In loving memory of Janette Dean, who was a feel-good factor indeed.
Where were you when you heard the news? If the message was big enough, you remember, as do your cells. Who doesn't remember their whereabouts on Sept. 11, 2001, or on the days when John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated? If you've got enough tread on your tires, you might also recall the day Pearl Harbor was attacked, or the day Franklin D. Roosevelt died.
Politics aside, we also have cellular memory for breakthrough moments, such as the day the first African-American president was elected, and now the take-down of Osama bin Laden on the anniversary of Hitler's death. In little more than 48 hours after an estimated 2 to 3 billion people watched the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, attention was whiplashed in a completely different direction. In both cases, in some places, there was spontaneous dancing in the streets. Although these displays represented completely different forms of joy, the feel-good factor was well at work in our psyche in both.
This is no small matter. In a world riddled with uncertainty, we welcome moments of celebration, delighting in the levity they bring. Witness the reaction of so many upon hearing the way little brother Prince Harry addressed his "big bro" William as "His Royal Dudeness," or the way "His Dudeness" introduced Kate, now the Duchess of Cambridge, as "Mrs. Wales." In our endless penchant for what I have coined "terminal seriousity," we gravitate toward what stirs the pot of fear, casting aside what we need to help us heal from unspeakable suffering. The fact is that we need the feel-good factor to create sustainability for our deepest and best selves. We settle for the story on the surface and forget the story beneath the story that brings not only redemption but well-being.
The fact is that we are connected through something bigger than we recall in our day-to-day foraging in the jungle of fear and trepidation over the future. Without the wherewithal to predict tomorrow, we too often gravitate toward letting our anxiety get the better of us, falling into the trap of believing that we are separate from one another, separate from the creative power of our thoughts and separate from the possibility of living more joyful and wholehearted lives. We forget this at our peril.
Then moments come along that jog our memory and enliven our spirit. These are the birthing moments, the breakthrough moments when we remember who we are, casting off the distorted belief that we are separate from one another, separate from the life force itself, which courses through your veins this very moment, having nothing to do with your "deservingness." Like those brave Lilies of the Valley that reappear each year, pressing through beds of rock and pebbles, new beginnings push to express themselves through you and me, each and every time we slow down the train of our thoughts and have sufficient courage to receive the gift of Now.
Allowing yourself to lay aside any tendency toward the cynical, whenever you intentionally jump into the pool of the feel-good factor, it serves you well. Sure, we all heard people say (and maybe heard ourselves say), in faux sophistication, that royal weddings are not for us, going on about disinterest in the wedding gown, the ceremony, the hats, blah, blah, blah. Likewise, the media were more than willing to say that the fascination was "all about the dress," or the unexpected convertible ride in a snazzy sports car, or the speculation about the next in line, be it Pippa or Harry, and future plans. However, if we can lay all this aside, let us not fail to notice that there is a story beneath the story, which has to do with that urge within the human spirit to rekindle the flames of hope in the human heart, so long, and too often, mired in overwhelming, 360-degree anxiety about tomorrow. The feel-good factor is a necessity if we are to go on, if we are to envision a better way of belonging to this world, a more meaningful way of moving forward, less crippled by a state of chronic anxiety and paralysis by analysis of the imponderables.
Every time we reengage in trauma, discouragement and disappointment, it is as if we make a withdrawal from our life energy account. Each time we feel good, we deposit energy into a "reserve account." Whenever you pause to savor joy in the moment, surrendering the ego's need to posture and pretend, liberation comes anew. When you courageously allow yourself to get lost in the simple and even microscopic beauty in front of your nose, life becomes more worth living. This becomes your "safety deposit box" for what comes down the road that will require more of you: that knock on the door or that phone call in the middle of the night that you do not expect but which will take your breath away, with celebration or sorrow. Either way, now is the time, the only time, to step outside whatever's been chasing you, to press the pause button and to remember that right here, right now, you are free to simply be.
A secret gift: many years ago, when I was very young, something happened that transformed my life. It was a bright Sunday morning in October. I was on a walk back home after an overnight with my best friend when, for no particular reason that I could discern, some unexplainable force stopped me in my tracks. That "something" urged me to stop, sit down and memorize the moment. I did. I shall never forget the azure, clear blue sky overhead, the robins chirping en route to nearby chestnut trees whose leaves sparkled in the sun, shimmering gold, crimson and Hunter green. The air was clear, clean and crisp. In the stillness, I heard my heart speak silently: "Memorize the moment. This is necessary for what's ahead." This has been my practice for over 50 years. I gift this secret to you, the willing. The gratitude that grows from this practice becomes an informant for peace when you find yourself caught in unanticipated turbulent waters ahead. (For more on this, see the upcoming "The Feel Good Factor," in press.)
Your turn: What feel-good moments do you remember? How has the feel-good factor served you or others you know? I'm listening, and I'm learning from you, my teachers.
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I will return May 18 with a fresh collection of moments.