My teen daughter is going through the anxieties and insecurities we all remember from those coming-of-age years. Adding to the stresses of her life are the much-noted amplifying effects of modern living: social media, 24-hour news cycles and the dehumanizing pace of an unbalanced world.
Modern culture has given my daughter and her friends heavy labels (bi-polar, ADHD, suicidal) to describe their teen tumult, and violent narratives to exacerbate their anxieties. All of this is very scary. I want kids to grow up grounded, resilient and strong.
It reminds me of discussions I have with colleagues around the country who are reeling from the daily onslaught – school shootings, “fake news,” a sense of loss in the promise of our collective endeavor. How, we wonder, can we stay grounded, resilient and strong when so much draws us into the chaos?
Just yesterday, I was delighted to listen to author and global community activist Margaret Wheatley share her recent work with the Tamarack Institute network. In her new book, Who Do We Choose to Be: Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity, Wheatley explores what it means for us all to be leaders in “this time of profound disruption, to reclaim leadership as a noble profession that creates possibility and humaneness in the midst of increasing fear and turmoil.”
Wheatley calls on us to create conditions in which people can act on their capacity to be generous, creative and kind. Her work aims to strengthen leaders and practitioners who strive to rebalance the world, to bring more light and love into being.
This morning, I was reflecting on Wheatley’s work when my daughter came to me, distraught. I said to her, “My love, we must feed the light – turn off your Instagram account, listen to sweet music, take a walk with your mama in the spring sunshine. There will always be darkness, there will always be things that happen that are outside of our control. We can rarely stop the darkness, but we can minimize its impact on us, by feeding the light.”
My daughter looked at me with a glimmer of amusement. “Are you going to tell me about the circles of influence again, Mom?” She was referring to a blog I’d written, in which I encourage us to focus on our spheres of influence to mitigate a feeling of hopelessness in our lives.
How can we feed the light? A few of my strategies (in addition to the ones I shared with my daughter) include:
Manage your information I love the concept of a “news diet” and so every Sunday I try to stay off my phone and computer, avoid the papers and let my mind be free to wander, connect and create. I figure I can hear about the news – good and bad – on Monday.
Treat your brain as you treat your body While books, blogs and magazines regularly advise us to take care of our bodies (eat this, not that; exercise regularly, etc.), I find that the same advice is helpful for my brain. I’m thoughtful about what I put into it (what I read, watch, contemplate) so that it can remain creative and resilient.
Give yourself the present of presence Eckert Tolle’s book The Power of Now had a big impact on me when I read it a few years ago. When we truly place ourselves in the present moment – see the sky, feel the wind, hear the hums of our home – we catch a break from our ceaseless worries, and life regains its grace.
Focus on local community My work life focuses on the promise and practice of people coming together at the community level to, as Wheatley would say, tap whatever resources, people and projects we have. That’s where I do my work. Unlike the dominant story at the national level – of strife and combativeness – local communities across the nation are working to do right by one another, and to engage in authentic, trusting ways. Knowing that fosters my understanding and service to the work.
How do you feed the light in your life? How do you encourage the people you love, the people you work with and live with, to be generous, creative and kind? I’d love to know.
9 Replies to “Feeding the Light”
Wonderful. Right on target. I am going to move my body more. And I have definitely been watching my food choices. Thanks!
Yes, moving our bodies! Love it. Thanks Sheila!
For me, feeding the light is an inside job that flows out to others in exact proportion to how much time and energy I give it. I have to fill up my own well first, or my effort to love and be kind can become an effort to *appear* loving and kind–which isn’t the same thing.
I need to know what my thoughts and feelings are before they come out sideways in some kind of subtle or not-so-subtle bad behavior. I find it necessary to take time every day to pay attention to them–either in sitting, informal meditation, walking, or writing in a journal. Writing a list of sentences that start with “I feel….” is deeply eye-opening. Once I see what I feel and figure out what beliefs are fueling the feelings, I can feed lighter thoughts by telling myself another truth if needed. And this gives me a filled-up well of gratitude and serenity that effortlessly goes out to people and causes around me.
It’s worth taking time to think about what feeds the light. Thank you for asking the question.
So beautiful, Barbara – thank you! As they say, “Put the oxygen mask on yourself, first”!
Agreed! Unplug from social media, listen to music, and take a walk. Thanks for this blog!
You’re welcome Alice – let’s take one of those walks together, soon!
Thanks for writing Deb. Made me pause. And I needed that. My daughter also came to me truly distraught this morning. She said she felt awful. I knew she had stayed up late, gotten up early to run, and now needed to be at work in 15 minutes. She’s 19. She didn’t know what to do with herself. She didn’t feel skillful at that moment about how to to regain her composure or assess what she would do next.
Here’s what I wish now. I wish I would have just listened. Just listened. And maybe asked her at least one open question that I really didn’t know the answer to that may have helped her discover for herself what her next step was. Period. That’s all.
Tomorrow’s another day I hope! I will remind her she’s loved, and just listen and maybe ask questions I don’t know the answer to.
p.s. I did cringe inside when I compare what I said to her versus what you said to your sweet kiddo. I said nothing EVEN close to “My love, we must feed the light – turn off your Instagram account, listen to sweet music, take a walk with your mama in the spring sunshine…” With just a few minutes to spare, I asked too many rapid-fire questions tinged with an (un-called for) accusatory tone: did you get good sleep last night? Did you eat breakfast and drink water? Where in your body are you hurting? Listen to yourself. You know.”
She was furious with me. She asked me why I have to immediately turn to scolding her and asked me to leave her room. It’s a great question. Why did I turn so quickly to advice? I prefer to think of it as wise advice, but no, it’s flat out stupid scolding. With compassion for myself I will also say it is getting ‘friendly with what is” a la Tolle. What is at that moment, sucked. Still, she wrote me a text a few minutes later when we were both on our way, “that sucked. wow.” my reply: “yep. it did. Blah!”
And now, writing you, I am friendlier with what is. Some of what IS in our country right now absolutely sucks. What does it look like to get friendly and real with that? We have a president who is above the law and an American culture that seems to still be much more often fear-based than love-based, and less equity in so many important parts of life. Those facts bleed into every cell of our collective being some days. And yet, does it have to be so difficult? Maybe. Maybe not. Let’s keep doggedly and gently nurturing the light as frequently as we are able, because life is complex. We need that light and resilience. Thanks again for your timely blog. xo
I love this Deb. And what a great full time position to have: light feeder.
Deb, thank you for this lovely thoughtful essay today. I needed this.