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 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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Life Ain’t for Wimps

Not for Wimps

When I first got the news that Hurricane Nate was going to pummel our southern shores this weekend, my head reeled.  I felt like one of those inflatable punching dolls that pop back up as soon as you knock them down only to get another blow to the head.

“Holy Mackerel!”  I said, right out loud.  “What next?”

What was next, it turned out, was a vivid memory of Uncle Ron’s stern, booming voice informing me in no uncertain terms that he had studied the Bible extensively and could assure me there was no such thing as a holy mackerel.  I felt roundly chastised at the time and took great care never to mention the fish in my uncle’s presence again.  It took me years to realize he was teasing me.

I always smile when I think of Uncle Ron.  His deep voice may have been intimidating, but he always had a twinkle in his eye.

Maybe that’s why the phrase “Holy Mackerel” came to mind when I pondered the stream of mind-boggling events that’s been confronting us lately.  It was to remind me of Uncle Ron and how he taught me that fear could be a foolish response to life’s confusions.  You see, my Uncle Ron was a learned man, possessed of great intellect, humor and wisdom.  If I hadn’t interpreted his voice as threatening, I might have had some interesting and enlightening conversations with him.

And so it is with life.  News of fires and earthquakes, hurricanes, terror acts, and floods can be frightening.

Or not.

Life ain’t for wimps.  It comes with its bruises and blows.  But it’s we who decide whether to respond out of love or out of fear to what’s happening in the world around us.  Choose fear and you could be cheating yourself out of a great conversation with life.  Choose love and you open the door to unlimited possibilities.

Author Anais Nin wrote, “Life shrinks and expands in proportion to one’s courage.”  And courage is nothing more than keeping on even in the face of fear.  We come equipped to survive, so we respond to threats by going into full-alert mode.  And that’s a good thing.  If a tiger’s coming at you, you want to notice it and get the heck out of its way.  But once you’ve done that, or have determined it wasn’t a tiger at all, you gotta switch back into love-mode even if you’re still charged up with adrenalin and suffering from knocking knees.   There’s always something beautiful out there that you can do.  Pick a flower.  Smile at a stranger.  Pet a dog.  If you just cower in a corner because somewhere in the world tigers roam, your world gets awfully small, and you with it.

But get back out there and love, baby, and pretty soon all that energy that was fear converts into amazement and gratitude and a willingness to engage in life, whatever it brings.  Look at it and whistle, “Holy Mackerel!” at its string of surprises.  Then get yourself some mustard and have that fish for lunch.

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How I Beat the Swamp Monster

Overcoming Negativity

Yesterday I fell into a pit of ornery crabbiness.  It was sticky and thick, and if I had to name a color, I’d say it was a dark and ugly grayish-green.  Sort of like the scum on the edge of a smelly swamp.

(Oh!  I hope you weren’t eating, were you?)

I struggled against it all day.  I hated it.  I kicked at it and yelled at and grumbled and growled.  But no matter what I did, it clung to me like some kind of rubbery slime.  It was awful.  And I was really ticked off, because, you know, I’m Ms. Happiness and I’m not supposed to be in such a state at all.

I tried all kinds of things to free myself from it, and just when I’d managed a breath of fresh air, Whap!  Another glob of it would come flying at me and spread all over my mood.

It was quite late in the day when I heard a little whisper in the back of my mind say, “Remember the music.”  I’ve been doing a little research on the effect that different musical tones have on us, both physically and mentally.  What was that wavelength I’d heard about again yesterday?  Oh, yeah.  528 Hz.

I entered the phrase into YouTube’s search and found a huge list of videos that played meditation music based on that particular frequency and picked one at random.  After about 10 minutes, I noticed that the air around me was soft and clear.  The light was, too, and all the colors were beautiful again.  It was as if some gentle cosmic fan wafted a cleansing breeze across the landscape of my mind.  I was relaxed, and open, and floating on a sea of contentment.  My sense of humor returned and I laughed at all the misery I’d put myself through during the day, acting like some little kid having a tantrum.  In my mind, I reached out to that crabby little self I’d been all day and gave her a big, soft hug.

