The Gift of Light

gift of light

I confess.  Despite my best efforts, I fell into the Bah-Humbug Swamp this past week.  Its appearance in my path is a seasonal thing.  Right smack in mid-December it bubbles up and grabs me. I tried to tip-toe past it this year, but it sneaked up and sucked me right in, covering me from head to toe with slimy sadness and chunks of disgust.  (Wait!  There’s a happy ending.  Don’t quit reading now!)

Instead of seeing the beauty of the holiday lights and enjoying the music that floated from stores’ speakers as I shopped,  all I could see was how driven and stressed everybody seemed as they tried to live up to all the expectations that the season evokes.   While I was under the Swamp Spell, it all looked like sheer madness.

But then I remembered the magical rope I had created for myself.  See, I knew the swamp was likely to show up, so I prepared for it in advance.  In my imagination, I found a big, glittering, quartz-encrusted slab of granite and right in the middle of it I anchored a tall marble pillar etched with the words “Kindness” and “Compassion.”  Because it reminded me a bit of a light-house, I placed a revolving light on it, too.  I wanted to be able to see it in case I did fall into the swamp, no matter how dark the swamp might be.  Then I made the magical rope.  It was woven of golden fibers and it had a kind of detector on the end of it so that if I swung it in the air above my head, it would automatically be drawn to the pillar and attach itself there.

It was a cool rope, because I could roll it up into a little ball that easily slid into my pocket, but when I pulled it out and swung it overhead, it would become any length it needed to be to reach the saving pillar.

Another cool thing about it is that while you were reading my description, you built one of your own in your imagination.  So now you can save yourself from the swamps of Bah-Humbug, too, if need be.

Anyway, once I remembered that I had my rope in my pocket, all it took was an instant for me to see it swirling over my head, finding the Pillar of Kindness and Compassion, and latching on to it.  Once it did that, I flew right out of the swamp and my whole view of things changed. I started looking into people’s eyes and smiling at them.  It surprised them, and they smiled back, forgetting how frazzled they had been a minute ago.  I winked at children and they giggled.  I found little ways to help people.  I told the check-out clerk how I appreciated her efficiency and friendliness.

Later, I used the rope when I caught myself losing patience with a neighbor, and again when a friend was telling me a litany of troubles.

I plan to use it all through the holidays.  Kindness and Compassion are, after all, the best gifts you can give.  They’re the ones that everyone remembers, the ones that truly touch their hearts.  And that’s because the glittering granite rock where the Pillar of Kindness and Compassion stands is anchored in your heart, surrounded by the sea of your love and casting a light so bright that it can shine through  any darkness.

 

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The Season of Wishes and Hope

wishes and hope

I have a neighbor who lives about a quarter mile down the road from me who is mentally challenged.  Although she is in her early 20’s, she lives in the world of ten or eleven year old surrounded by fantasies.  She has a sweet disposition and in the summer comes to bring me wild flowers that she picks along the roadside.

Today she knocked at my door wearing a Santa hat.  She extended a large Christmas card sized envelope toward me and said, “Would you please see that this gets to Santa Claus?”   The envelope bore a fresh postage stamp, her return address label, and a large sticker depicting an angel.  Scrawled on it in childish printing were the words “to Santa Claus to the North Pole.”

“George and I want a Doberman puppy.  They grow fast and then it will be protection for us.”  George is her elderly care-taker.

“Does it have to be a purebred Doberman?  Could it be, oh, maybe half Doberman?”  I asked.

“Sure.  That would be okay,” she beamed.

“Maybe you could find one at the shelter,” I suggested.  She said they couldn’t afford it and that’s why they were writing to Santa.  Would I make sure he got their card?  Maybe put it on the Internet or something?

I’m not sure yet what I will do about her request.  I’ll ask animal-lover friends for their advice.  Meanwhile, the card is sitting on my kitchen counter, reminding me that this is the season for wishes and hopes.

