Kathe Izzo is an artist whose work is exquisite and invisible. For ten years, she conducted an experiment that was part performance, part study and all love. The True Love Project explored what happens when a single person gives her heart to a series of people, totally and unconditionally, for just one day at a time.
Think about that. Most of us have known unconditional love – true, unabashed love – first with our parents, later with sweethearts and friends. It is ephemeral, though, and easily obscured by our daily dramas. Even the most loving parent gets frustrated with their child sometimes. Sweethearts break up over slights real or imagined. Though we all know what love is, more or less, it’s pretty rare that we have a chance to experience it in its pure form.
When Kathe offered me her services two Valentine’s Days ago, I was fascinated and nervous. What does it mean, for somebody you’ve barely met to offer you their heart for a day? Was there a commitment involved? What was I supposed to do with this true love being presented on a platter for my use?
It turned out, lucky for me, that Kathe is a love professional.
Founder of The School of Invisible Arts in New York, Kathe has devoted her life to the practice of sharing and self-discovery. She counsels and guides, leads spiritual retreats, and helps people seek direction and focus in our shattered world. The school’s first online course, The Subtle Knife, leads participants through a month of guided thought, prayer and meditation. The message is startlingly, poetically effective:
In this very moment,
identify ONE THOUGHT,
about your life that you are sure will absolutely,
without any doubt
NEVER, EVER CHANGE . . .
your anchor, your brick wall,
your well of loneliness
your empty pocket,
your personal chaos,
your sense of exclusion,
your inability to visualize
Now take a moment to imagine a life without this thought.
This is the work of Kathe Izzo, Love Artist. I, who never pray, meditate, journal or read poetry, was a little skeptical. But I was open enough to give it a try, and on Valentine’s Day 2011, Kathe climbed into my heart and taught it what true love feels like.
At first, it mostly felt uncomfortable.
My steel-clad soul was not prepared for intimacy and vulnerability. My hackles went up almost immediately. By the time I’d finished reading her first love letter to me – “I can only love you from where I am, obviously & the best love comes from vulnerability” – I fully understood that this was going to be a two-way street. It didn't matter whether I was ready or not. "Buy the ticket, take the ride," Kathe reminded me. And off we went.
As the day passed, we sent each other a series of letters and a couple of videos. We shared details of our days. I was drinking coffee and worrying about deadlines; Kathe was going to the Hudson River to release a flower mala and a prayer. There wasn’t any physical intimacy – we live thousands of miles apart, and this experiment wasn’t about that. The challenge and the reward were identical: Find a place in your heart to understand and care about somebody to whom you wouldn’t normally give energy.
Bhumika Bhatia on Flickr
Energy, it turned out, was the operating factor. Surprisingly, I found the process all-consuming, distracting, draining. How much energy goes into loving somebody unconditionally? Almost all you have. Every spare thought went to Kathe. Was I doing this right? She assured me I was doing fine. She told me about her hopes and fears. She sent poetic thoughts and suggestions. I did my best to respond in kind. This was more energy than I’d ever spent on another person in my entire life. I started feeling vulnerable myself. Eventually, I gave in. “I love you,” I said, and I meant it. Kathe took it totally in stride. Of course I did. She loved me too.
By the end, I was exhausted and completely vulnerable. Though we hadn’t seen or spoken to each other, Kathe and I had each devoted an entire day to the simple task of sharing love with a fellow human. I’d never thought it could be so challenging, but I had hoped there would be rewards. There were.
After my True Love Experiment, I felt a gradual and inexorable change in the way I moved through my relationships. I found myself reaching new levels of intimacy with nearly every person in my life. More enthusiasm and less fear. A brighter, faster-beating heart. And – by the way – an honest, intimate and unflagging affection for Kathe, who started the day as a stranger and ended it as a beloved friend.
Andrei Prakharevich on Flickr
You may or may not have a “valentine” this year, but you do have someone in your life that deserves love (including yourself). This Valentine’s Day, why not try your own love experiment?
I challenge you, in the spirit of unconditional love, to make your heart beat a little harder. Take the time to think loving thoughts, even in the middle of a busy day. Be vulnerable and intimate with the ones you care about. For just one day, love truly and deeply. Whatever you discover through the process of opening your heart to the world, it will be a part of you for the rest of your life.