Everywhere I go today, people are asking the same question: 'Where is Spring?' While the calendar indicates today is the first day of Spring, Mother Nature seems to have not gotten the memo about the expected delivery day. It's 32 degrees, and feels like 20 with the wind. As I write this, the northeastern states are expecting their fourth nor'easter in as many weeks. No wonder one wonders 'Where is Spring?'
March 20 is the first day of Spring, or the Vernal Equinox, the day when night and day are nearly equal. 'Vernal' comes from the Latin word 'Spring' and Equinox literally means 'equal night.' The two Equinox days (Vernal and Autumnal) occur when the sun shines directly at the equator, and are the only days of the year the tilt of the Earth’s axis is perpendicular to the sun’s rays, making the time of day and night equal.
The Vernal Equinox is considered the beginning of the season of Spring in the northern hemisphere. It is anxiously awaited by we hearty souls who endure the cold temperatures, blustery winds, freezing precipitation, and long darkness of Winter. The coming warmer and sunnier days of Spring are the prize we covet.
The Spring Equinox is celebrated across time and cultures:
These Equinox traditions all celebrate new life. Generally, the season of Spring is considered the season of new life. It is the time for greening grass, leafing trees, sprouting bulbs, flowering trees, birthing animals, and so on. All of these new life miracles begin during this season of Spring, even if the temperatures feel cold, the precipitation is icy, and the days are not yet long. Year in and year out it occurs. The plants and animals trust in Mother Nature and begin their new birth rituals, knowing she will ensure that warmth and sunshine will again be plentiful.
We will do well to live as our fellow creatures in nature, and embrace the new life of Spring. One day, seemingly out of nowhere, Spring temperatures and warm sunshine will arrive in earnest, and we will all be saying, 'Happy Spring!' In the meantime, let us trust in Mother Nature that it will be so.
Trusting in something greater than ourselves helps bring lasting Joy. Where is Spring? It's almost here . . . I am sure of it.
During my recent vision screening, I was told I have an astigmatism. "What is an astigmatism?" I asked, sheepishly. The doctor replied that it is a condition in which the curvature of the cornea of the eye is uneven, causing a blurring of vision. Very scary!
My doctor then told me that I actually have two astigmatisms in my eyes - one is a positive 125 and the other a negative 125, and that they, in essence, cancel each other out, allowing me to see clearly. He seemed as surprised as I was.
Relieved that my eyes are healthy and my vision is clear, I started to think about the unique way my eyes seem to be functioning - "seeing" things from two perspectives and bringing them into focus to see clearly. It occurred to me that perhaps if we viewed things with two astigmatisms, we might also see clearly.
One way we "see" is through our heads, through how our brains process what our senses take in. The second way we "see" is through our hearts, as emotion comes from the heart. It's important that we consider both "visions" as we navigate life.
Sometimes our heads "see" first, and then our hearts react with appropriate emotion--a new baby brings happiness; the death of a loved one brings sadness; a kind gesture brings delight; an affront brings anger; receiving something brings gratitude; having less brings envy. Other times, our hearts "see" first, and then our heads react--being gloomy causes one to become bitter at the death of a loved one; being content allows one to see the death of a loved one as cause for celebration of a life well-lived; being cross causes one to become revengeful with an affront; being compassionate allows one to want to help the offender, recognizing the affront as perhaps the offender's way of dealing with their own unfortunate situation; being envious may cause one to wish ill on one who seemingly has more; being grateful allows one to recognize that while we may not have as much as others, we have what we need.
It is important to "see" things with both the head and the heart, for each can offer perspective the other cannot. The mind's fear of the unknown can be overcome by the heart's sense of trust to allow us to move forward. The mind's sense of danger can overcome the heart's sense of adventure to save us from hurting ourselves. The anger felt in one's heart, which may lead one to want to harm others, can be overcome by the head's knowing it isn't right to harm others. The pain of losing a loved one to death can be overcome by a heart's joy.
As I contemplate the events of the Florida school shooting, I feel, along with the friends and families of the victims, the intense sorrow resulting from what we have "seen," with our heads and our hearts. I sincerely hope we all will be able to focus our "vision" on the good in it all--the fond memories of those lost; the admiration for those who put their lives at risk to save others; the gratitude for what we have; the hope that we will take action to prevent this from ever happening again. It will not be easy. It will take time.
I know nothing of the shooter's life, but it seems clear that his head and heart were not able to conjure the focus to know this was not the way to deal with whatever they were "seeing." Sadly, we see this more than ever. It is my sincere hope that we may all work to help those who "see" only the negative, and to help them focus on the positive.
"Seeing" with both our minds and our hearts--living with an astigmatism--may be a key to a joyful existence.
