The “Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference,” the world’s largest psychotherapy conference ever, was just held in Anaheim, California. It brought together 8,000 mental health practitioners and teachers from all over the world. I brought in my holy brother, Patch Adams, to do a pre-conference workshop and deliver the opening keynote. The workshop was entitled “What is Your Love Strategy?” which was an unforgettable experience.

During the workshop, we had to pick someone whom we didn’t know, look into their eyes and tell them “I love you,” as if we really meant it. It wasn’t just a one-time utterance — we had to repeat it over and over again, changing the rhythm and inflection. I found it quite difficult. Patch said the only group that has been unable to do it, has been teenagers. It got easier after a while, and when I saw tears in my partner’s eyes, I knew that I made a connection. She told me later that hearing it again and again reminded her how long it had been since she’d heard those words, and how she longed to hear them again. I felt love for this complete stranger, who found comfort in my eyes and words.

Patch contends that loneliness is the source of most people’s despair, and if you can reach out and make a heartfelt connection they will feel better. He says reaching out to love a stranger is the critical element in doing the clowning work. He spends most of his time traveling around the world with a group of clowns going to war zones, disaster areas, visiting the sickest, loneliest, dying and discarded. The clowns don’t have to have any experience. They have to put together a costume, be able to endure long flights, 12-hour workdays without whining, come from a place of love and pay their own way. Patch says he’s never met anybody he didn’t love (which I must say I have always found a bit unbelievable).

His clowns get up real close and touch the suffering in ways that transmit love. He showed us some videotape footage of a little girl with third-degree burns that covered half her body. Her crusted, burned flesh was being debrided without anesthetic. I wanted to run away at the sight of such suffering, but the clowns under Patch’s tutelage don’t run away from anyone. While bandaging the wound, a clown playing a violin stood close by, and let the burned child touch her nose.

You don’t have to go to Dafur or Afghanistan to develop a love strategy that touches people who are hurting. Patch reminded us all that giving our love to those we are privileged to touch magnifies our healing power. This is the season of gratitude and renewal . . . imagine what we could achieve if loving more was a global strategy for the New Year.

P.S. We took this opportunity to sell an international audience on the first Patch Adams Full Moon Festival; our dream of bringing communities together in joy rather than disaster, and supporting local grass-roots charities. For those of you unfamiliar with this mind-boggling event in community mental health, go to the Schlagbyte Archives (Jan. 24, 2000) and smile.