Love on the Brain
Photo: Don & Phyllis Smith
My husband, Don, and I have nothing special planned for Valentines Day. So I got on this downward spiral slope thinking there's something wrong with us. Why isn't there a romantic evening with rose petals and a bubble bath and exchanging expensive gifts? Shouldn't I care?
We did that once, back in the day. But this morning I had an "aha" moment after my daily meditation. As Don was getting ready to drive in the frozen tundra to work, I was worried about his safety on the roads. After that 133 car pile-up in Fort Worth this past week, I couldn't help myself but be concerned.
Then I started thinking...what a wonderful thing it is to have someone to care about, and to have someone care about me. Someone who would be concerned if I didn't come home, or ran late or fell and got injured or sick.
I realize that it is in the ease of our relationship that lies the beauty. The love of 30 years of marriage, children, dogs, homes, fights, makeups, morning breath, bad hair, sweatpants, elegance, parents dying, boredom, fun, and simply growing together is what love means to me now.
Sometimes I get caught in the negative mind loop that things are better on the other side. That I am not good enough, my marriage isn't good enough, I'm a bad mom, I can't cook, I have wrinkles, you name it. The kind of thinking that gets in the way of inner peace and joy.
This enlightened perspective of mine, where I appreciate our love for all its love lines, comes in part because of my consistent daily mindfulness practices of yoga, meditation, and mindful nature walking (yes, even in 20 degrees!). Mindfulness gives me the ability to observe my thoughts and make choices to let them go and return to the present moment. It allows my fight/flight/freeze (FFF) brain to shrink making space for my emotional regulation and empathy (love) brain to grow. (See Harvard study image below)
Harvard Study: Functional MRI (left) showing activation in the amygdala when participants were watching images with emotional content before learning meditation. After eight weeks of training in mindful attention meditation (right) note the amygdala is less activated after the meditation training. ~Courtesy of Gaelle Desbordes
When our FFF brain is less active, our brain isn't trying to protect us. That kind of negative thinking is merely your brain instinctively trying to protect you from something bad happening. In fact, our brain goes negative first before it goes positive. But with a consistent mindfulness practice like meditation, your brain literally changes. (See MRI image above).
It's important to note that love doesn't have to just be about loving someone else. The space you create in your mind through mindfulness deepens a sense of peace, which opens a pathway to love yourself. When you love yourself, your love for others grows deeper. It becomes less about them loving you and more about you loving them.
And THAT my friends is what love is about. It's about giving to someone else without expecting something in return. We give just because we love. Imagine a world where everyone did that.
So, my Valentines gift to my husband is this blog. I'm saying it out loud to the public that I love him - That an easy, uncomplicated life with him where we care and support each other is a love I treasure deep in my heart and soul. I'm so grateful for it all. You are the tree to my squirrel. Happy Valentines Day!
To choose your thoughts in a way that opens the door for inner-peace and deeper love, here's a quick mindfulness practice:
Start by sitting in a quiet place with no interruptions
Close your eyes or take a soft gaze
Notice your breath - don't force anything. Just notice yourself breathing
Now listen for your thoughts - don't judge them - just listen
When you have a thought, silently say the word, "Thinking" followed by the word "Breathing"
Continue following your breath
Repeat "thinking/breathing" each time a thought comes to you
Once you have done this in a quiet place consistently, you will naturally begin to notice your thoughts wherever you are. When you do say, "thinking/breathing" and come back to the present moment.
*Are your kids struggling with stress, anxiety, or depression? Would you like to empower them with mindfulness tools, so they can grow more confident, focused, calmer, and joyful? Sign them up for our hybrid in-person/virtual "Activate Your Superpower" summer camp, June 21-25th, 2021 in Dallas. Click HERE to learn more and register.*
Author, Phyllis Smith, is the Co-founder and CEO of Live Free Yoga, which provides yoga and mindfulness programs for youth and adults who serve them. She is also the co-creator of Lighter Being, a transformative mindfulness video series to help you find more balance, self-love, and a lighter state of being.