Category Archives: spirit
This past week I had the privilege of writing an article about a woman from my church. Jean volunteers for a long list of organizations, giving to others in different ways. As she bakes, delivers meals to seniors, quilts, and tackles her many other labours of love, she glows with energy and good spirit. When I asked her why she does all she does, she said, “It makes me feel good. I get back so much more than I give.”
Another friend of mine volunteers for Canadian Red Cross. He supports people in need in his own community, and he travels to countries in crisis around the globe. When he speaks of this work, he glows. “I get back so much more than I give,” he says.
I have heard that refrain over and over in my life, from people aglow with the joy of hands-on giving.
After my conversation with Jean, I thought about other people I know who have stable jobs and who probably give to charity, but who don’t give of themselves in a close contact way. They golf every Saturday, or they enjoy fine dining, or they spend most weekends at their cottage.
I would never say these people aren’t happy. If I were to ask them if they are happy, they would say yes. What is the difference then?
The difference is the glow: The merely happy people pass through life content; the others glow with a giving contact high.
The question then: Do I want to be merely happy, or do I want to glow?
About a year ago I read a book called E-Squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality by Pam Grout. The book appeals to my “I create my own happiness” philosophy.
Her book is a teaching manual of sorts, with simple “thought experiments” you can choose (or not) to try to see how the way you think affects what happens around you. The second experiment is called “The Volkswagen Jetta Principle.” It suggests that when we really look for something, we notice things we might overlook on your average day. For example, if you tell yourself that you’re having a bad day and look for bad things to happen, that is all you will see. Or, if you tell yourself how lucky you are, all you can see are all the fantastic things in your life.
Pam Grout suggest that, for a period of 24 hours, you look for a particular colour of vehicle. For an entire day, hold the intention of looking for, noticing and keeping track of the number of vehicles of that colour you find. In her book she suggests sunset beige cars.
When I read this book the first time, I followed her example, and I looked for sunset beige cars. Sometimes I had to debate if a particular colour fit the “sunset beige” criteria, but overall it was pretty easy. In 24 hours I counted 76 sunset beige cars.
This time around I thought “Sunset beige was too easy. I want something harder. How about purple?”
To increase my odds of finding purple vehicles, I decided it would be a good idea to leave my house. (I work from home, so this is not always required.) I ran errands around town, and in so doing, I drove by six car dealerships—none of which had a purple car or truck. Not even a bicycle.
I realized this was going to be more difficult than I thought.
I went for a walk in my neighbourhood. After strolling down a busy road and past the parking lots of three shopping areas, I still had not seen a purple vehicle of any description.
I began to negotiate the colours. Was that deep red close enough? It was almost purple. Some of the blue cars were pretty close too. I was tempted to include them, but when I was honest with myself, I had to admit, they weren’t purple.
As the 24-hour period drew to a close, I began to doubt. Maybe I would never see a purple car? I started to scold myself. Why did I pick such a difficult colour? I could have picked something much easier.
But I was determined. I really wanted to make this happen. I went to my basement where there is a box of toy cars my kids used to play with. The first vehicle I saw was a Jolly Rancher truck, undoubtedly purple. The words on the side read “Long Lasting INTENSE Fruit Flavor.”
From all of this, I learned:
- We have the opportunity to choose our level of challenge. We can choose easy, difficult or almost impossible.
- We can’t just look for something and expect it to walk up to our door and knock. We have to take action, look for it, work hard for it and never give up.
- As we face difficult challenges, we will have moments of doubt about the outcome.
- As we work hard to fulfill the goal, sometimes we will try to negotiate the completion of the task, and we will be tempted to settle for “close enough.”
- The harder the challenge, the more intense and long-lasting the flavour of the reward.
- Sometimes we set out on a quest and, after a long journey, we find the answer was right at home from the beginning.
Just for fun, give it a try. Pick a colour and look for all those vehicles and see how many you find.
I wouldn’t recommend purple though.
On Sunday, my friend, Ellie, made me think about something in a different way.
