It is so easy to slip into the doldrums. This seems easy to understand when cabin fever sets in during bleak midwinter, but can also happen for most people on a sunny summer day.
Negative thoughts are seductive. In fact, scientific research tells us that the brain has an automatic survival default to negative over positive. We have a kind of bad news bias built into our DNA that keeps us out of harm’s way.
Studies show that we need almost a five-to-one ratio of positive over negative in order to hang onto joy. With the easily accessible barrage of negativity available, it seems like a long-shot that we would be able to resist the depressive lure of distressing and grim conditions. But perhaps our powerlessness holds the key to joy after all.
In order to crack the five-to-one negativity code, we must accept that we are emotionally powerless over the way our brain is constructed and let go of trying to out-think it.
Like the folks who practice 12 Step Recovery, we must come to believe that a power greater than ourselves will hold us in loving arms regardless of our shortcomings. Then we have to engage in the work of changing our bad news bias into something positive.
The same research which identifies our default brain confirms that we can tip the scales towards happiness and override the tilt to negativity with frequent small positive acts of kindness and compassion…again with a ratio of about five-to-one. In other words, we need to be actively engaged in being nice if we want to have a life of sustained peace, joy, and love. It sounds like we better get busy.
“As you awaken to your Divine nature, you’ll begin to appreciate beauty in everything you see, touch and experience.” ~ Wayne Dyer
Winter snows have come with a vengeance once again to folks who live up North. I remember how tired we used to get of scooping, scraping and being trapped inside. My daughter and I have never been big fans, though I liked it more than she. Then there are people like my son who never weary of it. His Michigan childhood comes back to life when it snows and just delights in it. He reminds me that there is always something magical about snow. It has elements of surprise and beauty that we should explore rather than shun. Within each snowfall are thousands and thousands of unique snowflakes which serve to remind us of who we are.
Our unique self, like a snowflake, will never be duplicated. The evidence of this is everywhere. Our DNA is comprised of markers that are arranged only for one person. It never has been and never will be again. Only you! Even twins don’t have the same DNA. Combination of parents, grandparents and countless generations of ancestors each give us a gift of themselves in the pattern that becomes you. It took thousands of years to come up with the design for each individual. Our uniqueness also can be found in fingerprints. Each time we touch something we leave a stamp of our existence behind. We are here and we are one of a kind. The mold has been broken.
We have an individual and divine purpose in our uniqueness. The odds of your random creation are so small that it is incomprehensible. Wayne Dyer talks about the fact that a great wind sweeping through a garbage dump, gathering up all of the pieces and setting them down as a fully assembled Boeing 747 is more likely than the exclusive collection of cells and tissue that is you. Your importance cannot be understated. The incredible love story of our Creator is at work here. Such a miracle can have no other explanation. You are God’s beloved child. Look at that beautiful snowfall and remember.
“Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves…regret for the past and fear of the future.” ~ Fulton Ourslear
When the end of life comes we will not regret the business deals that didn’t work out, sales that weren’t made, or final exams we didn’t ace. We will regret the squandered opportunities. We will suffer the most from our failure to devote enough time to our loved ones. We will regret our lack of attention to a skinned knee. We will long to have the moment back when our words of criticism bruised a heart.
I have found that healing begins when we take action here and now. The way to eliminate regrets from the past and to dispel the fear of the future is to fully evaluate what really matters and pay attention to it. We will put an end to the endless repetition of mistakes by unshackling ourselves from the past and freeing ourselves from the future. We can start by putting first things first.
The present moment is when to make that extra effort. All we have to do is more fully avail ourselves to those important people in our lives. Another phone call, a written card, or any added gesture that proclaims our love will wash away fear and regret as we go forward. By making time and freely giving our gifts of love, we will discover that our resources are unlimited. This is the next right thing to do. Nothing is more important.
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
The night before he was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned us that violence was threatening our very existence. If we are to confront this reality, there must come a deep joy which springs up in the face of hatred and injustice. The beauty is that this kind of joy exists within each and every one of us. Discovering it can be achieved in prayer along with contemplative practice and outreach. For it is in stillness and silence that the voice of God will direct our actions.
Years ago, I was engaged in a whirlwind of activity with self-designed goals to have more…more of everything. I thought that happiness could be found through obtaining lots of money and all the best material things it could provide. I would do whatever was necessary to get it, often at the expense of anyone or anything standing in my path. I was ‘on the way up’ and those left behind were regretfully collateral damage.