Today, on Valentine's Day, I sent messages to friends, wishing them a 'Happy Valentine's Day,' telling them I love them. It made me happy, and judging by the replies, it made them happy, too.
I decided to research the origin of Valentine's Day, expecting (hoping) to discover a beautiful story of true love. Not so. There are several possible roots of the day devoted to Valentin, or St. Valentine, or the idea of sending love, not all beautiful, nor having to do with true love. Some, but not all.
I came away rather disappointed, having believed that the holiday we celebrate today, honoring love, was borne of the same sentiment. Then I came across this, by Lisa Bitel, Professor of History and Religion, USC, referring to the Valentine's Day history she uncovered:
"It seems that the erstwhile saint behind the holiday of love remains as elusive as love itself. Still, as St. Augustine, the great fifth-century theologian and philosopher argued in his treatise on “Faith in Invisible Things,” someone does not have to be standing before our eyes for us to love them.
And much like love itself, St. Valentine and his reputation as the patron saint of love are not matters of verifiable history, but of faith."
Love is not a matter of history, but of faith in something invisible--past, present, and future. It requires only that we feel it.
Go forward, feeling and sharing love, today and every day, no matter the origin of Valentine's Day.
"Who's the fairest of them all?" is never the question I ask my mirror . . . I couldn't bear the response.
The truth is I don't look into the mirror frequently, unless I'm applying mascara and the like. However, today I find myself staring into the proverbial mirror of self-reflection. And I find myself not asking, "Who's the fairest of them all?" Again, because I know the answer.
Sadly, I find myself feeling the weight of my inadequacy as a fellow human being, as I reflect upon my failure to be the good person I want to be - as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend, co-worker, neighbor, citizen. We actually have a word for this: guilt.
Guilt is weighty. Guilt brings one down. Guilt imprisons one in the past. Guilt has the power to prevent one from seeing things as they are. Guilt restrains one from living freely. Guilt is the antithesis of joy.
The interesting thing about guilt is that it's a two-way street. Generally, guilt is thrust upon us by the person we've harmed. Guilt forces to see our actions (or inactions) for the harm they have done, and it doesn't generally feel good. Yet, it is important for us to be reminded of the "wrongs" we have committed, in order that we might feel remorse, offer an apology and/or retribution, and learn. These things help us to grow and be better.
In order to grow and be better, it is important to let go of guilt once it has served its purpose. When a heart-felt apology has been offered, and one has had time to reflect on his/her actions and learn from them to be better going forward, guilt should be released by the offender.
As important is the letting go of guilt by the person who was hurt by the actions (or inaction) of the offender. Not only for the offender's sake, but also for the sake of the person harmed. Forgiveness frees the offender and the harmed equally to move forward in a meaningful relationship.
Imparting lasting guilt, and holding onto guilt, both interfere with our hearts' ability to experience joy and meaningful relationships. Mirror, Mirror on the wall . . . reflect guilt when it's appropriate, and replace it with joy when its purpose has been fulfilled.
"Auld Lang Syne?" Indeed.
My family has had the great pleasure of spending Christmas break in Scotland. We have visited Edinburgh Castle, a towering structure dating back 3000 years. We have walked through an underground village that was quite literally built upon by newer buildings beginning a few hundred years ago. We have wandered about small fishing villages that exist as they did two hundred years ago. We discovered the grave of the infamous Tom Riddle of Harry Potter among headstones dating back centuries. And so much more. One of the highlights was carrying a flaming torch in the Hogmanay procession of tens of thousands of people, a centuries old tradition of bringing light into the New Year. Given all of this tradition, particularly around the New Year celebration, I was quite intrigued to learn that the song we sing at the New Year, "Auld Lang Syne," was written by a Scottish poet, Robert Burns.
"For Auld Lang Syne," as the tune begins, translates to "for (the sake) of old times." It is a tribute to that which has passed, a call to remember it well, to cherish what it was. We have experienced this love of tradition and that which was during our time in Scotland. It has made me reflect on my own history, and I do cherish my past--the good and the not-so-good--for it has all brought me to where I am today. Looking back, I see my life story unfold, my dots connect, and I am filled with gratitude and joy. I wish the same for you.
"Auld Lang Syne?" Indeed. Happy New Year!!
What do I wish for Christmas?
My Christmas wish is simply that Joy will be present in the hearts of all, and that all will feel it, and that the feeling will ignite kindness, and that kindness will bring more joy, and that all of the joy will result in peace and wellbeing for all.
That is what I wish for Christmas.
