By Maggie Lyon

My greatest teacher of unconditional love was my sweet grandmother, Sylvia. She passed away on Valentine’s Day nine years ago, leaving nothing but that peerless love in her wake.

Many of us spend our lives on a serious quest for love, that deep affection that we all crave. What’s wild is how convoluted these searches can become.

I, for one, spent my chaotic and rebellious teens trying to numb out with drugs and by starving myself as means to eradicate the mess of my life. But beneath all that acting out, beneath my frailty—and the cocaine, the ecstasy, the speed, the five tattoos—was a desperate grasping for wholeness, and for the consistent love I never had.

Even with the psychotherapy, meditation, and yoga that came after leaving home and giving up on self-destruction, I simply couldn’t understand the self-love that all these philosophies were supposedly trying to cultivate. Simply put, I was at a total loss as to what it meant to love myself in my head, let alone how that would feel in my heart.

Blessedly, when I turned 20, I had my first taste of uncomplicated love, and it came from my grandmother Sylvia, who for five solid years taught me what it felt like to be loved steadily from the outside, without contingency.

While her love poured in, I slowly and surely began to heal my body from the self-imposed trauma I’d put myself through, and just as surely began to believe in the power of love. Only then did the therapies I was so devoted to actually begin to sink in. Only then could I begin to imagine what it would feel like to give myself that same quality of pure, unconditional love.

Sylvia saw the shift in me, too. She could feel the warmth I started to generate and point inward. When she visited me in New York the summer of my twenty-fifth birthday, she could see it in the love notes to myself that I had posted all over my apartment. She knew that because of my newfound love she could safely and subtly let go—that I would finally be OK. She died on Valentine’s Day two years later.

In honor of Sylvia, and of Valentine’s Day, here’s a little recipe I’ve cooked up over the years. It encourages you to look at the essence of love—and to awaken it within yourself:

L is for Light.

Love indeed acts as ultimate healing light, or as an antidote to the darkness and gloom that often overwhelms and cuts off our ability to feel it for ourselves and for others. It makes us and those around us glow and grow.

O is for Openheartedness.

Love both inspires and requires openheartedness to its own super powers. To fully welcome love, we must be willing to open our hearts to its mystery and magic, without trying to rationalize, control, or hoard it.

V is for Vision.

When we focus our intention on awakening love in ourselves, and on how we move through our days, we energetically and experientially create it, and—as a bonus—attract it. We owe it to ourselves to really envision love fully infusing our bodies and filling up our lives.

E is for Expression.

In applying the spirit of love to all that we put out into the world—in our homes, our offices, with our families and friends—in other words, by expressing it, love grows exponentially, and on a profound level, ensures its own immortality.

This recipe for love has grown into a mantra for me, and hopefully it will for you, too. What’s amazing is that the more I’ve repeated it, the more positive and loving my life becomes. I can’t help but smiling here because this is so totally the way love works, at first tiptoeing in, and eventually impacting every remote crevice of who we are. How joyful is that?

Maggie Lyon is a writer on wellness and spirituality, a motivational speaker, and a holistic lifestyle consultant. A practitioner of Zen Buddhism and Iyengar yoga for the past twenty years, Maggie is committed to guiding others on their individual quests to awaken to the sweetness in life. For more on Maggie, check out her blog or on FACEBOOK or TWITTER.