(Originally published for The Dragontree)

This year, Americans are projected to spend $18.9 billion on Valentine’s Day gifts, which just goes to show you what a powerful force Love is. Because, more than anything else, Love is about presents. Indeed, from the time of cave people, archeologists have found fossils of heart shaped boxes filled with an assortment of the most delectable bits of mammoth meat.

But, seriously, that $18.9 billion figure is a fact. Has Valentine’s Day gone the way of Christmas – a virtuous sentiment that’s turned in a shopping frenzy? I know enough people who already hate Valentine’s Day because they’re single, and they feel like the world is rubbing it in their faces. The last thing they need is this crazy degree of over-the-top spending to fan the flames of their irritation.

Well, I’m here to fight for the true spirit of Valentine’s Day. Or, what I want to be the true spirit of Valentine’s Day – a celebration of Love in all its forms. Not just the edible underwear kind. A celebration of real Love doesn’t leave anyone out and it doesn’t cost a penny. And if it rubs anything in your face, consider yourself lucky.

As I alluded to in my article Love, the Verb, I had an especially introspective period about 15 years ago, during which I tapped into my unconscious and discovered some deep truths and fears. I had the sense that what I was unearthing wasn’t unique to me, but common to all of humankind. Carl Jung called this realm the collective unconscious, and he described it as a facet of our consciousness that is shared by everyone.

What I found here were some very basic fears: the fear of loving, the fear of being loved, and the fear of the loss of love. It all comes down to the last one, doesn’t it? When we think of what humans fear the most, death often comes to mind, but much of what scares us about death is the idea of the loss of love: losing everything we love about the world and our life, losing everyone’s love for us, and for those we love to lose us and our love for them.

It’s all an expression of the sad belief that Love is a capricious and conditional thing, and that humans are sort of in control of it. But this belief and the resulting fear we have around Love, which so squelches our experience and expression of it, results mainly from one central, subconscious confusion – that approval is Love. Approval is a crappy substitute for Love, though.

There’s a distinct difference between wanting and getting approval versus wanting and experiencing Love. See if you can bring to mind someone whose approval you want (maybe even your own), and then let just let yourself feel, in your body, what it’s like to want someone’s approval. It’s an unresolved sort of feeling, like we might not be altogether okay if we don’t get something that only they can give. For me, it’s an unpleasant yearning feeling. A subservient feeling.

When we tune in to this feeling – wanting the world to approve of us – it’s clear that following it isn’t going to serve our highest potential or make us feel truly satisfied. Even if we succeed at getting lots and lots of approval, it doesn’t quench the want of approval.

So, why do you think we’re going to spend $18.9 billion on Valentine’s Day presents? I’d guess that it has a bit more to do with approval than with Love. But, don’t let me stop you from getting flowers for someone special. I like calla lilies, by the way. Preferably a mix of white and colored ones.

However, just remember that Love cares nothing for flowers – at least not more than it does for anything else. Every one of us has the ability to consciously experience Love at will, to allow Love into all parts of ourselves, to withhold no Love from ourselves or others, and to actively Love every part of life. This makes approval a paltry goal in comparison. And this, my friends, is a devotion that’s worthy of a holiday.

Love the One You’re With,

Dr. Peter Borten