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The “I Love You” Experiment

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Most of you reading this story remember the Little Caesar’s Pizza commercial: “Anything’s possible—I taught my dog to say I love you!”

And behold, the adorable dog exclaims, “Ri Ruv Ru!”

As I relax on my Florida balcony overlooking a vast expanse of turquoise ocean, my sweet memory of this advertisement is filling me with a most familiar warm feeling, that transcendent buzz of stillness and pure life energy that I’ve labeled love. I’m reminded of a meditation class several years ago, wherein just before the closing namaste, the teacher extended to us a sort of dare for homework that at once seemed both impossible and impossible to refuse:

“Sometime this month when you’re out, about, and so inspired,  feel—and then tell a perfect stranger that you love them.”

I’ll never be able to do that, was the first thought my mind fired back—yet in my striving to be a perfect student, I left the session that evening with a yearning in my heart for the courage to fulfill the task at hand.

This particular meditation group was breaking for a month, as several of its members (myself included) were headed to participate in a self-inquiry program in Tiruvannamalai, India. This gave us one month to find ourselves in a right moment for the “I love you” to happen. Several days prior to my departure for the East, I lived at Western-style strip malls, shopping for mosquito repellent, fanny packs and other necessities on my trip list—with my stomach in a constant tremble over the “I love you” experiment. Yet no magical moments perusing the aisles at Target or standing in line at the cash registers of Outdoor World allowed for the utterance. 

Luckily, I had one more somewhat intangible item on my list—a blood test. Because I knew I wouldn’t be capable of sitting still on the holy hill of Arunachala if my mind were constantly taunting me with not knowing for certain whether my past unconscious sexual activity had caught up with me. Until then, I’d always been too afraid to find out for sure. Yet, if I were going to succeed at feeling and expressing love for a perfect stranger, I would first have to take this loving action for myself. And so, the day prior to twenty-plus hour intercontinental flight, I forced myself to embark on the forty-five minute drive on I-95 to Planned Parenthood.

Following the prick of the needle and complementary safe-sex lecture, I stirred anxiously in the waiting room, further agitated by the florescent light beating down on my head. A total white fear consumed my every cell so intensely. I had not one thought of the “I love you” experiment. Meanwhile, directly across from where I was sitting, a girl sat, wide mouthed and color draining from her complexion by the second, betwixt her boyfriend and grandmother—who had just learned from a fly-by stork that she would soon be a great-grandmother.

Drawn together only by the relative intensity of the fear vibration present in this moment, the girl’s eyes met mine for a nanosecond before her gaze fell again to the cold tile below, while her support system yammered on about how difficult it would be to break the news of new life to the girl’s mother.

My attention ricocheted between my personal concerns and those of the young mother-to-be with such force, I felt my head about to burst. And it may have, had I not been called by the nurse to receive the white paper slip that symbolized the greatest relief of my life. The litany of tension in my skull began releasing. Tears broke the dam of my eyes as I headed for the door, and without a thought about it, I felt my body pause, embracing the girl in the waiting room. And out came the words: “I know you don’t know me, but I wanted to let you know that … I love you.”

At this point, I could attempt to describe what transpired—but in doing so, I would be robbing you of your own experience in following through on the “I love you” experiment. So I am now extending to you the identical opportunity: When you’re out, about and so inspired, feel—and tell a perfect stranger, “I love you.”

If it appears impossible to you now as it once did to me: Strike that, reverse it. If you want to taste this uncommon love over and over again, it may help you to affirm aloud to yourself this adapted wisdom of Little Caesar:

Anything is possible.

I allow myself to feel … I love you. 


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