If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
Mary Oliver, Don’t Hesitate from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems
Normally when we are taken by surprise, there is a sudden narrowing of our visual periphery that exacerbates the fight or flight response… But in the Japanese self-defense art of aikido, this visual narrowing is countered by a practice called “soft eyes”, in which one learns to widen one’s periphery, to take in more of the world. If you train a person to practice soft eyes, then introduce that same sudden stimulus, the reflex is often transcended. This person will turn toward the stimulus, take it in, and then make a more authentic response — such as thinking a new thought.
Soft eyes, it seems to me, is an evocative image for what happens when we gaze on sacred reality. Now our eyes are open and receptive, able to take in the greatness of the world and the grace of great things. Eyes wide with wonder, we no longer need to resist or run when taken by surprise. Now we can open ourselves to the great mystery.
Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach
Why cannot we be content with the secret gift of happiness that is offered to us, without consulting the rest of the world? Why do we insist rather on a happiness that is approved by magazines and TV? Perhaps because we do not believe in a happiness that is given to us for nothing? We do not think we can be happy with a happiness that has no price tag on it.
Those who gathered yesterday to see the sun rise at the burial tomb in Newgrange were disappointed, as the morning was cloudy, overcast and rainy. No sign of the sun, which in ancient times may have been quite frightening. A good lesson for us on the confidence we keep inside despite our changing moods.
The sun doesn’t stop shining because some of us are blind.
The birds don’t stop singing because some of us are deaf.
The heart doesn’t stop loving because some of us are afraid.
What lets the flower in the forest bloom though no one is watching?
Mark Nepo, Authority of Being
Today’s midwinter solstice begins the gradual rebirth of light in the Northern Hemisphere after the shortest days of the year. It marks a turning point, a reversal of the lengthening of night and shortening of days. Slow stirrings of light and life. Whatever is now just germinating will be full of life in due time. As humans we like to see immediate results. However, for now, all we can do is wait and trust. We move on, and look to the future, even if we do not know what shape it will take.
In times like these, I turn back into the heart of our faith traditions, searching for hope. And hope is there to be found, in great abundance. This is not mere optimism. This is not about how we see, what we see. No, it’s about something more rooted in faith: its about hope, “Go back to your fortresses, ye prisoners of hope.” This message in the Bible is also taught by the Prophet Mohammad: “If the Hour of Resurrection comes up, and one of you is holding a sapling, finish planting it“
It is an amazing saying. If the End of Days is upon you, still, finish planting. Go ahead with the act, even if it — and you — will not survive to fruition. How powerful this is for us. We are so often tied to the results of our work, the fruits of our labor. What Muhammad offers us is hope; faith is hope in the unseen.
It is faith in the loveliness of a simple act of kindness — apart from whether it will be reciprocated, whether we will live long enough to see its fruits. Acts of beauty are redemptive in and of themselves. So let us, friends, keep planting. Yes, there are days that it seems like the world around us is coming to an end. It may — or it may not. But let us keep planting. Let us have hope that the accumulation of our collective planting may save this small planet, and our own souls.
Omid Safi, In Time of Despair, Keep Planting
One kind word can warm three winter months