During her church reflection entitled “When Forgiving Takes Three,” she spoke about how we sometimes need assistance from a third party to help us through conflict situations. What really made me think, though, was the idea of listening as a gift to others. Usually we think of listening as receiving. We sit back, someone tells us their thoughts or feelings, and we receive that from them. But the act of listening—really listening—is more about giving than receiving.
How many times have you felt tuned-out by someone when you are speaking with them? Frustrating, isn’t it? How many times have you shared thoughts or ideas with another but felt your concerns weren’t received in the way you intended?
We have the power to dissipate conflict early on simply by allowing another person to vent their frustrations and by giving that person the gift of really hearing them and working hard to understand.
I’ve got my ears on. Ready to listen.
Rev. Ellie Barrington: “When Forgiving Takes Three” http://www.trinityunitedottawa.ca/reflections/when-forgiving-takes-three/
“Don’t give up before the miracle happens.”
—Fannie Flagg in I Still Dream About You.
Hundreds of years from now, the children of our children’s children’s children’s children face a seemingly insurmountable challenge. To inspire themselves to succeed they look to wisdom from the past. They scan their retinas (because surely they’ll have Google Retina by then) for pithy, profound insights into the complexities of life.
Might they find inspiration from Rumi? Perhaps. Jesus? Also possible. Shakespeare, Einstein or Confucius might also be strong contenders. But they might also stumble upon some wisdom from another great wise man: Jim Carrey.
Who would have thought, right? But Carrey nails it in a convocation speech at (of all places) the Maharishi University of Management. In less than a minute he alludes to one incident from his life that encapsulates these spiritual principles:
- Be here now
- Make your decisions based on love not fear
- Ask the universe for it and allow yourself to be surprised by the miracle
- You can fail at what you don’t want, so do what you love.
“. . . all there will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions we make in this moment which are based in either love or fear. So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it. I’m saying—I’m the proof—that you can ask the universe for it.“
He went on to say:
“My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an accountant, and when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job and our family had to do whatever we could to survive. I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love.”
The sun and warmth called to me at the end of the afternoon yesterday, so I ventured out for a big walk in my neighbourhood. I usually follow the same five kilometre route, but yesterday I took a different path. As I turned one corner, I saw a woman about five houses ahead of me make a hasty trip across the street. She went to the aid of an elderly man and his wife who had also heeded the call of the sun and the warmth, but who had walked a little too far. The man had run out of energy at the end of his driveway and couldn’t take another step—or stand for that matter.
My adrenaline kicked in, and I prepared to make a fast move to their aid. Just then, a car pulled over, and two young women hopped out. I couldn’t hear what they said, but I assume they offered help. The wife shook her head, so the girls hesitantly climbed into the car and drove away. I relaxed, thinking that maybe things were going to be okay. By the time I reached the house though, I knew the situation had deteriorated. The two woman could not support the man enough to help him to the house.
“Are you sure I can’t help?” I said.
The wife reluctantly agreed. “If you hold him, I’ll get his walker,” she said.
I stayed long enough to see him safely into his home. As we left, his wife said, “You both are angels. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”
I had the remainder of my walk to ponder her comment and to remember other situations in my life when people materialized at just the right time in just the right place: a cab driver who drove me all the way home late at night even when I told him I didn’t have enough money to pay the full fare, the woman who provided the phone so I could call my parents after a car accident, and the grocery store cashier who shared some life wisdom and turned my dark mood into a bright one.
I thought about how strange it was that I had taken a different route that day, almost like I needed to rearrange things to be there at that time. I wondered what kind of forces in the universe work together to create these kind of scenarios.
I mused about how the woman had declined the first offer of help. She had more help than she needed really, but she didn’t want to accept it. I wondered how many human angels I have refused to accept.
I contemplated her gratitude and her sense of relief in response to something that had cost me very little. The situation for her was dire, but for me it was nothing more than a temporary detour from my path. I wondered if all the human angels who have appeared to me felt the depth of my gratitude, and I hoped that their aid was as light a burden for them.
Have you ever been an angel? Has a human angel ever come to you?