“If you choose to focus your attention on the strengths of others, on the virtues of others, on that part of others that strives for the highest, you run through your system the higher frequency currents of appreciation, acceptance, and love. Your energy and influence radiate instantaneously from soul to soul. You become an effective instrument of constructive change.”
– Gary Zukav, The Seat of the Soul
In an inconspicuous corner of Malaprop’s Bookshop in Asheville, North Carolina, two dimly-lit, bottom shelves were filled with the enigma of books individually wrapped in thick brown paper bag paper. Each containing a menagerie of bold handwritten words like “tender, vital, ethereal, suspenseful, clever”… Taped to the side of that bookshelf, a printed sign that read:
“We love you. We want you to ride off into the sunset with the book of your dreams. But we also want you to enjoy the pleasant surprises of life. We’ve picked out some books we love and have given you a few words to capture a little of their essence. No. We can’t tell you more. If you’re brave and true, step forward. Pick one that calls to you. Embrace the sweaty-palm anticipation of the unknown. – Malaprop’s Bookstore, Asheville, North Carolina”
I loved the idea of taking a chance on an enigma of a book, brown-paper-wrapped in the mystery of bold handwritten words — the only clues hinting at the world found within its pages. Without the knowledge of what’s inside, there were no guarantees. There was the risk of disappointment — just like the risk of committing to a blind date or committing to travel with a complete stranger. Counterbalancing the seesaw, there’d be the opportunity to be pleasantly surprised. To be blissfully grateful for the fact that if it weren’t for this exercise in daring and adventure, I could have missed a sublime moment or a lifetime of bliss.
Could I get past the idea of not judging the book by its cover once I unveiled it? Could I get myself to give it the chance to get past the introduction? Or could I learn to love it even though it does not fit my personal preferences?
This time, I couldn’t rely on the technology that I’d come to count on nowadays. Technology now provides us with the ease and certainty of exactly finding what we’re looking for from the convenience of our screens. For a brief moment, I felt myself needing, wanting to recur to that place of comfort, to browse for the description, the ratings, the reviews before I ever decide to commit. Just like a crutch, my fingers instantly programmed to search for the certainty of not being let down.
In this tiny little section of the bookstore, there were others like me clustered together, making conversation, going through the motions of choosing that one blind date with someone’s story to tell. A mishmash of feelings surrounded me from exhilaration to angst, sense of adventure and daring, to doubt. The words on the wrapper called out to me louder than anything I could be feeling “tender, stunning, suspenseful, structurally daring, rich in detail and soul, intimate.” At that moment, the desire for certainty was overpowered by an even stronger desire for awe and surprise.
I carried the book with me and made the purchase. Tearing the brown paper wrap made me feel like a child opening her Christmas present. I hadn’t felt like that in a long time. As I unveiled the cover, the book I now held my hands was “All The Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr. Its title sent chills through my spine. Yet as I opened the pages and began to read, the bold words became truths as I read. I devoured and savored this beautiful piece of a book the universe had placed before me. Right then and there I discovered something new, something that I would want more of as time threaded along…
Books. There are as many books as there are humans in our world. Each book and each human holds a story to tell, a lesson to learn, an experience to share, a life to change.
When our children arrive into our lives, they are like the books found on the bookshelves at Malaprops. I believe they come into our lives with their encrypted stories, their unique essence. We all do. The difference is, there are no clues as to what’s to be found within that little life that’s just beginning. As parents, we do not get to choose who we get to bring into our lives. Our children choose us. There are no bolded words, no reviews, no return policy — not a sliver of certainty. Some of us are given the parenting experience very close to what we may have imagined. Your child is born. She learns to walk, communicate, makes friends, she goes to school. She learns to read and write, makes more friends, gets good grades, graduates, goes to college, and has a successful life by all our cultural standards.
Some of us are humored with the parenting experience that chatters anything we may have thought about having children. The image in our minds does not come anywhere close to our reality. We confront a roller coaster of emotions. A reality that makes us cry and worry, worry some more, laugh, rejoice and worry again. At some point, we may have wondered there must have been some mistake. In the middle of a desperate cry and laughter, we may have asked: “Why me?” But we know, had we the choice, we would choose them all over again. When children come into our lives, there are no malapropisms*. Even in the most difficult of circumstances, our children come into our lives to challenge our ideas, our personal programming — our lives. They. Change. Us.
Unlike the commitment with a book, we cannot set them aside on our night table, never to be opened again. We are called to take a very active part on this journey we’ve been specifically chosen to partake. It is our choice whether to participate fully with open hearts. Letting ourselves be, more than the teacher, a student.
