Children have a way of shaking things up. Don’t they? They see things we’ve stopped noticing. They question things we’ve started to take for granted. They cause us to stop and notice. They hold up a giant mirror to us and cause us to do some soul-searching.
That is, if we take the time to listen.
Why is that person asking for money? Why are people starving? Why do some people get treated better? Why do you say one thing in public but do another in private? Is this fair? Does everyone cheat? Does everyone lie? Is there a better way?
They force us to confront the gap between what we say they should do and what we do, or what society does, or what their friends do. Most adults suffer from some degree of cognitive dissonance: the mental discomfort from holding two or more differing beliefs, ideas or values at the same time. We value honesty but cheat on our taxes. We tell them not to bully others but then bully them or laugh as others are bullied. We tell them never to hit someone else while spanking them. We tell them all children are precious but then harbor racial or gender biases.
And they point it out.
For those of us listening, this is a time to ask ourselves what we do, in fact, stand for and then work to align our lives with those values, to be internally and externally consistent.
For an unbelievably uplifting video of a diverse group of kids singing their hearts out, please watch this video. It will start your day off with hope and promise and excitement for the future of our nation and world.
Love is an action verb and it requires an object. X loves Y. A mother loves her child. A man loves his wife. What does that mean to love? While the dictionary may tell you that it means that you have certain feelings for someone, experience tells you that it means acting on those feelings, day in and day out, in the way you treat the one you love. Substitute a different transitive verb in its place, throw, for instance: A boy throws the ball. That throwing, the action, defines the relationship between that boy and the ball. Without the throwing, you just have a ball and a boy sharing space.
Isn’t that true of love, as well? It’s nice that you did things in the past that were loving, or look forward to a happy Valentine’s day or some event in the future. But what are you doing NOW to love someone?
Do you ever feel tossed about, disconnected, or alone? Perhaps we can learn something from the trees. Did you know that the giant Quaking Aspen forest is really just basically one tree with a single root system? Each of the trees is identical to the rest DNA-wise, all shooting up (and looking like separate trees) from the same shallow root system. Similarly, the Redwood, among the oldest living things on Earth, shares its relatively shallow root system with other redwoods and other trees. That interconnectedness is its strength and helps the huge trees withstand storms and heavy winds.
We are not meant to be isolated but thrive in community. Like the trees, when we are interconnected with others, we can rely on each other for strength when we are buffeted about by life.
Where can you put down your roots? Find that community–whether it be a group joined by faith, neighborhood, family, interests, or goals. We all need to provide support for and receive support from others.
Is there something challenging on your agenda today? Perhaps a difficult task or conversation? It will help if you can take a minute and remember some of the hard things you have accomplished and remind yourself that you can do and have done hard things.
In today’s world, parents often swoop in and rescue their children rather than letting that child struggle. These helicopter parents might actually be preventing their kids from growing stronger. Barbara Kingsolver credits the Montessori preschool she sent her children to with teaching her that struggle, failure, and persistence is ultimately what teaches a child that he can indeed do hard things.
Kids learn self-esteem from mastering difficult tasks. It’s as simple as that. The Montessori teachers told me to put my two-year-old on a stool and give her the bread, give her the peanut butter, give her the knife — a blunt knife — and let her make that sandwich and get peanut butter all over the place, because when she’s done, she’ll feel like a million bucks. I thought that was brilliant. Raising children became mostly a matter of enabling them and standing back and watching. When a task was difficult, that’s when I would tell them, “You can do hard things.” Both of them have told me they still say to themselves, “I can do hard things.” It helps them feel good about who they are, not just after they’ve finished, but while they’re engaged in the process.
Tell yourself again and again, if necessary: You can do hard things! (And then go out and do them!!)
So it’s a butterfly. We’ve seen thousands of butterflies. They’re pretty, but quick. So even though we notice them often, have we really ever seen one?
That coiled up hose in the center of its face is its proboscis. It uncoils when the butterfly’s feet (yes, its feet– its taste organs are located at the ends of each of its six feet) detect the presence of food stuffs. Some butterflies have sharp proboscises so that they can puncture the skin of fruit to get to the juice inside. (Do you remember seeing a proboscis on a caterpillar? Nope, caterpillars have munchy little mouths.) Those huge compound eyes are great at detecting color and movement. The wings are made up of scales, somewhere between a fish’s scales and bitty hairs, protecting the wing and adding the unique patterns. The fascinating details of butterflies go on and on, and vary among the different types of butterflies.
Pausing to notice the details of the butterfly puts a larger question: How much are we really noticing day to day? What are we missing? What are we glossing over? What assumptions are we making? What are we generalizing about when really we need to go case by case?
What will we see better if we pause to take notice?
Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Divorce, death, job loss, break-ups, illness, insecurity, and anxiety plague us all. These things happen. To the best of people. They do. But even if we planned to stay married to our childhood sweethearts forever, and that we would mature and grow in perfect harmony at the same rate and die in each other’s arms at a ripe old age, sometimes that isn’t the way the story unfolds. Sometimes we get sick in awful, maybe crippling, ways. Sometimes we lose our jobs and are afraid. Sometimes the person we thought was the one breaks our heart.