This is not to say that I was a mean person. On the contrary, I was jovial and popular. And I wanted more of that too. It was all intoxicating. In fact, intoxication became part of the equation. Cocaine and alcohol were perfect running mates as my personal wealth neared a million dollars just prior to my thirtieth birthday. Then the bottom fell out and I lost all of the people and things I treasured so much.
Surprisingly, it was during the following years of descent, desperation, and sadness that I discovered inner peace and joy. My path of personal poverty led me to a different kind of richness through centering prayer and contemplation I never imagined. Faith and hope were restored as God’s unconditional love and forgiveness washed over me. I came alive.
For the past four decades, my world has been filled with an inner joy founded in contemplation and action. Not that there has been an absence of bumps and obstacles. I have had more than a few stumbles. But I have dedicated my life to what unceasingly makes me come alive. My work with wounded kids and those who suffer from addiction has been my way of confronting suffering, injustice, and hatred.
We are all called to action in this chaotic world. It has never been more important for us to work for social, political, economic and environmental justice and peace. We have to come alive now. Our existence depends on it.
Never question the truth of that which you fail to understand. For the world is filled with wonders.
L. Frank Baum (‘Rinkitink In Oz’ from Land of Oz series)
One of the many drawbacks to this easy-access, instant-information era, in which we can ‘Google’ almost anything, is that the lure and luster of wonder have drastically diminished. While it may seem delightfully practical to have all the facts at our fingertips, the problem is that faith, wisdom, and ideas might be on the chopping block along with actual research.
I remember the wonder, awe and the excitement of discovering whole hidden worlds when I was a boy. The woods and lake in Danville, Illinois, where I spent countless hours with my friends were so much more than places or destinations. We were eager and able to focus up and down with magnificent dexterity when we were children. At one moment our eyes were microscopes that found tiny crawling things in the grass, under rocks, and in the water.
Life was teeming beneath our feet. Small hands explored every detail without concern for time. At another moment our eyes were binoculars or telescopes which identified clouds that looked like dinosaurs or monsters or any other imaginable thing. Life was exploding just above our heads. We created forts and trails that were home to wild adventures. Play came naturally and was unsupervised by incredulous or judgmental adults. But the hidden worlds gave way to demands of another reality too soon.
The wonders of life and capacity for spiritual growth spring forth from those things which we don’t understand. When presented with new experiences, problems that seem unsolvable, challenges beyond tested limits, and unexplored beliefs, we expand our ideas to become someone who is changed. The fact that we can’t fix a meaning to what is happening is pivotal. It is the birth of wonder. God is speaking to us in such moments.
“All journeys have secret destination of which the traveler is unaware.”
The experience of being lost is bewildering and can be frightening. We find ourselves in unfamiliar places without a good frame of reference. There is an overwhelming desire to get information and regain our bearings. Fear can intensify to such a point that even the directional cues such as the position of the sun are confusing. You wander so far off the path that you have no idea where you might be. The fear and disorientation turn into panic. We pray that someone will find us. Where is that GPS when I need it!
There is seldom a time when being lost is a pleasant experience for most of us. Some people, however, seem to relish the whole thing. My Dad and his brother Bob were two of those people. They loved to “take the scenic route” and were delighted when the adventure resulted in getting (what seemed to be) hopelessly lost. The announcement from the front seat of the car that we were veering off to the road less traveled was not usually well received. Highways gave way two-lane roads which ultimately led to dirt roads in the country, one lane mountain byways. We found remote villages that no stranger had visited for several million years.
These guys were undeterred by protests from helpless wives and children. Their enthusiasm only became greater as we dropped deeper into the abyss. Dad and Uncle Bob didn’t believe that there was any such thing as being lost. We always found our way back home or to our ultimate destination. We were never eaten by wild animals, nor did we freeze, nor were we found starved to death in our car. They taught us a valuable life lesson. Being lost is a state of mind. It is one that my cousins and I have assimilated pretty well.
There is so much to learn and so much to see. We can take the safe road and move from destination to destination if we want. But in so doing, we will miss all the great things that are off the beaten path. Life deals us plenty of blows. We are often windswept and thrown off course. We can choose to be lost and helpless or we can embrace the experience and dive into the excitement of the “scenic route”.
