While watching the documentary, Fierce Grace, the other night, I was struck by a statement made by Subramanyum, a fellow disciple along with Ram Dass, of the Hindu sage, Neem Karoli Baba. Subramanyum said something to the effect that his teacher represented the epitome of love, that he exuded love, and that he rarely personally felt as loving as he did in this spiritual teacher’s presence. He had apparently received the “kiss of the guru.” Subramanyum also goes by the name of Larry Brilliant, currently the head of the billion dollar Google.org foundation. A good organization to head if your mission is to spread love in the world, I think.



What Brilliant’s account immediately made me think of is The First Law of Social Neuroscience: “It takes a more organized brain to help organize a less organized brain.” In my opinion, helping to organize all our brains is the first work of parents, teachers, therapists and clergy. This appears to happen by a kind of wireless neurological transmission – provided one of the brains actually is more organized than the other at any moment in time.

There’s a good possibility that the organizing energy of love might actually be life’s default condition (emanating from, or accelerated by the heart?). Nevertheless, I seem to walk around oblivious to it most of the time. Things like stress chemicals and survival worries tend to lock me into Logical Mind, where fear lives and perceptions get far too focused and/or seriously skewed. These and other Grave Concerns frequently do a fine job of blocking any awareness I might have of love as life’s underlying energy base.

Love and Kisses and Placebos

My first hint of the possibility of love being the default organizing energy came when I was pretty young. I was out in the back yard one day, carving a wooden spear with a pocket knife, when I slipped and sliced my knee. I ran into the house frightened and bleeding and begged my mother not to take me to the hospital (I had been traumatized at Yale-New Haven hospital at age four when they took my tonsils out under general anesthesia. But I didn’t consciously know that then. I just knew to stay away from hospitals at all costs). My mother took a look, washed the blood off, and told me I would be fine … and promised no trip to the hospital. To this day, more than half a century later, I still remember the feeling of great relief! Then she kissed my knee and told me that would make it all better. And it did.

I have a suspicion that a mother’s kiss and the love exuded by an enlightened guru might have something in common: that they are each somehow related to the placebo response. The power of placebo has inexplicably nearly doubled since the 1980’s, spurring the American medical establishment into finally getting around to doing some real research on it. Some of the early findings are quite surprising. For example, where you live in the world matters to placebos – placebos administered in Germany, for example, work differently than those administered in America. And the color of a placebo pill matters, as well as how much it costs – expensive sugar pills work better than cheaper ones ordered and imported through the Internet.

The Power of Therapeutic Ritual

The conditions under which you are given a placebo matter as well. If I wear a white coat, have a medical degree and give you the placebo in a hospital setting, it’s apparently much more effective than if I administer it in your home wearing jeans and a cotton flannel shirt. The “therapeutic ritual” turns out to be a powerful enhancer of the placebo effect.

Psychotherapist Marsha Lucas, with whom I recently shared this compelling article in Wired magazine about placebos, suggested that perhaps at some level placebos are doing their best to answer The Big Brain Question “Yes!” for us. I suspect she may be right. I’d love to devise some way to empirically test that hypothesis.

9To the extent that a mother’s kiss, a guru’s presence and an effective placebo are each able to calm our fears and dissipate unneeded adrenaline and cortisol, my suspicion is that they set us up to be able to touch in to the default organizing energy, this energy that we mostly know as love. I suspect it is actually this energy which has the real power to heal, and that it has little to do with the size, color, cost or the place where a sugar pill is delivered. But I’m guessing it’s going to be awhile before Big Pharma begins designing drug studies to control for the organizing energy of Love Potion # 9. There is, after all, ready, but not necessarily easy access to it for most of us.