It is tempting to cling to that perfect vision we had for our lives and get stuck. Instead of gathering ourselves up, we keep trying to perfect the past. We rage; we shut off; we lose ourselves in denial. We go over and over what went wrong and wish and pray for that to change. Somehow. We want to go back to when the hurt was still unknown in our futures rather than spend time where that hurt is all to well-known and debilitating in our presents.
But today is a new day. When we accept the lives we have rather than mourn the ones we hoped for, the promise of that new day whispers all about us. We can gather ourselves up– broken heart, broken wings, and all– and take flight.
What if living a creative life did not necessitate a tortured anguished existence but rather was simply following curiosity into an abundance of ideas and energy swirling about you? What if those ideas were looking for someone, you, perhaps, to give them shape and form, to bring them into being? What if creativity meant elevating curiosity above fear?
“What if”–two of the most powerful words there are.
In her book, Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert offers a glimpse into such a world with the remarkable story of one poet, Ruth Stone, catching her poem by the tail and pulling it forcefully into existence:
[Ruth Stone] told me that when she was a child growing up on a farm in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields when she would sometimes hear a poem coming toward her -– hear it rushing across the landscape at her, like a galloping horse. Whenever this happened, she knew exactly what she had to do next: she would “run like hell” toward the house, trying to stay ahead of the poem, hoping to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough to catch it. That way, when the poem reached her and passed through her, she would be able to grab it and take dictation, letting the words pour forth onto the page. Sometimes, however, she was too slow, and she couldn’t get to the paper and pencil in time. At those instances, she could feel the poem rushing right through her body and out the other side. It would be in her for a moment, seeking a response, and then it would be gone before she could grasp it –- galloping away across the earth, as she said, “searching for another poet.” But sometimes (and this is the wildest part) she would nearly miss the poem, but not quite. She would just barely catch it, she explained, “by the tail.” Like grabbing a tiger. Then she would almost physically pull the poem back into her with one hand, even as she was taking dictation with the other. In these instances, the poem would appear on the page from the last word to the first -– backward, but otherwise intact.
Even if we are not sensitive enough to hear poems galloping toward us, we may have experienced a moment of feeling like we were a part of something far bigger and more mysterious than ourselves. Of being in the flow where our sense of time stopped and we were caught up in the bliss of creating. Maybe while writing, drawing, dancing, gardening, cooking, running, skating or whatever it was that made time stop. We each step into this creative swirl differently, but what we encounter there is much the same: joy, transcendence, and mystery.
Heard a good joke lately? Watched a funny cat video perhaps? Maybe a picture of a spaniel in a Groucho mask?
Humor is always good for the heart and soul. It can even, maybe, cure what ails you. Dr Cynthia Thaik, a cardiologist, says:
An old Yiddish proverb says, “What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.” Everyone knows that laughter makes you feel good and puts you in high spirits, but did you also know that laughter actually causes physiological responses that protect the body from disease and help your vital organs repair themselves? A good laugh can be compared to a mild workout, as it exercises the muscles, gets the blood flowing, decreases blood pressure and stress hormones, improves sleep patterns and boosts the immune system. Furthermore, a study by the John Hopkins University Medical School showed that humor and laughter can also improve memory and mental performance. Yet despite the fact that laughter has so many benefits, far too many of us forget to even crack a smile every once in a while, let alone laugh.
She suggests some ways to lighten up with humor. Finding the humor in a bad situation can make it better. Mirth releases endorphins and is contagious, a twofer! Surrounding yourself with funny people or remembering funny incidents can lift your mood.
Take time to laugh today. If you need help finding your funny, consider this. Or you can always get a dog and put him in a Groucho mask.
In a recent Oprah magazine, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about her Inner Crone — a version of herself old, happy, and well past the point of fear — that she pictures when she needs a shot of courage. She considers her Inner Crone to be “a badass old lady who already dwells somewhere deep within [her] and whom [she] hope[s] to fully become someday.” Picturing her Inner Crone gives Gilbert gumption.
But she also remembers her Inner Child, and pictures that child particularly when she is feeling depressed or hard on herself:
Many years ago when I was going through a dark season of depression and self-loathing, I taped a sweet photograph of myself at the tender age of 2 on my bathroom mirror. Looking at that photo every day reminded me that I once was this blameless little person, deserving of all tenderness–and that part of me would always be this blameless little person deserving of all tenderness. Meditating upon a smaller and more innocent version of my face helped me to learn to be more compassionate to myself. I was finally able to recognize that any harm I inflicted on me, I was also inflicting on her. And that little kid clearly didn’t deserve to be harmed.
We could all benefit from picturing our Inner Child when we are being hard on ourselves. Would you criticize that little child the way you are criticizing yourself now, or would you be more patient and encouraging? Would you demand perfection from that child, or would you celebrate progress? If you were wounded by adults when you were a child, you now are an adult who can support that little child in a healing way.
Think back. Can you remember that Inner Child who is still a part of you? The joy and exuberance, enthusiasm and trust, innocence and promise? No matter how far you’ve come from that start, treat yourself with kindness, patience, and compassion. That Inner Child is alive and well…and trusts you.