Ah, Valentine’s Day! What better day to talk about the heart? While in some ways, it’s just another commercialized holiday…it’s also a day where the pressure is on. If you’re lucky enough to be in a relationship, you better shower your lover with gifts; and if you’re single, well, you just sigh and vow that this time next year!!! Then you scroll your online dating sites or go out on the town and hope to find yourself a Valentine. So how did we get to this Hallmark-driven, greeting card sending, heart-shaped box, chocolates and roses, relationship status under a microscope holiday? (Please excuse my cynicism, I really do love LOVE!)
The exact origins are a little fuzzy, but history points to Christian martyrdom in the third century. There were a few saints named Valentine, and one was St. Valentine of Rome. The story goes that the Roman emperor, Claudius II, outlawed his soldiers from marriage, as he believed that the young men would be more effective if they were not married with families. St. Valentine disagreed, of course, and would perform secret weddings. When he was discovered, he was sentenced to death (sounds like a harsh punishment, but I guess he was also trying to convert his prosecutors). Legend has it that he fell in love with Julia, the blind daughter of the judge, and while imprisoned, he miraculously cured her sight. Right before his execution on February 14th, he sent her a farewell note, signing it, “from your Valentine.”
St. Valentine’s Day was a saint’s feast day celebrated in the church until the 14th century, when it first became associated with courtly love, having more to do with nobility and chivalry. In the 15th century, the heart-shaped symbol we associate with love was developed. Although there are many examples of heart shapes during the Middle Ages, some originating from the shape of a leaf or fruit, they weren’t necessarily associated with romantic love: that became a popular metaphor in the 16th century. The holiday then evolved in the 18th century to the occasion of romantic love we know today: a declaration of love with an exchange of notes, flowers and sweets.
There are so many metaphors for the heart and all the challenges involved with heartfelt emotions. Besides the latest emojis of our current culture, there are pictures of cute little cupids shooting arrows into hearts, a symbol for being struck by love. We say “have a heart” when we want someone to be a little more kind or charitable. A “heartbreaker” is someone who goes around playing with people’s affections, while we’re “heartbroken” after an overwhelming event. A story of despair can be “heart-wrenching,” while it’s “heart-warming” to hear an uplifting story of a true act of love. We call someone “heartless” who is inconsiderate and lacks feelings, as well as “cold-hearted.” Then there’s these gems:
Pure of heart
Wear your heart on your sleeve
Speak from the heart
Eat your heart out
Heart of stone
Heart of gold
Pour your heart out
Win your heart
Have a big heart
Be still my beating heart!
The heart is the center of the body. The heart truly is magnificent. Besides being responsible for pumping blood, it has its own network of 40,000 neurons, giving it the nickname, the “little brain in the heart.” It is the first organ that develops in the embryo and miraculously starts beating, illustrating that it works independently of the brain. In Giving Thanks, I go into much greater detail about the power of the heart, but it leads me to one last metaphor…“follow your heart.”
Within the word “heart” is the word “hear”…coincidence or not, it’s a sign to listen to your heart. There is an intelligence in the heart that is pure and unbiased. Science has shown that it has a memory, but it’s more factual and not based on perceptions and interpretations, like the memories stored in the brain. Happiness comes when you can listen to and follow your heart.
Joseph Campbell’s message was to “follow your bliss,” and with that he meant to identify your passion in life and give yourself to it. As he said in The Power of Myth, “…follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”
Challenge for the week: Have a heart!
Do yourself a favor and have a heart! Be kind to yourself. Take a moment to turn down the chatter in your brain and listen to the wisdom of your heart. Who knows what it will tell you!
When we are kind to ourselves, we open up our hearts, and that opens us up to being kind to those around us. What could be better than to be kind and spread love?
Have a Happy Valentine’s Day! Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below.