With Valentine's Day looming large and warm in the centre of this frosty month, I've been contemplating the difference between love and attachment. There's much talk in the yoga tradition about avoiding attachment, which is deemed a primary source of suffering. But when we look at this concept using contemporary vernacular, we wind up asking ourselves: if we're not supposed to be attached, how can we build meaningful and lasting relationships with our lovers, friends, parents and children?
The resolution of this "no attachment" conundrum lies, I think, in practicing love for love's sake, rather than attaching oneself to someone in expectation of their returning it in kind. Compassion and care must not be meted out based on what we receive. It's not about returns on investment. (And we should be loved for who we are, independent of what we do or don't do for someone.) Consider how deeply we love our children - how we care for them and delight in them, even before they know what it means to return that love. When we send prayers and support to strangers in need or crisis in a distant land, we do so because it is right and good, not to earn something in return. When a loved one is ill or struggling, we ought not to deprive them of the love they deeply need simply because they are not in a position to return it. We should call on our compassion - truly and resolutely, and love them all the more.
How can we practice love for love's sake (i.e without attachment)? Personally, I aim to give my best to my students whether they praise class or choose to seek out other teachers. I love my family because they are closely tied to me and deserve my care and attention. I want to love a friend or a partner not because they love me but because it is deeply meaningful to give my heart with sweet abandon. Nine times out of ten, the love I give comes back to me in spades, and receiving love in return for love given is wonderful and meaningful. When it comes, I revel in it. There may be joy and passion, and there may be tears and heartbreak when you give love freely, but I deeply believe it's all worth it.