Charles Dickens described the French Revolution as “the best of times” and the “worst of times.” We could use similar words to describe our world now. There is chaos, conflict, death, and destruction on the one hand, and love, compassion, and the birth of a new more aware consciousness on the other. We who are alive at this time are bridges between the old and the new, Heaven and Earth, humanity and divinity. To hold all that within us requires great courage as well as deep inner peace. How do we achieve that? One of the most effective and powerful ways is to hold gratitude in your heart, to see the world through that lens, even with tears of sadness in your eyes. There is always something to be grateful for in life, whatever the circumstances.
We have used language to separate ourselves from each other through a litany of pronouns—you, he, she, it, they—which together mean “other.” Yes, we say “we,” but it is usually used in a sense that cordons off “us” from “them.” The greater “we” that encompasses all of humanity is rarely part of our vocabulary. World events in the form of a deadly virus are now compelling us to open our hearts to that inclusiveness. We can no longer separate ourselves from one another, and that includes all of Nature as well. Our survival depends on seeing “we” everywhere. We are being radically schooled in oneness.
The coronavirus has come at a time when the world desperately needs a shift in consciousness. The planet is barely surviving because of wars, hatred, and environmental destruction. The divine hand of circumstance has stepped in to halt our disconnected slide toward implosion. This virus is slamming us hard, forcing us to allow the walls of separation to fall away completely. It is showing us clearly that there are no borders or boundaries between us. There is no other. Around the world, thousands are dying. Italy is especially hard hit, and it now stands as a global example of extreme loss as well as resilience and hope.
The Italian people are reaching out to the rest of the world, saying, “This is what we did and didn’t do—learn from our unknowing but fatal mistakes. Pay attention and take drastic precautions now. Stay home; self-quarantine.” Simultaneously, in the midst of their pain and grief, the Italians are demonstrating the most amazing grace and capacity for love. In their separate apartments, they stand on their balconies and sing to each other. They sing life into one another’s hearts. Throughout the world, people watch videos of them, and their hearts too are touched and uplifted. Those beautiful voices singing out into the night remind us of the beauty of the human spirit and our connection at the deepest level. Are we returning to harmony and balance at last? Are the divine scales being repositioned so that humanity has another chance at compassionate cohabitation on this planet?
Like so many of us, I have believed in my heart that this time would come, when a paradigm shift would change everything and bring us back home to our souls, our divine/human selves. I am acutely aware of the fear, uncertainty, and sadness that is currently circling the globe. Yet something else is happening as well: kindness. People, especially health care workers, are reaching out to help others. A friend of mine, a retired nurse in San Francisco, gives out homemade hand sanitizers and other supplies to the homeless. Helping is hardwired in her training, her DNA. So many others like her. Another friend in Boston takes an empty subway train across town to volunteer at the Food Bank. We are a compassionate species, we humans, in spite of our conflicts and cruelties. Perhaps this is the moment when love definitively phases out hatred and fear because no other choice remains.
As I watch unprecedented world events unfold, I can feel a tremendous letting go within myself. In the past year, I have had to surrender attachment to any plans, preferences, or certainty again and again. Now the dial on “Surrender” has been turned up so high globally that none of us can ignore it. No one knows what will happen next. For me, it feels as if there is nothing I can do but live mindfully in each moment, with gratitude for life itself. That’s all that’s possible. And there is a peace in that, the peace at my core, in my soul. Perhaps that is what we are all being moved toward: the “peace that passeth understanding,” the divine thread that connects us to something greater than our own individual lives. In truth, crisis comes to give us that gift, to show us that the most beautiful experience, and most profound truth, of our human lifetimes is oneness with our fellow beings and with God. Peace on Earth, at long last.
One of the key wisdoms I’ve come to know in my life is to always appreciate what is here, rather than search for (and lament) what is not. If you hold the latter focus, you will always find something missing. If you hold the former, the world will open up around you in miraculous ways. Some people call this a gratitude practice, and that’s a good name for it. Life on Earth is so rich with experiential treasures, so much to be grateful for.
In every moment, there is a surplus of wonder in your life. The air you breathe, the sky above you, your friends and family, all of them precious beyond words. Yet, not every person, event, experience, or detail in life is always within your perceptual field. You can have one particular experience today and an entirely different one tomorrow, each of them seemingly separate. If you expand your awareness, however, both experiences are connected.
We live on a planet of polarities, and we are learning to navigate it, to find balance and harmony within that world. The middle path is one that is inclusive of everything within each moment. You don’t get lost in opposites, which can lend itself to only experiencing loss. Instead, you see everything around you as part of a greater network of meaning and connection in the universe. There is no absence, only presence.
I find when I live my life this way, within that presence, then I am always full of appreciation for what is instead of feeling regretful about what is not. It is definitely a practice though—gratitude, appreciation, inclusiveness, whatever you want to name it. The field of polarity that surrounds us can pull us into the opposite of appreciation—into sadness over the past or fear about the future. When I remember to re-center myself and look at the world from present-moment awareness, I see a surplus of wonder, not a deficit.
So I practice, each day I practice. On my morning walks, I remind myself: “____ is here” or “I am grateful for ____.” With each new addition to those sentences, my heart opens more. It is amazing how a few minutes of doing that can shift my consciousness into a much more expansive and inclusive state. Presence fills, and absence drains, us.