They’re different, you know.  Wishes are for things we think will fill a need or desire in our lives.  They’re for trinkets and baubles, or, on the more serious side, for comfort, for solutions, for healing, for changes of circumstance.  Sometimes we make wishes with the firm belief that they can come true.  Sometimes we make them even when their fulfillment seems outrageously unlikely.  But we make them regardless, because just the act of wishing, of holding open even a faint possibility, feels good.  Wishes let us dream.

Hope, on the other hand, is an attitude, a disposition of character.  Hope is a commitment to keeping a space in our hearts and minds for the possibility that, come what may, goodness will prevail.  It’s closely related to optimism, a determination to look for the good, for the silver lining in the darkest of clouds.  It holds to a belief in the power of truth over deception, of love over indifference and hate, of compassion over meanness.  Hope allows us to endure difficulties and pain, to see them as temporary circumstances or as teachers of wisdom, or even as opportunities in disguise.  It enables us to maintain equanimity and inner peace in the midst of life’s confusion and storms.  It opens us to seeing actions we might take to move circumstances toward more optimum conditions.

As we move into the Christmas season, to the solstice, the time of the return of the light, I hope, with you, for a world of peace and brotherhood.  And I wish for you that all your best wishes come true.

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Be a World Tipper

Be a World-Tipper

One night last week, a late-season thunderstorm woke me from my sleep.  I’m one of those people who love thunder, thanks to my mom and dad.  I woke to the sound with happy memories.

I grew up on the shores of Saginaw Bay in Michigan and we had an enclosed sun porch that looked out over the water.   Sometimes when it stormed at night, my parents would wake me from my sleep and tuck me between them on the sofa to watch lightning dancing across the horizon and light up the white-capped waves.   It was as good as 4th of July fireworks, only cozier, a private show just for the three of us.  I loved it.

I remember falling asleep to the fragrance and sound of rain on nights like that.  And to this day, nighttime rain feels like a loving lullaby.

But tonight, I’m also thinking how blessed I am that the concussions that roll through the sky are thunder, and nothing more, that I can hear them without fear, that they are not rockets or bombs.  It’s only an accident of birth that puts me here, out of harm’s way.  I am not here, in this place of peace, because I am special in some way.  Any of us could as easily be cowering at the sounds of sirens, or at the violent quivering of the air as sitting here in peace and comfort reading email or surfing the Net.

None of us can say, in today’s uncertain world, that the peace we enjoy today will endure. But life has never been certain.  None of us knows, when we wake in the morning, what our days will hold.  That’s part of the wonder of it all.

The other day, a friend of mine posted on Faceboook that she turned on the news and was filled with dismay at all the turmoil in the world.  “Nothing good is happening anywhere!” she said.

A couple people commented that they agreed.  The world was in the proverbial hand basket heading straight to hell.

Then a wise voice chimed in.  “Plenty of good things are happening in the world,” the writer said.  “People are getting married, having babies, dancing, enjoying sunsets and walks on the beach.  Take your dog for a walk.  Then you will be one of the good things that’s happening in the world right now.”

“Amen,” I thought.   We can’t stop wars or weather.  But we can be one of the good things that’s happening in the world.  We can walk our dogs, hug our kids, sing our songs, or revel in the fragrance and sound of rain.  We can tip the world’s scales towards joy, and gratitude, and celebration.  We can be the love that’s happening in the world right now.

And I kind of think that’s exactly what the world wants from us, and needs.

Let’s get out there and be world-tippers.  It’s the least we can do, don’t you agree?

 

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The Graciousness of Gratitude

It’s been a difficult week for me.  Some sad events unfolded and a few major challenges popped up.  I recognized early on that I was swimming through stressful waters.  While I was driving, I caught myself reciting a mental list of all my unfortunate circumstances.

“What are you doing?” I asked myself.  I was indulging in a pity party!  And why?  Because I wanted to justify being miserable.  I decided that was pretty stupid.  So a lot of things were less than ideal right now.  That didn’t mean I was living in an absolutely cheerless world.  At the moment, I was in a comfortable car driving on a country road lined with beautiful autumn oaks whose leathery leaves were glistening in the morning sunlight.  I had a choice.  I could indulge in wretchedness or relax and enjoy the beauty.