“It’s okay,” I told her.  “Everybody falls into bad moods now and then.”  She wiped her tears and smiled at me.  Then I imagined that we put on some music and danced together, holding hands.

You know, the impact of sound frequencies on us isn’t some airy-fairy gooledegook.  It’s very real and the subject of some interesting research.  Sound waves alter our brains and our biochemistry.  Some sounds can heal, and some sounds can harm—even those beyond the range of our physical hearing.

Think about the way a person’s voice varies with the emotions being expressed.  The same words said in different tones can convey entirely different messages.  We can sometimes distinguish between a lie and a truth by the quality of voice in which it’s told.

Anyway, I wanted to turn you on the 528 Hz tone.  Just in case you find yourself wallowing in a pool of sticky negativity.  It will lift you out, clean you off, clear your mind, open your heart and set you free.

And even if you’re in a great mood to begin with, it will mellow you out and add some extra sparkle to your day.

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The Parable of the Oyster: Compassion’s Power

Pearl of Compassion

Harry was an oyster who lived an ordinary oyster life.  He bobbed around the floor of the sea, pushed here and there by its currents, happily sucking phytoplankton and algae from the water as it passed over his gills.

One day, a tiny chunk of something hard and rough made it inside his shell.  Caught there, it was quite painful, given the softness of his interior.  If he had been a human, this irritating fleck might have been something like a cruel word hurled at him, or a wound caused by an accident or even by an unexpected change in circumstances.  But for Harry, it was a rock-hard particle and he didn’t like it at all.  It hurt.

He focused his attention on it, fully feeling the pain.  It was awful, with a sharp, burning quality.  and all he wanted was for it to stop.  While he focusing on it, he happened to think that this must happen to other oysters, too.  He was not alone in his suffering.  Many, perhaps thousands, of other oysters were feeling this exact pain.

That thought made his oyster-heart fill with compassion that such was the fate of so many of his kind. He breathed in the pain for all the oysters that were afflicted, and when he breathed out again, his breath carried his compassion to all the others, and his wishes for them for relief from their suffering.

In and out he breathed, taking in the shared pain of all the oysters, and breathing out compassion for them.  And as he did this, the pain he felt became more bearable somehow.

Several minutes (which is a long time in an oyster’s life) passed before he noticed that his oyster-body had responded to his compassion by wrapping the irritating chunk inside him in a smooth, lustrous coat.  He returned to his breathing, just in case his compassion was easing the pain of his fellow sufferers as well.

Weeks later, Harry shared the story of his experience with an oyster-friend of his.  “That explains it!” his friend exclaimed.  It turned out that he had ingested a painful particle as well.  He had struggled against it mightily, but it only dug more deeply into his soft oyster flesh.  Then one day, something in the water seemed to whisper to him, “You are not alone in this.  Be kind to yourself and patient with this irritation.”  It had seemed a great mystery to him, but now he realized he was receiving his friend Harry’s love.

“Knowing I wasn’t alone helped so much,” he told Harry.  “Somehow it made it all easier to bear.  And I felt so much love for all the other oysters who were suffering that it made me more patient with my own pain.”

Harry and his friend carried their little rocks inside them until the day they died.  And while they were never the same, their compassion coated their wounds with layers and layers of beautiful light.  Their suffering ceased, and they lived out their days in peace.

Much later, a young boy wandered along the shore and came across the shell that had held Harry’s body.  Out of curiosity, he pried it open and, to his great surprise and wonder, discovered it held a luminous pearl.  “Dad!” he cried.  “Look what I found!”   And his father burst into tears at the sight, for the treasure brought a solution to his own brand of pain.

We are never alone in our suffering.  And our compassion for those who suffer as well has more power than we will ever know.

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Harry’s compassionate breathing is a practice called Tonglen.  Buddhist Monk Pema Chodron leads a guided meditation of it here, and describes it in some depth here.

 

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