If we want to find balance and equilibrium in our lives, then I can think of no better way than to love what is here, not long for what is missing. It’s all a mental construct really, a trick of human perception that tells us that everything is separate from us (including God), and that we can’t know the world as a whole in each moment within our consciousness. If the entire universe (uni- means “one”) is of a piece, constantly evolving energy and light, then in truth we are never separate from anything, throughout eternity. So “here” cancels out “not here,” and there is only Presence, which is another name for God or Source.
You hold the universe within you. You hold all seeming opposites within you. You hold God within you. You are Presence itself. When you remember that, then you are always “here,” and so is everything else. And all you can feel is thankfulness and love for the miracle of life you are living.
A song written and recorded in 1944 that was popular with my parents’ generation had the refrain: “Accentuate the positive; eliminate the negative.” Those who lived through the Great Depression and World War II often developed one of two responses to life: fear or hope, or perhaps a mix of both. You can see hope in songs like this one. And I definitely saw it in my mother when I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. Without fail, she always looked for the positive in any situation, person, or event. If someone behaved in an unpleasant manner, my mother’s response was inevitably, “She means well.” And then she would find something nice to say about the person.
She looked for the good in the world around her on a daily basis—the beauty of the sky, birdsong in the backyard, music and poetry, my dad’s sense of humor. She framed life this way. It wasn’t just a coping mechanism for the times; it arose from deep in her soul. I came to realize this fully later in her life when she was hospitalized and had to have a serious operation. I flew to my Illinois hometown from San Francisco, where I lived at the time. I sat by her side for three days and nights, our hands inseparably clasped in a lifetime of mother-daughter love. I watched her face, pale and drawn with pain, light up when she turned and looked at me: “You’re always there,” she whispered.
And I watched her eyes scan a basically ugly hospital room and finally light on the one thing she could honestly see beauty in: “Isn’t that a lovely walnut door?” That was the essence of my mother. That was who she was at the deepest level, beyond pain, beyond medication, beyond hospitals. From her soul, in every waking moment of her life, she looked around to find beauty—and she always found it. This was her legacy to me; I carry that positivity in my genes. I carry the memory of her waking me each morning with “Good morning, merry sunshine” and then at breakfast: “Another beautiful day!” From the beginning of my life, I was imprinted with that ability to love life fully under any circumstance.
My mother didn’t live a life free of all pain and difficulty; like all of us, she faced challenges. But she lived a life of appreciation and gratitude for the moments of love, beauty, and connection that are always present if we but open our eyes (and hearts) to see them. My mother lived with an open heart. She found happiness in loving the people and the world around her. At this time of great change and great challenge on the planet, I look to her wisdom to sustain me and uplift me through the rest of my life. I know I was born for a reason, and I know she was my mother for a reason. There is an ancestral line of positive energy that runs through our lives. She passed it on to me to sustain me—and as a reminder, so that I never forget that we all have positive energy within us.
We are each alive at this key transformational juncture in world history to remind each other of that. No matter what disturbing events in the external world show up each day, we still carry hope in our hearts and souls. We can listen to the voices that say “We shall overcome” and “All you need is love” instead of those that speak separation and hatred into the world. Whatever is occurring now is part of our evolution, as a species, as a planet, as a universe. We are not done yet. There is always, always possibility and positivity within us. We can breathe that into the world in all that we say and do. And that becomes our legacy of love…
“God is in the details,” some wise individual once said. Different people interpret that sentence differently, but for me it means the Divine lives in every seemingly insignificant detail in the world. God does not show up solely for fiery sunsets, mountain panoramas, and sacred ceremonies. God is also in the tiny ant crawling across the picnic table and the voice of a neighbor singing off-key at 6 a.m. God exists beyond judgment and circumstance. God is everywhere.
My own experience of God over the years has frequently been rich with color, light, and sound, as well as tears of gratitude and awe. Sunlight on a flower at dawn or Andrea Bocelli singing Italian love songs both make me cry, as does the exquisite imagery of a poet like Mary Oliver or the inspiring words of a spiritual master. Yet, I am finding as my life journey continues that perhaps the most profound connection with God is in the finely drawn details of daily life. Seeing God in subtlety is perhaps the greatest blessing of all.
To gaze at a luminous bird of paradise or a faded handmade quilt with equal reverence. To recognize spirit in every living being. I saw God, as well as many lifetimes shared, in my father’s eyes as he neared the end of his life. I also saw God in the eyes of a black-and-white pit bull who turned to look intently at me as he passed by with his human companion. Each of these experiences moved me profoundly. There was no doubt in my mind that I was in the presence of divine spirit (only the form differed), and grace had allowed me to see it.
Although my experiences of God are at times powerful, at other times they are less dramatic, such as a synchronicity or sign that redirects my path in a small but significant way. God’s presence is not always obvious, as when rays of golden light illuminate the landscape in magical and breathtaking ways. It is in the quiet, simple moments as well—waking to a new day with fresh energy and enthusiasm, feeling the gentle touch of a loved one’s hand, hearing a mockingbird’s song late on a summer evening.
God is also in the seeming catastrophes of life when things fall away or apart, and we feel lost and helpless. Invariably on the other side of those experiences is a wider horizon, a new vista, and the opportunity to expand even further on our life’s journey. Everything holds within it possibility and the full spectrum of life’s experiences. The recent appearance of a For Sale sign in front of the house where my partner and I have rented an apartment for ten years opened the door to an exciting new adventure for us in a completely different part of the country.
So, as I go through my day, I am grateful when I notice and appreciate the myriad details that surround me. For therein is a connection to spirit that does not rely on visual or audial drama and fanfare. Life just is—and every part of it is a miracle. Ultimately, the truth is that each one of us is God seeing God everywhere. There just is nothing else.