I decided to be gracious to myself and to trade my list of woes for gratitude for the moment’s goodness.

I like the word “gracious.”  It’s expansive.  It hints of benevolence and luxurious ease. It invites you to sink into the moment and to welcome its gifts.  And never doubt that every moment has its gifts.  Even when tragedy strikes, goodness is present.

One of the most beneficial positivity exercises you can practice is to look for those gifts, to look for the goodness that the moment holds.   And when you find them, be gracious to yourself and let yourself appreciate them, let your heart open to gratitude.  There’s always a reason to give thanks.

Now that the holiday season is upon us with all of its stress and expectations, let me encourage you to adopt graciousness as your guiding light.  Stuff some in your pocket in the morning and carry it with you everywhere you go.  Let it remind you to be generous of heart, to see the breadth and depth of each moment and all the goodness it holds.  Let it remind you that you can trade your mental list of cares for the softness of appreciation, for the openness of acceptance and thanks.

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A Commitment to Excellence

commitment to excellence

“Nothing great happens on the O.K. level.”  ~Robert Schuller

I added a new skill to my repertoire this week:  I learned how to operate a chain saw.  It’s a small one, electric, with only a 14” blade.  But still, I’m beaming with pride. Not every 71-year-old woman would tackle such a feat.

I enlisted my 81-year-old neighbor to give me lessons.  He taught me how all the parts worked, how to hold it properly, how to stand securely while using it, and where to place the blade relative to the wood I intended to cut before starting its motor.  Then he held wood while I practiced, pointing out things to watch for, reminding me to let the saw do the work.  I don’t consider myself proficient, and I’m fully aware that the primary piece of the process is to maintain focused attention.  Fortunately, I’m good at that.  By winter’s end, I expect to be darned good at sawing thick branches for my fire.  I’m committed to excellence.

My neighbor gave me a demonstration of that, too.  He built a saw buck for me, a x-shaped cradle made of 2×4 lumber that holds the pieces of wood you want to cut at a comfortable height so you don’t have to bend over while you’re cutting.

I watched as he drew a sketch of it, then watched him picture in his mind were the screws would go that held the cross pieces and the bolts that let you adjust the width of the X to accommodate both the thickness of the wood and its height from the ground.  We bought the lumber and hardware, and I got to see him carefully measure where the screws would go and mark the pieces, “top left, bottom left, top right, bottom right.”  I watched as he selected exactly the right size drill bit and figured out how deep to drill into each piece.  I watched as he made sure everything was perfectly aligned and that the screws would drive in straight.

It was a simple construction, but he wanted it to be perfect, and he took the time to think it through and to carefully execute each step of the process.  When he finished, we were both grinning at the great job he’d done.  The buck will last me a lifetime.

Wanting to do things as well as you possibly can is a hallmark of positive people.  That doesn’t mean being a perfectionist.  But it does mean that you want your work to stand as a testament to the fact that you put your best effort into it.  And it doesn’t matter whether you’re washing dishes, writing a report, kissing your partner, or designing a jet airplane.  The old adage still applies, “Any job worth doing is worth doing well.”

Taking pride in your work not only produces a feeling of satisfaction, it speaks well of you to others.  It lets them see that you take responsibility for what you do.  It makes you stand out from the mediocre many.  And because it allows others to trust in your commitment to excellence, it paves the way to greater opportunities and success.

Not only that, but you become a silent standard-setter.  Your commitment to excellence inspires those around you to raise their levels of performance, too. Your doing-well becomes the rising sea that lifts all ships.

And just as in operating a chain saw, the key lies in only two things—committing to doing the very best you can and giving the job your unflinching, focused attention.  The first is a decision.  The second is a matter of ongoing practice.

Decide you want to be great.  Set your sites on excellence, and keep on keeping on.

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