'What's going on in there?' is what I wondered as I watched the students of our piano teacher's studio perform in the Holiday Recital. Their focus was intense-- eyes fixed on the sheet of music, or on the piano keys, or alternating between them, depending on whether more trust was placed in their memory of the notes on the page or the position of their hands over the keys. Despite the concentration, no brows were furrowed, no torsos were tense, no jaws were clenched. (A few tongues did show themselves, likely without knowledge of their owners.) Without exception, as the final note of each piece was played, the performer managed a show of relief and satisfaction--a small smile, a glance at a parent, a long exhale--well-deserved, for certain.
I'm not sure why I was so taken by the intense focus shown by these musicians. Perhaps it was because some were so young. Perhaps it was because some were teenagers. Perhaps it was because there were so many distractions in the room (latecomers arriving, a man coughing, a baby cooing). Perhaps it was because it seems to me that people don't seem that invested in anything today. And yet the focus was intense.
As I watched and listened, I found my own interest intense. The music was lovely, even with some errant notes and uneven counting. Yet it was still magical and brilliant, certainly because the passion put into it was so obvious. The passion of the musicians was felt not only in the music they made, but also in their focus, in their ability to allow themselves to be completely in the moment until the last note sounded. It was a gift for me to also be completely in the moment, to focus on the beauty of the music, while letting go of the distractions--those in the room and those awaiting me outside of the room when it ended.
May we allow our focus to be on the present moment--enjoying it for what it is, despite its imperfections, letting go of distraction--and to feel the joy for the life we have been given.
May your heart be filled with joy and gratitude today and every day.
'How can I ever thank you?' feels like a question from a bygone era. It's a question a friend asked me many years ago when I stepped in to care for her children when she was ill. It's a question I have asked many times during my life upon receiving help. This question is often uttered in an almost breathless manner, as if the speaker is overcome with gratitude and desperation to offer something in return, despite feeling there is nothing they could offer to repay such kindness. 'How can I ever thank you?' resonates deeply with me these days.
As the calendar turns to November, and my thoughts turn to Thanksgiving, I find myself feeling abundantly grateful - for my vital blessings of good health, plentiful and nutritious food, financial security, a place to call home, and the people in my life - as well as for the smaller things we often overlook - sunny days, beach walks, the deliciousness of coffee, the contagion of laughter, and so on. I find myself experiencing the same breathless sense of wonder at how I could possibly be worthy of these blessings and at what I could possibly offer in return. Gratitude has a way of making us to want to give more, not out of duty, rather because the joy it brings urges us to want to do more to create more joy for others and for ourselves.
Often when we face difficult times, gratitude can be elusive, because the things for which we are grateful are overshadowed by the things which bring challenge. Yet, expressing gratitude during difficult times is one of the best ways to bring us back to a place of peace and even joy. This may simply be because we are changing the focus of our attention to our blessings, as much as it is the fact that we are expressing gratitude. Whether we express gratitude to a person, to the cosmos or destiny, or to a God or greater being, we will feel the power of its presence, and our focus will again turn to all that is good in life. Gratitude is a powerful force.
JOY: What My Heart Taught Me was written over a period of years, and each passage was born of observations on how joy is the root of wellbeing, regardless of what life brings. It is a book that could have easily explored many more lessons leading to this conclusion; in fact, had I continued to write, it may never have been published. Gratitude is one topic that doesn't have its own chapter in the book - not because its significance wasn't apparent to me until after the book was published, but rather because its significance was so apparent in everything else that I never quite knew how to capture it on its own.
As Thanksgiving approaches, and as I have been experiencing gratitude as a healing and joy-creating element in my life almost more than ever recently, I felt compelled to address it specifically. Give Gratitude a try. Allow yourself to feel and express it for all things great and small in your life, and cherish the joy it will bring and the impact it will have on your own path. Gratitude, more than almost anything else, will lead you to joy .
'How Can It Be?' is the question I ask every year on the first day of school. How can it be that my babies are heading off to another first day of another year of school? How can it be that same babies are driving themselves today? How can it be that this is the final first day of school for one of my babies?
This day is bittersweet every year, as evidenced by my tears as my babies walk out the door. While I am happy about their becoming young ladies with bright futures, I am also saddened by their growing independence and imminent taking leave from our family home. I know most parents experience this same internal conflict about watching their children become the people we have always hoped they would become.
As I go through my day, it will brighten. I'll dry my tears. I'll allow the silence to bring peace and mindfulness. I'll tend to my work that has been awaiting my undivided attention. I'll take a long walk to awaken my physical and mental spirit. I'll pause to give gratitude. And as I begin to feel all is well again, it will be time for my babies to return home, and it will be so. My babies will share stories about their day, and we'll cherish our time together. Soon our thoughts will turn to tomorrow, when they will go off again, and we will all live our lives, as intended.
How can it be? It is as it should be. Be joyful.
author of "JOY"