There is a place near my house where I like to run. It’s a 5-mile wooded trail surrounding and overlapping a reservoir, little of which I travel having a love-hate relationship with running. Even when the dirt path and small bridges are crowded with people, there is still so much untouched nature that you can’t help but hear some birds singing or catch site of a chipmunk or turtle on your way. It’s the perfect place to adjust focus from the whirlwind of words in your mind to the comforting sounds and smells of nature.
On a run a few months ago, the weather was less than perfect, and the woods were desolate. Fun fact about me, my adoration and admiration for nature are not entirely, but nearly, equaled by my apprehension in it when alone. As I panted along the vacant path I was overwhelmed with thoughts of potential biped and quadruped attackers. Desperate to see another human, I moved forward. At a little over a half-mile, I thought about turning around. Within a minute, I passed another woman walking and we smiled with equal appreciation for the other one being there. I immediately felt comforted and quickly calmed my mind, falling into a rhythm with the silence and birdsong. Along the way there were a few other people of reassurance just as I needed them.
The run was a good reflection of life. We all experience times of fear and desperately seek comfort. Times when the storm seems like it will eclipse the light forever and it is too dark to continue. Still, if we move forward trusting that it will pass, the rage of wind and rain, internal or external, always fades. The sun always rises. And if we are open, we see that the Universe is constantly sending signs to assure us that we are not alone. Too often we allow arrogance and cynicism to tell us otherwise. We close our minds to the possibility of faith, plowing forward single-mindedly, determined to control the process and allow fear to derail us from our path. Our focus can become so internalized that we become deaf to the whispers of comfort and blind to the light right in front of us.
In an interview, Maryanne Williamson described this phenomenon as being an unplugged lamp. If we are to see ourselves as lamps, whose job it is to bring light into the world, we can’t perform our function if we are unplugged. In a culture where knowledge, opinion, and entertainment are at our fingertips we overwhelm ourselves with information and, consequently, stop listening to the messages that we receive in silence every day. We’re plugged into the wrong source entirely. Closing ourselves off like this is like paying thousands of dollars for a house on the beach, then spending the entire week inside with the windows and doors tightly shut, complaining the whole time that you don’t see what people enjoy about the ocean.
Fred Roger’s is famously quoted as saying that his mother would tell him to “look for the helpers” when he saw something scary on the news. The woman that I saw on my rainy run in the woods wasn’t the only helper on my path. Yes, she was comforting and fulfilled my human need for reassurance. However, the chances that a woman twenty or so years my elder was going to throw me over her shoulder or jump in front of me to physically ward off any predators is highly unlikely. An amusing visual, but an unrealistic safety plan. When I was able to calm enough to look, I realized how many helpers there were the whole time. I had my breath to sustain me. I had the ground beneath my feet. I had a healthy heart supporting me, and fresh air and birds as my companions. I had my faith to bring me comfort and strength. When you really look, your life is full of helpers.
The real gift of life comes when we release the anxious overlapping monologues of our minds and remember to plug ourselves in again to sources of love, comfort, and strength. There will always be challenges and difficult days. There will always be those who oppose us, or those who behave in opposition to our values and ideals. There will always be something to fear, passing storms and challenges. And there will always be helpers. We just have to look and be receptive to them. Life is a beach house and we have paid a lot to be here. Take time to open the windows and doors, let in some salty air and sunshine. You just may become the light in someone else’s storm.
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