It's time to ignite a small revolution, a revolution of angels carrying stories to balance the darkness. How do you ignite a revolution? It's not really such a big deal, if you think about it. Revolution means a turning -- turning around, turning over, turning toward. Turning as night turns into day or cold turns into warmth.
Revolutions begin gradually. Dawn emerges when the thick velvet sky fills slowly with light. Day emerges from night, wakefulness from sleep, and warmth from cold. There is another side to everything. This is the way life works.
I am wondering, what is the other side of trauma -- the daylight balance to trauma's dark night? Painful events in childhood can mark one for life, freezing a person's capacity to yeast his or her own life and use it to nourish others. Can happy events mark us for life as well with a sense of buoyancy, permeability, and connection? If trauma is a moment of wounding, pain, and distress, what do we call the moments when we are healed, blessed, and blissed, moments when we recognize or ignite the light in ourselves, each other, and the world? If traumatic moments can create a disconnection from ourselves and from that which we love, then there must also be moments that mark us with an ongoing sense of resilience. I have searched in every dictionary and thesaurus I have for an antonym for the word and have found nothing.
I believe the other side of trauma is a moment of grace. How would children grow if they were continually reminded of their unique ways of contributing to the world? How would you be different if your mind sourced your epiphanies as often as it does your mistakes and failures? What if acknowledging another's spot of grace was as easy as commenting on their limitations? What if you developed a fluency in articulating other people's senseless gifts of beauty?
Speaking About What You Love Lights You Up
At a retreat we facilitated in Sundance, Utah, called Time Out, my son, David, and his wife, Angie, interviewed and videotaped each participant for fifteen minutes. They asked the participants to talk about a range of topics, including what they did for work, what they truly loved, and what mattered most to them. In almost every case, when we viewed the video later, each person's spot of grace was obvious to all of us; even the most skeptical in the group could see the person being interviewed light up and shine when speaking about what they loved, as if they held the moon in their mouths.
Remember Patrick Burke's story, "Following the Thread," about how his athletic ability was ignited because a veteran triathelete recognized it and invited him to participate on bike rides? (See page 76 in my book, Spot of Grace.) If you follow the thread of that story a little longer, it leads to another story that illustrates how little it takes to multiply this illumination.
Patrick's story arrived in my inbox at just the right moment. The previous night my son, David, had been telling me he felt bummed; it was one of those moments we all trudge through when everything feels hard. Several of his closest friends had been wildly successful, and he felt as if he just couldn't get it together. At forty, he thought he should be doing something more with his life, achieving more, making a difference somehow. David is a superb athlete who prefers single-person sports -- skiing, surfing, golf, windsurfing. He was training for a two-hundred-mile, one-day bike race through the mountains of Utah and Wyoming, a goal far beyond anything he had ever achieved. At this point he didn't think he'd be able to finish.
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Patrick had attended a Time Out retreat with him. The day Patrick's story arrived, I emailed back and asked if he minded if I sent it on to David because I thought it might help. This was Patrick's reply:
I'm really moved that you asked. I can so relate. I know the familiar ache he's feeling better than I've ever fully articulated -- the go-it-alone approach, the knife's edge of fear at having not achieved enough. It's very lonely, no matter how much those around try to help out.
I wonder if David knows he's been one of those unmentioned people I wrote about. I remember when I first met him at Time Out. Beyond all the history of shame and failure I recounted, Dave related to me only based on what I wanted to create in my life. He saw then what I couldn't see in myself. Without knowing it, he has secured such a place in my heart that if there is any way that I can be there for him, particularly on an issue so dead center in my own life, I would do so in a heartbeat. As a guy who outwardly looks to the world as if he has a million friends and inwardly thinks he has to do it all solo, I rather suck at reaching out. So just send this right on to him. Maybe the two of us can remind each other we don't have to go it alone.
Growing From the Crucible Events That Life Brings Us
Sometimes we follow patterns that are too small for us, that focus and develop only a small part of who we really are. Sometimes the forces around us trap us into noticing all that is not possible. The life in us may be squeezed, like bread dough, into a shape that is not really our own. What is it that enables certain people to respond differently to what might flatten the rest of us? Are only a few remarkable people able to sing while being incarcerated, create while everything around them is being destroyed, find wisdom in the midst of depravity? Or are such people bearers of the possible, living their lives like a flag that reminds the rest of us what lies within: the possibility of leaping across the habitual abysses carved in our minds to make different choices -- choosing, in effect, to perceive, think, and act as fully free human beings?
The people who have been my greatest guides, those known and never met, are individuals who grew as a result of the crucible events that life brought them instead of being destroyed by them. They find opportunity where others find only despair. They choose to live inside questions that widen their periphery. They choose to influence their own and others' destinies in a positive way. They have tapped into a resource that is available to each of us.
Not just a special few are born with this capacity; it resides in each of us. I call it spiritual courage. It is choosing to grow the spot of grace in yourself and others on behalf of what is healthiest in the world. It is refusing to humiliate yourself or allow anyone else to suffer that diminishment. Ultimately, it is choosing to do with your life something that enhances freedom and elevates human dignity. Simply put, spiritual courage is the courage to care.
