“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
It is hard to know what to do sometimes isn’t it? Especially on days like the one we recently had – oh wait, it wasn’t just one. It has been one after another after another. I’m talking about days when we’re jolted by the lightning flash of a news bulletin relaying the death toll from the world’s most recent terror attack. We hear the news, absorb the first shocking numbers and then despair as they rise over the next few hours like floodwaters in a basement.
It is easy to feel helpless. How to make a difference in the face of such hatred? How to soften the blow of these particular strains of violence? We aren’t watching news reports from warring nations; we are seeing innocent people attacked while celebrating a holiday, walking to work, shopping at a market, marching for their beliefs and dancing with their friends. What can we, as individuals, possibly do to heal our collective wounds?
I think it comes down to very small things – very tiny acts of compassion, kindness and sincerity. It comes down to the way we move through the world, day in and day out. It is about how we treat our partners, our families and everyone we come into contact with as we go about our days. It is about those details.
At the Brave Girl Symposium last week, one of the many lovely souls I was meeting for the first time commented on the way I made eye contact with her. She appreciated it in the moment we first met and continued to comment on it over the next couple of days. It is not the first time someone has acknowledged this, and I doubt it will be the last. The intensity of my eye contact is something that has, quite frankly, kind of freaked people out (in a really sweet way) in a variety of situations.
I don’t exactly wake up every morning saying, “I’m going to stare intently into the eyes of everyone I encounter today,” but making eye contact is an intentional practice. I do it with my friends, I do it at retreats I facilitate and I do it in line at the bank. And I find the most consistent reaction I receive in return incredibly fascinating: it startles people, as if being seen is something they weren’t expecting and aren’t accustomed to. I get double-takes, I get sheepish smiles, I see an immediate softening, I see tears well up.
With so much of our attention gobbled up by mental to do lists, the frightening state of the world and all of our devices, it is easy to walk right by one another without any real acknowledgment that there is a living, breathing human being in our midst. I feel this most acutely in places like drug stores and grocery stores, where I see too many people hand over their debit card and pay for their items without ever looking up at the person who is assisting them. I know we’re all busy and have a lot on our minds, but this is what I mean about small details. We are all busy and have a lot on our minds, so let’s all take a wee moment, even if it is just the space of a single breath, to look one another in the eye and create a real connection.
I talk a lot about ripples of inspiration – about how a single act of kindness or a single step taken toward realizing a dream travels farther than we ever realize. Every single action taken in love, kindness, respect and joy matters. When one person has the ability to wreak havoc on a hundred lives in a single instance, it is the one thousand tiny expressions of light we can shine throughout our days and weeks that will help combat these dark forces.
Imagine this: Someone you don’t know and might never know has woken up this morning in despair over his or her life and the world. Perhaps this person looked up to the sky and said, “Please give me a sign all hope is not lost.” Later that day, you end up looking this person in the eye, and there is kindness in your face. You might even say hello.
That could be enough. That could be the sign this person was seeking, assurance that not all of humanity has lost the ability to, well, be human. You might think this is an unlikely extreme, but I’m not so sure. We are all looking for signs. We are all searching for comfort. We are all desperate for evidence that the world is still OK. And we all have the ability to provide such assurances for one another.
What to do in the face of unfathomable horrors? Imagine you are standing in a dark room with no windows. You can’t even see your own hand in front of your face. Now light a match. See how that one small flame lights up the space? Be that light, everywhere you go.
Be that light, and heal the world.
About the Author: Christine Mason Miller
Christine Mason Miller is an author, artist and guide who lives in Santa Barbara, California.
You can follow her adventures at www.christinemasonmiller.com.