Christmas, Hanukkah, and the Winter Solstice are a good time for reflection and renewal as well as celebration. This year, I invite you to take time to consider the way that you view the world, and how you might shift your thinking to become happier, healthier, more compassionate, and more at peace.
In my work, I am acutely aware of the adverse effects of a pessimistic, negative view of life. Depression, anxiety, and loneliness continue to increase in our society. There is no doubt that these are challenging and unsettling times in our world. But the truth is that we have always faced the painful challenges of war, political strife, prejudice, and tragedies on a global and personal level.
I encourage you to not fall into the quagmire of pessimism, discouragement, negativity, or bitterness. I hear many people speak of their distress and their belief that the world is doomed. They see only tragedy, hatred, and destruction, and believe nothing good is happening in the world. Keep an open heart, my brothers and sisters. Take time for stillness, seek the truth, and devote yourself to acts of loving-kindness.
Keep Your Focus on Responding, not Reacting
I find it helpful in life to focus on responding, not reacting. This is difficult when we are continually reacting to the barrage of information presented by technology. The more fast-paced and frenzied life becomes, the more we tend to react. Slowing down is a simple way of allowing the opportunity for thoughtful response.
We can begin to slow down by reducing our access to personal smart phones, computers, and electronics in general. Instead, take the time to meet a friend in the park or at a coffee shop. Relax, converse, and enjoy. This may sound radical, but occasionally leave your phone in the car or at home. You may be surprised at how much richer and more meaningful your interactions and life are when not lived through technology. We need to have fellowship, and we need to give love, receive love and feel a sense of belonging. This is spiritual nourishment, and without it we starve.
We Don’t Need Stress to Take Action
As a society, we have the underlying belief that we only get things done when we’re stressed. Under stress, the hormones adrenaline and cortisol are released, which help us switch between anxiety/anger and excitement/elation—the two sides of high-intensity emotions. This over-excited state is what we have come to believe is desirable, but it comes at a high price.
The cost of trying to be consistently “high-energy” is significant because it activates the body’s stress response. Over time, this depletes our life force, compromising immunity, memory, and attention, and contributing to chronic disease and a shortened life span. In addition, a state of constant over-stimulation results in an emotional and spiritual crash. According to a May 2018 report from BlueCross BlueShield, rates of depression rose by 33% from 2013 through 2016 and climbed fastest among adolescents (up 63%) and millennials (up 47%). We must all question the level of stress that we accept as the norm, and find ways of being in the world that encourage peace and compassion instead of anxiety, anger, and depression.
We want to strive to live predominately in the low intensity positive.
Pope Francis offered good advice for taking action in life: “To be at the service of others does not only mean to be ready for action. It means also to be in conversation with God with an attitude of listening. It is by relating to God in the silence of our hearts that we discover our identity and the vocation to which God is calling us.” He went on to say God’s plan is “meant to make our lives fruitful and produce many smiles and happy hearts. To respond to God positively is to take a first step towards being happy and towards making many people happy.”
Cultivating an Attitude of Kindness
We can choose our responses in life to nourish kindness in our interactions with others. Rather than dwelling on “gloom and doom,” focus on making a difference every day in small ways. One person’s smile may be a random act of kindness, but to the recipient, it may be the moment that changes everything. Each one of us has the potential to create positive change by simply caring, listening and being kind.
There are two fundamental commandments that speak to this: “Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.”
These are really one and the same—to love God means to love your neighbor, and to love your neighbor means to love God. If you don’t believe in God, you can still believe in love. Whatever I believe, or whatever you believe, we are united as “one.” With this in mind, I created Mederi Medicine as a unified whole-systems medical model. There is no “I” in wellness, but there is “we,” and it is together that we heal.
Everyone can be an ambassador of kindness. Fr. Philip O’Shea, a priest in the Franciscan Monastery in which I lived always said, “If you want to make your life better, and be happy, involve yourself with others and make their life better, and suddenly you will find your life fulfilling and you will be happy.”
Why is the path to transformation most often involve suffering? Suffering seems to get our attention; love and prayer seem to get our heart and our passion for conversion, transformation and/or growth in holiness.
A prayer written by the great peace maker of our time, Dag Hammarskjold:
“Give me a pure heart –that I may see Thee,
A humble heart–that I may hear Thee,
A heart of Love–that I may serve Thee,
A heart of faith–that I may abide in Thee”
As we approach the end of another year,
let us prepare for the return of the light with a fresh attitude moving forward; one of hope and one that involves stillness followed by acts of loving kindness. Be One and be the Light.
With blessings and love for this holiday season, and prayers that all of us may spread hope and kindness in the world.