*Wikipedia’s definition of a malapropism is “the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, often humorous utterance.”
There are people who pass through our lives like a gentle breeze in the middle of a warm day, brightening our hearts, refreshing our spirit. We learn from them as they pass on the lessons we need to learn at that precise moment in time – and they leave us quietly, almost unexpectedly.
Yet for those brief moments, something happens that we are forever changed. As we pass through this life and evolve, we can remember each lesson and the way it made us feel. Like reminiscing on the image of the learning child happily holding the coveted red balloon, joyous for the brief moment as it suddenly flies away to decorate the heavens. The child, encouraged to whisper a wish as the red balloon goes on its way, finds peace and comfort as it disappears from view.
My yoga teacher, Peter Barber, left us so unexpectedly last Saturday, August 22, 2015. He was a kind, gentle man in his late sixties, with a peaceful smile whose thoughtful wisdom guided the practice of each of his students on the mat and in life. He brought light and love to all those he came in contact with – even if you only met for a brief period of time. That brief period would feel like you knew him for a lifetime. He would open each Sunday’s class with a thought, all students sat listening, absorbing every word coming from the authentic loving place of an advanced soul.
Peter’s legacy will live on through each of his students as we “open our hearts”, “connect with the wisdom of the light within ourselves”, “walk as if we are kissing the Earth with our feet”, as “we express beauty/creativity and then expand from that place”, as we “connect with the fatherly wisdom and support of our inner guidance,” “being present in each moment in full awareness,” and to learn to “appreciate the changing weather in our lives as we journey along.”
Like the red balloon, we are all just passing through in this life.
What sort of legacy are you leaving behind?
Will you have made a difference in someone’s life?
How will you be remembered?
This week, I had a conversation with a friend about how easy it is to keep commitments with others. Yet somehow, when we make commitments with ourselves, we can easily postpone, run, and hide. Many of us live in this vicious cycle. This can look like that project we’ve been wanting to do for a long time, that exercise regimen that we said we would take on, the call we needed to make, the blank page hungry for ink, that blank canvas staring at you in the face. As I’m sitting here writing this piece, I’m looking for all kids of distractions and reasons for not writing. Admiring my notes, fiddling on my phone, looking through Facebook, and reading e-mail, just doing anything except putting pen onto paper. I don’t know about you, but some of the things that are most difficult to do are then ones that we must do fully committed.
On the day my dad left Cuba at 17 years old with just the clothes on his back and the dream of freedom, his father said to him, “Son, I’m sorry I don’t have any money to give you on your journey, the one thing of value I can give is the advice that my father gave to me — When you give your word, keep it. When you say you will do something. Do it. When you make a promise, honor it. Even when the situation may tempt you for a change of heart, you must keep your word”.
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time and have noticed how many of us practice this concept especially in business, and among friends and family. But, when we make promises to ourselves, making the commitments with ourselves, it is so much easier to postpone and derail. I believe this is one of the reasons why some of our most important life projects take such a long time or just don’t happen at all.
I began to put this concept of keeping the commitments with myself into practice a couple of years ago. On New Year’s Eve while vacationing with my family at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, I made the commitment I would wake up to watch the first sunrise of the New Year. The morning of January 1st, the alarm rings. Exhausted from the night before, the warm comfy bed felt like it was hugging me so tight it wouldn’t let me go. I look through the window. The fog is so dense that I cannot see beyond a yard or two. I’m thinking it is impossible to see the sunrise under these conditions. The moment merits reconsidering the warm, comfy bed calling my name. The thought of postponing the commitment to another day seemed like the most logical and reasonable alternative. But since there was something specific I wanted to practice, I decided to keep my commitment and go outside to watch the sunrise with an open heart. So, together with my husband and our dog, we ventured outside to see the sunrise.
It is difficult to express how magical and transcendent the moment of this particular morning sunrise was and how deep the mark it left on me. It was a lesson in its fullest expression. A Divine gift for which I will be forever grateful.
That morning I learned, loud and clear, that – bliss, miracles, realization, they are all on the other side of the commitments you keep with yourself. I needed to wake up to understand this. When applied to living our purpose and taking action on those projects we know we must do, this lesson will make all the difference.
In the process of gathering the confidence to begin my blog, I’ve come across this quote by Theodore Roosevelt on criticism and daring greatly. I’ve been writing for the past couple of years, yet paralyzed to publish or share anything. So here’s to the courage to begin…
“It is not the critic who counts; nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
— Theodore Roosevelt (The Man in the Arena)
What will you dare to do today?