The tragic events in Arizona over the last days have done what such events often do for us. They have changed how we move forward together into another American year. Of course, there is nothing we do or say or write about that can bring back Christina Taylor Green from the dead. Nothing will undo the deaths of five other people, or the physical trauma of thirteen more, or the psychological trauma of everyone affected. Along with devastating pain for everyone affected, these events have also opened a fresh debate about many important questions. Should we rethink our over-the-counter attitude towards guns, or how we deal with mental illness, or the tenor of our political debate?
But most important, and quite brilliantly highlighted in the president's speech on Wednesday, the Arizona shootings can also become an opportunity to ask ourselves some even bigger questions: why are we here, what makes our lives well lived and marinated in a deeper sense of meaning and purpose? How might Jared Lee Loughner's personal deeply disturbed psyche be a litmus test on how we all live with each other, a reminder of how we have drifted from our deepest shared values?
More than forty years ago, on "Our World," the first live global television link, the Beatles performed "All you Need is Love" to an audience of 400 million people in 26 countries. The BBC wanted a song with a simple message that could be understood by all nationalities. It went on to become the #1 single in the UK for three straight weeks. Today everyone can sing the lyrics, everyone knows the tune, it has become a unifying anthem the world over. Why? Because everyone loves love.
Thirty six years later, the Black Eyed Peas performed their first single "Where is the Love?" at the Grammy's in 2004, earning themselves two awards on the night. That song is the 25th bestselling single of the entire decade in the UK.
People killin', people dyin'
Children hurt and you hear them cryin'
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek?
Father, Father, Father help us
Send us some guidance from above
'Cause people got me, got me questionin'
Where is the love?
These two songs are not only about romantic love, or the personal love we feel for our children, or our parents, or even our country. They are about love, the Big Love, the love that we all intuit, and admire, and sometimes even deify. They are songs about what our hearts tell us is true, tell us is our real potential, even if that intuition is trampled under foot each and every day by disappointment, cynicism and disorientation.
Wait, what's that sound? Yep, I can already hear first clicks of the HuffPost comment writers' keys, calling out in despair and disgust, "No, No, please, not another left coast blog post about optimism and feeling good for no reason, and 'lurv.' For God's sake, Arianna, spare us the lurv' junkies!"
But you and I and everyone we know, under our decades of getting hurt, of feeling rejected, of losing our vision time and time again, deep down we all love to love. We may disagree about Sarah or Barack, we may have different tastes in Bach or Eminem, and some may love Polanski more than Judd Apatow, but it's hard to find anyone anywhere who does not give love the thumbs up. It's about as universally popular among human beings as oxygen or getting enough sleep. The only reason anyone might have for second thoughts about love is that we don't always know how to live it in an effortless and easy way.
Over the holidays I read Marci Shimoff's latest book, "Love for No Reason." It got my unconditional love mojo going again, with dozens of compelling reasons to live as love now, regardless of circumstance, relationship status, the shape of your body, or any of the other reasons we give ourselves to postpone throwing the gates of the fortress wide open and declaring Open House.
Here's a passage I highlighted, which has stuck with me the last days, as we have all asked ourselves what bigger lessons the shootings might contain:
When you experience Love for No Reason, you no longer need to look outside yourself to get love. You stop being a love beggar and become a love philanthropist, dispensing love, kindness, and goodwill wherever you go.
This simple but profound shift will create remarkable changes in every area of your life. It will improve your health, your relationships, and your success and satisfaction at work. Instead of feeling a little hungry all the time -- for love, security, more stuff, more recognition, more everything -- you'll feel full and complete. It will affect how you show up in every moment. In fact, though your life might not depend on making this shift, the quality of your life does.
There have always been people, throughout history in every tradition, who have discovered a dimension of universal or unconditional love, and they have always come to more or less the same three central insights:
- Love is actually who we are, not just a feeling we feel. We easily forget this simple truth, and get addicted to a mentality of "more for me."
- Love is why we are here. The initiation into causeless love has frequently been a near death experience, where, on the verge of snuffing it, the initiate looks back on their life and sees that so much was in vain, except, that is, for the exploration of love.
- The Heart is a portal to feeling more love. We all have an antenna in our bodies, located in the middle of our chest, radiating out into two limbs, the same ones which hug and touch and caress, and that is the place where we connect with love in a visceral way.
Shimoff's generous book offered me the fruits of 150 interviews she conducted with contemporary people, including prisoners, priests, business leaders and school teachers whom she calls "Love Luminaries," about the factors that make the biggest difference to living this kind of resilient love. Some are well-known writers and celebrities, like Marianne Williamson, Melissa Etheridge and Geneen Roth. But my favorite was the story of Johnny Barnes, a native of Bermuda, who in the 1940's was working as an electrician on the railway. The impulse came to him, out of the blue, to start waving to people, calling out "I love you." He liked it so much, he started to do this every day during his lunch hour. Now Johnny is 84 years old. He gets up at 3:30 am every day to stand on the Crow Lane roundabout in busy downtown Hamilton till 10 am, calling out "Good Morning, Have a Good Day, God Bless you!" Says Johnny:
God gives us all something to do. If you can bring joy and happiness to others, you keep on doing it. People seem to like my staying power. I just keep showing up day after day, and year after year -- they kind of count on it now. In fact, not long ago the city actually put up a statue of me, wide-brimmed hat and all, doing my two-handed wave! I never thought I'd see a statue of myself. Never. But there it is -- a life-sized bronze sculpture that stands on the opposite side of the roundabout from me. It keeps on spreading love after I go home.
So these became the two bookends of my experience of humanity in the first week of 2011. At one extreme is Jared Lee Loughner, who, in his isolated suffering, went to great trouble and preparation to bring death, injury and terror to hundreds of people he did not know. At the other end is this retired electrician in Bermuda, getting out of bed long before the sun to blow kisses and send waves of well-wishing to people he also did not know.
Where would you and I, in the way we live this very day today, like to position ourselves in this spectrum? Shall we choose to fuel the fires of division, or shall we dip a timid toe into the untested waters of irrational love?
We live in pivotal times. So many people today are feeling Pain for No Reason -- Emptiness, Heartache and Loneliness for No Reason. Shimoff feels, from observing her own life as well as everyone else's she knows, that it is this kind of causeless love that we are missing. When we are stuck in addiction, or conflict in relationship, or a mysterious sickness in the body that dampens our energy, she says it all boils down to needing to experience love. When that love is present, she says, we give up trying to control outer things for our own ends, and become instead a source of blessing in our lives. She is willing to put herself on the line to offer us very simple things we can all do to become love itself, right away. There's more about all this on her site, thelovebook.com
I was reminded of her book when the President of the United States was willing to put himself on the line in the same way on Wednesday, with these words:
We may ask ourselves if we've shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we're doing right by our children, or our community, whether our priorities are in order. We recognize our own mortality, and we are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame -- but rather, how well we have loved and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.
Armed with the Obama's questions, and Shimoff's recipes, I am ready to make 2011 my year of loving dangerously. How about you?
HuffPost Lifestyle is a daily newsletter that will make you happier and healthier — one email at a time. Learn more