“Stay true to your deepest intuition that an extraordinary and miraculous life is possible.” ~ Craig Hamilton
I have a hunch that each of us struggles with a sense of emptiness when considering how seldom our dreams and present situation match up. Life has a way of leading us in directions that are far from what we had planned or for which we had hoped. When that emptiness descends, a bleak truth is laid bare. But this somber reality actually contains a guiding light through dense fog. It is a touchstone.
The fact that an extraordinary and miraculous life is possible cannot be denied. It is not only possible…but is a certainty if fully embraced. This doesn’t mean an easier climb on the ladder which we are enticed to believe brings happiness. Rather than a linear measurement of success and failure, it is a promise that there is an ongoing dance and celebration we are invited to join. Life is not about beginnings and endings, wins and losses,or scorecards to be kept. It is circular and full of promise.
“The only things that can keep you out of this divine dance are fear, doubt or self-hatred. What would happen in your life -right now- if you accepted being fully accepted?” ~ Richard Rohr
This chapter of your story is being written in the very moment we are experiencing here and now. How it evolves is up to you. The miraculous and extraordinary are revealed when it is understood that you are never alone. We are one in all of our magnificent diversity. Nothing is so dark that it might extinguish this truth. God is with us and we are with God. We dance this dance together.
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers…And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” Thomas Merton
Today is the Feast of Epiphany. Three Wise Men have traveled from great distances to follow a star. They encounter God-With-Us and are awakened to a new understanding of creator and creation. They had a shared vision of danger at the hands of King Herod and went ‘home by another way’ avoiding the cruelties of the world and were transformed. Their story has been told and retold for over two-thousand years.
Most of us long for a personal epiphany in our lives. We hunger for a transformation from who we are to who we dream of being. But what is needed in order to achieve such a change? These awakenings seem to be rather elusive and come at unlikely times. I have discovered that if we let go of worry, hurry and hate allowing the love inside to shine, we will become instruments of that love regardless of our circumstances.
One of the wonderful epiphanies of our time came to Bill Wilson, a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. His chronic addiction to alcohol led him to be committed for the fourth time to Manhattan’s Towns Hospital in 1934. He was sedated and hopeless. Bill prayed and wept for God to ‘make Himself present’. He describes what happened next;
“The result was instant, electric, beyond description. The place seemed to light up, blinding white. I knew only ecstasy and seemed on a mountain. A great wind blew, enveloping and penetrating me. To me, it was not of air, but of Spirit Blazing, there came the tremendous thought. ‘You are a free man.’ Then the ecstasy subsided. I found myself in a new world ofconsciousness which was suffused by a Presence. One with the Universe, a greatpeace stole over me.”
Bill’s spiritual awakening, or white-light experience, was a liberating awareness of God which has saved the lives of countless souls through the gift of 12 Step Recovery.
There are many other similar stories. A common thread seems to be that a person must be in a position where there is a desperate need to listen. Karl Menninger describes this listening as a force that creates us, unfolds us and expands us. We must be open to the improbable, listening for the miraculous, willing to follow the improbable star, eager for change, and brave enough to go home another way. Epiphanies will come. Life will never be the same.
“In the cold you wrap me. In my uncertainty you listen. In all my joys you celebrate. At every turn you meet me with competence and grace. What a fine dance we have together.”
Mary Anne Radmacher
I once had this epiphany and scribbled down the words that came to my mind. My intention was to let them marinate and become a poem. Of course, they still may, but for more than thirty years have yet to inspire more verse.
They came to me at a time when I had decided never to become involved in another intimate relationship. Pain from losing my marriage and children was so intense that I vowed a life of celibacy. I would travel alone. It was the middle of the night when this phrase came along; ‘Dance, Dance, Dance! I said celebrate not celibate.’
Though the words may sound simple or silly, I was changed. Gradually opening myself to others, I miraculously found the love of my life and we married. I have been restored to family, children and grandchildren. Life is good…and it is intended to be a dance of celebration. This is my lesson of The Ninth Day of Christmas.
The gift of Nine Ladies Dancing from our true love is compelling. It takes the intimacy of the dance and entwines it into spiritual direction. We are reminded of the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit is God revealed as the interactive dancer who teaches us how to live and love. We are supposed to be engaged in an active relationship with God and with each other.
The nine Christmas gifts include; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. A dancer needs a partner. When there is nobody to dance with there is no relationship or affection. God needs us and we need God. So let’s dance. It is a perfect day to engage.