Remember the last time you bought a new car? It can take days, or even months, of exacting internet research, agony over final decision-making, then going to the dealer to pick out the uniquely right one for you? Let say you do this, and the Perfect Car for You turned out to be a sky blue Toyota Prius. A car in perfection, unlike any other car you’ve ever seen.
Until you drive off, that is. The moment you leave the lot, you see nothing but sky blue Toyota Priiiiiiiiiiii everywhere you go.
This phenomenon is brought to you by a little circuit in your brain we call the reticular activating system. Your reticular activating system is a personal relevance detector: when something becomes highly relevant (connected, related) to you, your reticular activating system alerts to it, and that thing becomes highly salient (noticeable, important) to you, too.
I’m certain that I have an RAS circuit for pug puppies. I can spot them from miles away.
The principle is this: what you focus on grows. And it grows in two ways. First, it grows in noticeability. You get more evidence of the thing that you are noticing, that it exists all around you. But then, once you notice it, you are likely to act, subconsciously and consciously, in ways that expand that thing, create more of that thing, multiply that thing, or bring more of that thing into your experience, in a very tangible way.
You start looking at pug puppies on rescue sites online. Then you see pug puppies everywhere you go, on the streets. Then you adopt pug puppies.
You start reading the reviews about Priuses. Then you buy a Prius, triggering your RAS. Then you see Priuses everywhere you go. And then you may, if you’re happy with the car, join an online discussion board of Prius owners, or even choose another Prius when your mate is ready for a new vehicle.
Here’s the fun part: this post is not about cars. It’s about energy, joy, enthusiasm, boldness, confidence, healing, miracles, love and every other thing you want in your life.
Here’s what I mean. Do me a quick favor. Take 73 seconds and watch what is, to my mind, one of the most life- and love-affirming minutes in film:
Repeat after me:
Love actually is all around
Love actually is all around
Love actually is all around
I know it doesn’t always feel like it, and I know right this moment, it really may not feel like it. But love actually is all around. It’s all around you. Right now. And if you look for it and focus on it, you’ll experience even more and more of it.
Let’s break it down: Love. Actually is. All around.
Love. Real love is what David Richo, in How to be An Adult in Relationships, calls the five A’s: Attention, Acceptance, Appreciation, Affection and Allowing. It’s warmth and caring. Even if you feel unloved and aggrieved, or you crave a certain type of love, you are remiss to not look for the places in your life where people you know already show you these 5 As.
We all have our moments. When I have moments where I’m not feeling the love, I do a mental inventory of my life. I look for warmth, for caring, for little love evidence and big love proof points. Who are the people (or animals) in your world, past or present, that give you attention, accept you, appreciate you, show you affection and allow you to be who you are? Most of us can honestly say they are all around us.
Are things other than love around, too? Of course. In fact, part of how we know love is actually all around us is by the occasional contrasting experience. Think about the example Hugh uses in the voiceover: a most hateful event, 9/11, sparked a bunch of love calls, not hate calls.
It’s excruciatingly easy right now to get pulled into the spiral of fear and anxiety about the hate that we’ve seen rear and raise its ugly head here lately. This post is me urging you, begging you, to guard your heart against that. Deal with the issues before us and do the actions before you, certainly. But whatever you do, do not spend your days, your energy, focused on hate. It’s a hard spiral to pull out of.
Actually is. When you are looking for it, you will find it. You will see it and you will grow it. You will notice and feel it in places it already exists in your life, more than you do now. And then you will also behave in ways, subconsciously and overtly, that attract in more love, from the people you meet on the street, from people with whom you have difficult relationships and even from people who
All Around. You might feel like you get love from your kids or your mate, and that the rest of the world is insane.But here’s the thing, love is actually everywhere around you, and it’s for you. In small ways and large. The people in your life who give you the 5 A’s, definitely. But also the friend who picks your kid up when you’re sick. The women I passed on my dog walk today who were so excited to finally meet the girls, and had even given them nicknames. Think about the divine, big picture love that allows your cells to function, the trees to grow and your cell phone to charge up when you plug it into the wall. And look for the smallest little loves, too, because they’re all the same energy: your neighbor who jumps your car when you let it sit too long, and the barista who makes your daughter a sweet little new milk cartoon in her hot chocolate every morning.
Truth part B is this: you have to be on the lookout for it. Like Hugh was, at the airport. In fact, if you struggle to get the momentum of love flowing in your energy on a daily basis, I invite you to use the idea of the airport arrival as a go-to image that can bring you back. Or use the visual of your dogs when you get home. Or use the visual of your grandmother or your garden or your husband or your favorite teacher. Whatever works.
To set your reticular activating system for love, you might also need to starve all of love’s opposites of your energy. Refuse to give them your precious, precious bandwidth. Do not spend your time fixated and focused on hate, on disgust, on criticism, on things that make you feel bad or things that are the opposites of the 5 As. This will be difficult, in our culture. This will be especially difficult if you spend a lot of time on Facebook.
But it’s not impossible. Focus on the baby photos and puppies that come up in your feed. Opt-out of push notifications for pressing world news. It’ll still be there when you get there. You know those friends who are always sharing the tragic, the worst of humanity and the travesties of justics? You don’t have to unfriend them. But you can unfollow them. And you can follow a bunch of pages like Upworthy and A Mighty Girl, Brain Pickings and other pages that are much less likely to be broadcasting the opposite of love. Then click to make sure you see all their posts. In no time, you’ll have rehabilitated your Facebook feed in the direction of love.
You can actually decide to give less and less and eventually no airtime to anything but love. Does it mean other things won’t come up? No, of course not. But when they do, you’ll even see the hateful people as wounded children of God, and you’ll respond to that stuff very differently: without rumination, without depression, you’ll treat their actions as the sport of the day, and you’ll be able to see all the love all around you on that same day.
Many people have told me about the days or weeks of their lives they’ve lost to depression and fear since the election. Worrying can make you feel like you’re doing something in a world where you otherwise feel out of control. It can also be a way we bond with people, and it can feel comfortable. It can also feel like to do anything but fixate and stress means you don’t take the problems seriously. I get it.
But it’s not the most powerful way to be. And you know what else? It feels terrible. Terrible. It does nothing to diminish real concerns to choose not to fixate on hate and all the things that are wrong with the world. The most powerful way you can be is to click into the way of love. That is your nature. Let that drive your identity and your actions. It’s literally everywhere around you. Just look.
P.S.: I issued a 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders a few weeks back, and over 150 brilliant souls signed up! I decided to take the Challenge right along with them, and it’s been a profound journey for many of us. Most people are journaling or free-writing every day, privately. I wrote this post on Day 28 of the Challenge. I’ll be doing another writing Challenge in January; click here to get on the list for the January Challenge.