How Do You Turn Toward What Really Matters?
"This is not a time to live without a practice. It is a time when all of us will need the most faithful, self-generated enthusiasm (enthusiasm: to be filled with god) in order to survive in human fashion.... We must ask what is my practice? What is steering this boat that is my fragile human life?...Whatever it is, now is the time to look for it, to locate it, definitely, and put it to use." -- Alice Walker, We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For
Pick a day, any day. Make the commitment to yourself that you will listen and watch for what lights up the people you meet and that you will then acknowledge it.
For instance, during a long phone call with an associate at work who has facilitated a particularly difficult conversation, just before you hang up, you might casually allude to how that person made a difference: "I was about ready to give up when I heard what the agenda was, Catherine, but you facilitated so effectively that we seemed to fly through it. I felt as if you were holding the kite string just taut enough that we didn't get lost, while letting the conversation soar when it needed to. You seem to have a special capacity for creating order out of chaos."
Or, as you are walking the building super to the door of your apartment after he has unclogged your drains at two in the morning, you might pause with your hand on the knob and say, "I have noticed, Paul, that you are consistently here for me when I most need it. It really means a great deal to know that in an emergency, you keep your cool and take charge."
Notice the effect this has on your energy, your sense of belonging and connection. Like practicing random acts of kindness, acknowledging someone else's spot of grace, no matter how he or she responds, ignites your own. You simply feel fuller.
Last year I asked a group of about a thousand people to do this between sessions at a three-day conference. Instead of having a brief chat with someone in the elevator or lobby and then walking away, I suggested that they listen to the other person, search for the spot of grace, and acknowledge verbally the moments they saw him or her light up. "When you spoke about systems dynamics, Linda, your eyes started sparkling and your words got very alive. It was exciting to listen to you."
I'm sure some of the people at the event ignored my suggestion as ridiculous and went on their habitual way, but many stopped me in the hallways, coffee shop, or elevator and told me that all the usual conference frenzy had shifted and the way they were paying attention to others had changed. Several people mentioned that they also felt more confidence and connection, speaking when they assumed others might be paying attention to them in this graceful way. If there can be heaven on earth, why not angels on earth -- angels going around illuminating another's spot of grace?
Whom or What Are You Serving?
"Love is that condition in the human spirit so profound that it empowers us to develop courage; to trust that courage, and build bridges with it; to trust those bridges, and cross over them so we can attempt to reach each other." -- Maya Angelou, Even the Stars Look Lonesome
Join the revolution of secret angels. Who says you need feathers? I want every child born into this world to be blessed, as I was, by someone who could see his or her uniqueness. I want every person alive to remember the legacy of dreams, prayers, sweat, and hard-earned wisdom running through the river of our blood.
Poet and theologian John O'Donohue defines soul as the place where the intimate and the infinite meet. I believe my grandmother would say this is the exact location of the spot of grace. In my experience, it is also the place that seeds our greatest potential for influence.
Influence is an equal-opportunity employer. Unlimited amounts are available to each of us. A teenager named Jerome in a migrant labor camp in Florida changed forever the way I think about learning and difference. He inspired me to write three books that tens of thousands of people have read. Who knows how many children were ultimately influenced by Jerome's effect on me?
The people mentioned in this book have influenced hundreds of thousands of lives without even knowing it. All it took was a simple act of recognition that changed everything for one person, who then went on to make a difference for thousands of others.
Life Gives Us Seeds As A Way Of Saying, "Please."
The gifts you carry, even if you do not know what they are or have not felt them stirring in you for decades, are needed by the rest of us. If you allow yourself to know this, you will also come to recognize that in every person you meet, there is a seed of light. All those gifts are needed now. Each and every one of us belongs. There can be no orphans; there can be no exiles or aliens.
Only when we appreciate the unique gifts that each of us has to offer and the shining web of connection that holds us all can we open ourselves to the full potential of what we can achieve together.
Reprinted with permission from New World Library. ©2008.
www.newworldlibrary.com 800-972-6657 ext. 50.
Spot of Grace: Remarkable Stories of How You DO Make a Difference
by Dawna Markova.
You don’t have to discover penicillin, feed the poor in the streets of Calcutta, or be the first person to swim to Antarctica to make a remarkable difference in the world. The stories in Spot of Grace tell about moments when one person did something very simple — asked a question in wonder, smiled from the heart, risked a reach across the chasm of isolation so many of us experience. Extraordinary things start with these ordinary gestures. And as they grow and flourish, they can make a profound difference in someone else’s life.
For More Info or to Order This Book. Also available as a Kindle edition.
About the Author
Inspirational speaker and writer Dawna Markova, PhD is internationally known for her groundbreaking work in helping people learn with passion and live with purpose. She is the author of numerous books including the bestsellers Random Acts of Kindness and I Will Not Die an Unlived Life. A long-term cancer survivor (she was told she had six months to live almost thirty years ago), Dawna has appeared on numerous television programs, and is a frequent guest on National Public Radio and New Dimensions. She offers seminars and workshops and speaks at business and educational conferences internationally.
Her website is www.dawnamarkova.com.