The word February is born from the Latin word “februare” meaning to “purify” or “expiate.” In ancient Rome, Februarius was the “Month of Purification” and great festivities were held to reestablish the empire’s focus on righteous living. As we consider the theme of unconditional love this month, we can begin with the aspiration to purify our hearts of the critical thoughts that limit our fullest expression of lovingkindness. Steven Smith, guiding teacher at the Insight Meditation Society, suggests that cultivating metta (lovingkindness) is first a process of softening – breaking down the barriers that we feel inwardly toward ourselves. These barriers are born of self-judgment and built on self-criticism. The first step in developing unconditional love is to purify our minds of the negative thoughts that undermine self-love. From there, we can begin to radiate lovingkindness in all directions.