There she stood. Strands of blond hair flying in the summer breeze, arms outstretched to the heavens, a symphony of giggles, a dance of delight. Beside the sparking water, she claps her tiny pink hands as each successive wave arrives, and kisses the shoreline. A vision of pure love of life, this child could not help but remind the "big people" of what matters most. Her glee would melt the most hardened heart, a contagion from which our world might benefit. In her gay abandon, we cannot help but smile. We nod in appreciation, and recollection. She demonstrates the truth of our old friend Rumi's words:
"The Soul is here for its own joy."
How is it then, that as we get older, the tendency is to mute our own spontaneous response? And, even more importantly, what can we do to cultivate reconnection with what uplifts our Spirit and touches our heart? What qualities catalyzes this experience?
Perhaps it might help to break the thing down, to identify seven factors operant when a child radiates their love of life.
1. Presence. Young children are present to the moment. As I sat with a group of four little girls, ranging from 3.5 to 5 years old, this 4th of July, each of them eagerly watched their fathers curating various sizes of fireworks in the driveway, like little boys themselves. Wide-eyed, spellbound, while following every move of the men-folk, each child squealed with peals of laughter as yellow, orange, red and blue sparks exploded through the evening air with every pop, pop, pop. Their merriment was infectious, clapping hands, swinging their legs back and forth from the edges of their chairs. Big people "oooh" and "ah," but do we let our bodies express our merriment?
2. Collaboration with the Mystery. Little children open themselves to the unexpected, welcome the arrival, and embrace whatever beauty comes. Rabindranath Tagore's poem describes this exquisitely:
"On the seashores of endless worlds, children meet.
The sky is motionless overhead and the restless water
On the seashores of endless worlds, the children meet
With shouts and dances..."
As colleague Donald Kalsched points out:
Between the "infinite sky" above and the "restless water," below there's a space where not only sea and sand meet and mingle, but the finite and infinite, eternity and time, also meet. The co-existence of these otherwise incommensurable worlds is what makes the space so alive and dynamic.
3. Patience. Unencumbered by agenda or to-do lists, little ones are free to savor, to await, to move, to blossom. We can only bloom when we are at peace.
4. Appreciation of Unity. Our youngest children do not see themselves as separate from nature, or any creative act, so are free to let life wash through them, as instruments of the whole, self-expressing as they go.
5. Self-permission. Before they become bridled by society, the child stalks the direction of that scent which speaks most deeply to what they love, as does the natural world. Every now and then, we learn of a story in which adults have done likewise, and the results are remarkably surprising. A few years ago, a story broke that illustrates. John Rendall and Ace Bourke's story is one of self-permission all around. Watch the following, if you want to deepen your appreciation of love in unexpected forms.
Metaphorically speaking, when we move in the direction of what our inner creature loves, when we heed that inner knowing which cannot be explained, that which we love and nurture comes back to respond. John and Ace respected their desire, which to most would not make sense. By giving them permission to follow their dream, the unexpected opened up and met them with awe-inspiring affection.
6. Willingness to go with the flow. As adults, we tend to cleave to what has been, resisting what is here, before us. The smallest among us, however, are much more adept at letting go, responding to the novel with curiosity and wonder. When my grand girl's bracelet broke, she looked at each bead with amazement, then pivoted, using them to stamp paint on her artwork, and then, gave them away, as treasures, to each person she encountered. She knows how to go with the flow, even when the flow brings her to places she has not been.
7. Unbridled resilience. When children are faced with challenges that would daunt most adults, the former have a way of connecting with the source of life in a way, which is pure, powerful, and energizing. Two examples come to mind. The first surrounds a precious preemie, born three months ahead of schedule. During my sabbatical, I decided to pay a visit to her neo-natal intensive care unit, as well as visit with mama and grandma. Despite the fact that this miracle child had more tubes and monitors on her than her surface area, the urge for life was palpable, impressive and humbling. In her neonatal period, her feet were not much bigger than a penny. But, her fight for life was as large as the Greek gods. Today, she is thriving, at home with mama and papa, and awaiting visitors. The second example involves witnessing a toddler whose daddy was issuing orders in an abusive way. The child put his hands on his hips and uttered one word in protest: "No." What a fighter. That child was protecting his very Spirit.
Self-inventory. If you recognize that you would secretly enjoy a greater love of life, consider rating yourself, from 0-10 on the aforementioned seven factors. What number would you give yourself to describe where you are today? Total your points. Assess where you are by referring to the following.
Well done! You are not only "there" but a great role model as a lover of life. Your connection with life and authenticity is an inspiration.
You are ahead of the bell curve, if you are measuring. But, forget comparison, it serves nothing. The real issue is to notice the factors that could stand improvement. Which one would you most like to address for the "biggest bang for your buck"? Naming your Good, (capitalize) gets the ball rolling! Write it down on paper, for more momentum.
Time is "a wasting." You deserve a richer experience of life! Consider the one step you could take that best advances your love of life. Concentrate on this one step for the next 21 days. Keep a journal. Your love of life will increase if you are willing to "do the do" with clear intention.
Below 40: Take heart. As the saying goes, "the play is not over until the fat lady sings." You now have a peek at where to place your focus, as you are willing to cultivate patience. Incorporate suggestions above. As for developing more patience with you, self-permission and self-affection, I will be writing much more about this in the coming year.
As we enter the fifth year of blogging on HuffPost, all of our lives have shifted, as we have grown together. Mine is no exception. With each evolution of the journey, the requirements for authenticity, joy, creative collaboration and sheer love of life expand and deepen. Know that your support of one another, and certainly, of me, has greatly enriched the experience of life itself. My commitment to living the most joyous, loving, and creative life that I can continues to deepen and unfold. Toward that end, I will be honoring the time and space required to attend, nourish, and express what inspires my own heart and soul, as my CSO (Chief Spiritual Officer) directs. As an unexpected outcome of my Sabbatical, opportunities have arisen which bring increasing simplicity and inspiration. During the rest of July and August, I am moving my office and group studio, as well as home, to this side of the Lake Washington. When I return in September, time permitting, I will do so with continuing gratitude for who you are. Know that you and yours are always in my heart. May the Good be with you. May Grace be with you. May you be continually reminded that you are Love incarnated in amazing form.
Be the Love,
P.S. The quilts for The Love Project: 2013 (see carabarker.com) are starting to arrive and are simply amazing demonstrations of your love in action!
Your Turn: What say you? I'm listening! Thank you for forwarding this.
For more information, see my archives on HuffPost and/or carabarker.com. The Love Project: Coming Home is now in its fourth printing with updates.
For more by Dr. Cara Barker, click here.
For more on emotional wellness, click here.