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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Playing the Happiness Game

Happiness

What if there was a happiness game you could play, an easy-peasy one, where you’re always the winner?  And what if you played it with friends and they ended up winners along with you?  What if the prizes were things like increased zest and resilience?  What if it helped you to stay strong, motivated and optimistic even in the face of difficult real-life obstacles?  Would you want to play?

A friend of mine told me about such a game last week.  And even though I’m not a big game fan, I took a look at it just to see what it was all about.  I turned out that in order to understand it, I had to sign up.  So I did.  And I went through the first group of awfully simple tasks in just a few minutes.  “Is that all there is to it?” I asked myself.  Yes.  It was that quick and simple.

That night I dreamed that I found a bar of Zest soap in my shower and after lathering myself with it, emerged feeling wonderfully fresh and eager to start my day.  Since then, I opened the novel I’ve procrastinated about finishing and have written an entire new chapter.  I approached other tasks, dreaded but necessary ones, with a brand new attitude and actually enjoyed doing them.

It’s called SuperBetter, and here’s how it works.  It presents you with quests to accomplish.  Simple things, like choosing your secret identity.  You get to select which quests you want do.  It presents you with things called Power-Ups, easy things like drinking a glass of water or looking out your window for a minute or going for a walk around the block.  You get to name Bad Guys, the obstacles that stand in your way, and to invite Allies (friends or family members) to join in and support you.  You earn points.  You get cheered on.  Every aspect of it is designed to help you take better care of you.

That’s because it was designed by a gamer who needed a life-line when she was in the darkest period of her life.  She was having such a hard time recovering from a concussion  that she was considering suicide.  She invented the game to help her stay alive.  And not only did it do that, it helped her become better in every way than she was before she was injured.

Since the game has been online (You can play on your phone or tablet, too.), a study by the University of Pennsylvania showed that “using SuperBetter for 30 days significantly reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety; and increased life satisfaction, social support, and the belief in one’s ability to succeed and achieve goals.”

That’s a lot from one quick, simple game!  But my first week of experiencing it was enough to convince me and keep me playing.

With the holidays quickly approaching, I figure we can all use a little extra zest and energy in our lives.  You can begin playing right away here:  SuperBetter.com.

Have fun!

 

PS  Here’s a TedTalk about the game by its creator:  The Game that Can Give You 10 Extra Years of Life

Or read the inventor Jane McGonigal’s book about her personal story and the science behind SuperBetter here.

 

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Trick or Treat

Halloween Pumpkin Display

When I stopped at a local shop today, the clerk, a senior-aged woman, was wearing a cute tee-shirt featuring a smiling, broom-flying witch, complete with cat, and the message “Happy Halloween.”   I told the woman I liked her shirt and she flashed a huge smile.  “Thanks!” she said.  “It’s my favorite holiday.  My dad’s birthday was the day after, so we always had a Halloween-Birthday party.”

While I can’t say it’s my favorite holiday, it does bring back a slew of delightful memories for me, too, some of which still make me laugh out loud.  When I was in third grade, for example, my mother made a pumpkin costume for me fashioned out of chicken wire and orange crepe paper with black construction paper eyes, nose, and toothy grin glued on.  She even made a hat from a crepe paper covered paper plate, complete with a tall, green stem.  I hated it.  I wanted to wear a hand-me-down dance costume my cousin had given me.  It had a short, lavender net skirt and a bodice decorated with purple satin grapes.  My mother thought it was too revealing for school, but let me wear it under the pumpkin outfit.

To my humiliation, my mom had to squeeze in the sides of the pumpkin getup in order for me to fit through the school bus door.  As soon as I got to my classroom, I ditched the pumpkin in the coat room and happily spent the day dressed as a grape.  That was my Halloween trick that year.

My mom had a great sense of fun and loved Halloween.  She spent the last decade of her life in a wheelchair, but that didn’t stop her fun.  She had my dad pin a white sheet around her that covered her electric-powered chair, painted her face with zinc oxide so it was pure white, painted big dark circles around her eyes, and donned a white, frizzy old wig.  When the treat-seeking neighbor kids came to the door, she would zoom over, her sheet billowing around her as she made ghostly moans before laughing, “Trick or Treat!”

While Halloween is celebrated in more solemn ways in other countries (You can read about customs around the world here.), costumes are a big part of the fun here in the States.   But what if you’re a kid whose days are spent in a wheelchair?

One father whose son was wheelchair bound built a costume for his son that was so spectacular the photo of it went viral online.  Now the dad has a nonprofit business that makes costumes for wheelchair bound kids.

And a group of college kids built a foam barn to encase a wheelchair-bound  girl who loves farm animals.  All of her friends dressed as barnyard critters for her Halloween party that year.

These last two stories come from a wonderful site called Good News Network.  You can subscribe and get a bit of good news in your mailbox each day if you like.  It’s a fine way to counter all the yucky news the media feeds us.  And the link is my Halloween Treat for you today.

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Dealing with Drastic Change

Change

Whether you’re in a natural disaster or facing a crisis of the personal kind, drastic change is tough.  Even changes we choose to make for ourselves bring discomfort.  But extreme and sudden changes win the prize for throwing us into shock.  We find ourselves in the midst of the Big Unknown, and feel disoriented, uncertain and insecure.  Our survival mechanisms flick on.  What’s happening?  What am I going to do?  How will I get through this?

Zen Philosopher Alan Watts says, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

“The dance!” you might say.  “Are you out of your mind?  This is no dance!  It’s a crisis, a disaster!.”

Yup.  That’s what it is alright.  The shock and fear and rage you feel is just the thunder of the drums as the dance begins.   And here’s the magic of it.  You get to choose its rhythms and its moods, its tempo  and all the steps and melodies.

First Steps

Life will, after all, go on.  Even when you can’t begin to fathom how.  And the only way to find out how it will go is to keep moving forward, one step at a time.

Let your first step be recognizing and respecting that you’re in crisis mode.  Our normal response to emotions is to generate stories or recall memories around them.   When you’re in shock and overwhelmed with strong emotion, it’s important to make stories that center around your values and strengths instead of painting the situation as an unrecoverable loss.  Yes, it may be a loss of huge, important parts.  But while the loss itself may be unrecoverable, you are capable of creating a new and positive version of your life as you go forward.

The old saying that every change has within it the seeds of opportunity is true.  Decide that you will adapt and overcome.  Consider the idea that you might not only overcome, but make something incredibly strong and beautiful from this experience in your life.

Instead of being overcome with sadness, let the heaviness of your grieving take the form of deeper, more grateful thought.  Experiment with looking at things from a different perspective.  Imagine you’re that guy over there, looking at you.  What would you want him to see?  Imagine looking back on this in time and feeling proud of how well you handled it.  Play with this as being a dramatic section of your life dance, or as an adventure or a grand exploration.  See what you find interesting about your current status.  Be curious about it and about what you might make of it.

American poet and educator Nikki Giovanni gives us this insight about change:

A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are.  Embrace the change no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you’re in and take advantage of it

Isn’t that an extraordinary idea?  You can allow yourself to enjoy who are even in the midst of stepping from a familiar world into a brand new one.   It’s like stepping onto a new stage in this dance of your life and writing its music any way you want.  You decide.  What kind of soundtrack is playing?  How do you want to shape it from here?

It’s up to you.  Isn’t that wondrous?

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You may also find these articles helpful:

How to Be Resilient When Crisis Strikes
When the Future Dies: Making a New Start After Tragedy and Disaster   When Happiness Goes Dark: How to Deal with Life’s Traumas 
When Things Go Wrong: 7 Steps to Regaining Balance

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