Day, take some time to deeply and truly listen to one another.
Finally, try something different. Valentines Day doesn’t have to mean flowers, a romantic meal and a bottle of prosecco. We are all different, celebrate you relationship how you want to celebrate it. You don’t have to celebrate it on 14th February. On 14th February our son Isaac was born. Consequently, his birthday has taken priority on that date. Instead Alison and I created our own special day, which we call Chakaluga Dag. The name is a made up word, as far as we know does not mean anything in any language, but it means something to us. There is no set day for Chakaluga Dag, some years there are multiple Chakaluga Dag’s others none. We just set a date to celebrate our love whenever we want to and we celebrate in whatever way we want to in that moment.
May you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day