Valentine’s Day can go suck an egg, so far as I’m concerned! It’s become an over-hyped exercise in commercialism that’s increasingly isolating – for couples and singles alike – with its enforced heteronormativity. Most years, I can pretty deftly ignore it. This year is no exception – thank goodness! But this year is a little special too. This year, Valentine’s Day coincides with Makha Bucha day – a Thai national holiday – so I have the day off work.
The spiritual aims of Makha Bucha day are: not to commit any kind of sins; do only good; purify one’s mind. OK, fair enough – these concepts seem generally good, and are open to interpretation. Most Thai Buddhists spend the day praying at the temple, and making merit. I’m not Buddhist, but I think we can all do with reflecting on the coincidence of Makha Bucha and Valentine’s.
Is romantic love sinful? Many traditions would have us believe it is, on some level. Particularly in its physical expressions. But I don’t think so; it’s good and wholesome and natural – and, well, fun! Anyway, I’m not interested in that today, but if you are, take a moment to consider the ways romantic love is beneficial to you and others (do only good!), and how it is harmful. It can be both things. Consider the difference between benevolent love and violent appetite.
Why stop at romantic love? Isn’t that how Western Valentine’s day has become so disgustingly over-balanced – this obsession with romantic fulfillment? Instead of spending the day lamenting the shortcomings of your romantic life, consider the joy brought to your life with other kinds of love – familial love, platonic love, the general love you feel towards the world, and which you feel reciprocated when you feel peace. The love you have for your interests and passions. And – this is my focus for today – the love for yourself.
Now, I think we can all agree the first of those types of love – familial, platonic, general, passionate endeavour – are generally good, wholesome, and not sinful. (Though, sometimes they can cause us to act sinfully.) But that last kind – love for yourself – is that sinful? Is it wrong and selfish to love yourself?
I’d argue that self-obssession, and relentless self-interest are, indeed, sinful (in the sense that they are harmful, damaging), but that proper love for yourself is, in fact, healthy, pure, and important. Self-love, self-acceptance, self-knowledge: they are the very keystone of your interaction with the rest of the world. All other love, understanding and action begin and end with your attitude to yourself; how it affects your interpretations of the world – whether it distorts and skews, or deepens and augments.
I’d go so far as to argue that, until you can love and accept yourself wholly, honestly, and exactly as you are, any other love you give or receive – romantic, familial, general – will contain a harmful or disruptive element of distortion. Your own insecurities and fears will (unconsciously) skew each action and reaction. I truly believe that this, and almost entirely this, is the root cause of all relationship problems; an incomplete knowledge of yourself. To love fully and freely, you must have a complete, honest, and frank relationship. This is true as much for yourself as it is for others. If you can’t be fully free and honest with yourself, how can you be with others? And without that freedom and openness, how can you ever love fully and well – without sin, or harm, or selfishness, or whatever you want to call it?
So, this Valentine’s / Makha Bucha combo day, Buddhist or no, single or otherwise, take the time to give yourself a little love and attention. Look inwardly, lovingly and honestly, and accept what you find there. Enjoy its uniqueness. You have a special relationship with yourself that you can have with no other being. Take the time today to enjoy it and reflect on it – not sinfully, but purely. Do yourself some good, and by extension those around you; those you love.
As a corrollary, I would note that I don’t think a little indulgence is sinful either. In fact, as with everything, a little indulgence is a good thing – only an excess is harmful. And what better way to consider and enjoy self-love than with a little healthy self-indulgence? Pander to those little desires that only you fully understand, that special ‘me time’, whatever form it takes. You know what it is; that which makes your heart light, gives you that warming thrill, and leaves your mind free and easeful. Maybe it’s as simple as a quiet cup of tea and a biscuit, or a walk in a green space. Maybe it’s a lie-in or a long shower. Only you can know.
As for myself, this morning I’ve enjoyed the luxury of quiet time with myself, indulged in a little navel-gazing, a little self-learning, and a bit of yoga. And I’ve treated myself to a delcious brunch treat. Perhaps a little unhealthy, but didn’t we agree a little indulgence is good for your soul?
Valentine’s Self-Love Brunch Treat – Bread & Butter Brunch Pudding
I was going to make myself pancakes, but I had some chocolate bread that wants eating up…. this little idea popped into my head nearly fully-formed. A bit like eggy bread, a bit like bread and butter pudding, it makes for delicious brunch!
I’ve used chocolate bread, but you can use any bread you like – brioche or some kind of tea bread is probably best. And I think only yeasted bread can give you that lovely texture and flavour. I’ve also used raisins, cashews and almonds because I had them to hand and quite fancied them, but you can use whatever dried (or fresh!) fruits, nuts, seeds you fancy.
You will need:
- Sweet bread of some kind (chocolate bread, brioche, etc… up to you).
1-2 largeish slices, depending on appetite.
- 1 or 2 eggs (1 egg per 2 medium slices, or 1 egg per large slice)
- A wee slosh of milk (about 2 tbsps), or cream if you’re feeling very naughty
- Sugar and lemon juice (optional, to taste)
- A small handful of dried or fresh fruit, nuts, seeds (optional, to taste)
- 1 tbsp Butter or veg oil (for frying)
- Whatever you want for ‘topping’, honey, chocolate sauce, syrup, yogurt… depends on personal taste, bread choice, fruit choice – use your imagination! (Though I used honey, it pours easier…)
- In a large bowl, beat the eggs until well combined, and beat in a wee slosh of milk, about a tsp of sugar (if adding, the type is up to you – I used demerara for rummy flavour) and a wee squiz or lemon or lime juice.
- Stir in your chosen fruits and nuts.
- Place one slice of bread in the mix. Let it lie for a couple of minutes, then carefully turn it over (be gentle or it will break!).
- Let it lie for a couple of minutes on that side too. If you’re doing more than one slice, carefully remove and set on a plate (if you’re just doing the one you can let it lie in the mix til you’re ready to cook).
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 for any additional slices of bread.
Top tip: If you’re having coffee or something similarly fiddly with your brunch, you can get it on now while the bread soaks. Once you start cooking, that will take all your attention. This is a needy little treat!
- In a frying pan, heat the butter or oil on a low-mid heat.
- Carefully lower one slice of soaked bread into the oil (a good spatula or fishslice is a godsend for this job!). If you have a large pan or small bread, you can put them all in, but don’t crowd the pan. If your pan is small / bread is big, cook them in batches. They keep warm a good while.
- Let the bread fry for a couple of minutes, until you see the egg on that underside has cooked and is starting to brown.
- Carefully turn the bread over (use 2 spatulas, or a spatula and a fork if it’s veering to floppy, as the actress said to the bishop).
- Cook on this side until the egg is cooked and starting to brown.
- Continue turning and browning til it’s done to your satisfaction – about 2 or 3 minutes each side. (Remember that egg continues to cook out of the pan too, so if you want it a bit soft and gooey, take it out when it’s still ‘not quite’).
- Turn off the heat, carefully remove the bread from the pan, and arrange with all due ceremony on a serving plate.
- Anoint with your chosen topping – honey, yogurt, dew collected at dawn…
- Enjoy with full awareness of just how good you are to yourself.