These days, some people might be wondering about what more could happen, causing further uncertainty and fears. Others might be thinking about what more they could do to make things better. We could ask, from a perspective of anxious expectation of worse to come, “What more? Or, with a focus on seeking helpful possibilities, we could use the same words, but with a much more positive meaning to our question, “What more?”
One of the most hopeful of human qualities can be found in our common experience of how we sometimes start with negative thoughts, assumptions and even behavior, and later, come to a realization that we are not committed to continuing in the same manner. We then make new decisions more in keeping with our deeper values. Having noticed our dissatisfaction with the initial responses we made, we redirect our intentions and so we conclude with mind and heart at peace.
How very good it is that we can literally change our minds, especially when the information we had received from our feelings indicated clearly that our first reactions increased our disquiet and brought us no helpful resolution. For example, a child might vehemently refuse to eat some new food, assuming that it will not taste good, but then observes how much others enjoy it, and so finally tries it and finds out how delightful it is. We too, frequently decide differently after we have observed and reflected on the interior effects of our initial responses.
If we ask of ourselves what more we might do to be of help, our first thoughts could be about making additional efforts. However, we have limited capabilities, so we cannot always improve what we do in terms of quantity. Rather, the question about what more we can do is best aimed at improving the quality of our efforts, which is open to almost limitless possibilities. For examples of the distinction between more in terms of greater amount and more as meaning higher value, we can recall some of our own experiences. Most of us have found that, much as we might desire, we cannot create more time in the day to spend on even the most loving of care for someone else. At such a realization, we might have looked within ourselves to seek a different kind of answer to our interest in what more we might do, and found a solution that satisfied us because it was honest, and realistic in the specific circumstances.
Even though we probably do not know the specific challenges or opportunities that will be ours in the relatively near future, we can decide ahead of time to apply a spiritually reliable approach to whatever we will encounter. This generous and well-intentioned decision strongly favors what we learned from experience, that our better responses, arising from the sincere desire in our hearts to be of help, will often be manifested not by additional quantity of actions, but by greater quality.
By reflectively considering the manner best suited to both our strengths and our limitations we will know what more to do.
We identify as essential workers those who, in whatever capacity they serve, risk having contact with persons who might be inadvertently carrying the infectious Corona virus. We are all dependent on people like them and many others, whether we are staying in place or not. Some of us now realize that we always have been dependent on others who make it possible for us to participate in any form of civilized life. To acknowledge such a truth can easily lead to gratitude.
For some of us it is a pleasure to see hand-made signs outside homes, expressing thanks for health care persons or those who deliver supplies. Some news publications now feature stories about workers we might never have thought about who enable us to live relatively safely and well in our local environments. Unless we read or see information about them, we might not recognize how all the essentials for life come to us through the hands of laborers, professionals, and technicians who, for example, grow what we eat and then make it available for us wherever we live.
When we have become not only conscious of, but also solely focused on, the negative effects of the COVID virus and of the prevalence of injustice in our society, we can do one another the favor of shifting our awareness to the many kinds of persons and particular individuals upon whose work we are dependent. Acknowledging even a small number of those upon whom we rely in this beneficial manner can lighten the burden of anxiety about what we do not have or might not be able to do. Even a small experience of thankfulness can be an effective antidote to a frame of mind that so easily becomes fixated primarily on bad news.
If we reflect in a general way on those whose work enables us to do what we do, our gratitude might be generalized, eliciting only a small affective response in us. However, when we give a little more deliberation, and begin to think about individual persons, even if we only know them by sight or by their place of work, we normally will find joy in calling them to mind with heartfelt thankfulness.
We could also, without a great expenditure of time and energy, make a written or mental list of people we depend upon not just for our individual needs, but for those of the communities to which we belong. As an additional confirmation and even expansion of our gratitude, we can imagine giving expression in some external manner to this encouraging movement that arises within us. A smile or a word of thanks can brighten another’s day, at no cost to us as givers. We do not have to set up a series of personal appointments in our calendars to consciously communicate our thanks to persons whose reliability enables us to live in organized society.
Once we bring specific people to mind with gratitude in our hearts, we will find it natural to give spontaneous and creative expression in celebration of almost any day as a “Dependence Day.”
We like some surprises, as when a person thanks us for doing something we cannot remember; we do not welcome surprises such as finding out that a prized possession we had stored in a safe place is no longer there. However, since surprises are a part of life, we adjust to them as best we can whether they be pleasant or unpleasant.
The way we relate with surprises reveals much about our inner lives: our values, the habits we have developed for implementing our values, and our manner of making decisions. We spend most of our lives organizing and exercising control over as much as we can. Any surprise, which is not in our planning, immediately catches our attention and, no matter how delightful it might turn out to be, a movement of fear is often a part of our immediate reaction. When the surprise turns out to be one that pleases us, the fear-induced adrenaline often empowers strong responses of joy and gladness. If a surprise is one of bad news, that same energy frequently shifts to powerful expressions of sadness.
In reflecting on past surprises, we might become aware of how much our feelings, not just our minds, are involved. Even if we do not show a visible response in our faces or bodily movements, we cannot help but experience a twinge of anxiety at any unexpected occurrence that affects us personally. A surprise party might be quite welcome, but immediate positive responses are suddenly an expectation of us and might challenge our abilities to give all our attention to an event that was not of our choosing ahead of time. If, while occupied with our everyday activities we are told about a health crisis for a loved one, we try to quickly turn the focus of our thoughts from ourselves and how we are immediately affected, to the person whose situation is of concern to us. Our feelings are an integral and important part of the decisions we make in response to surprises.
Religious experiences of any kind often occur as surprises and evoke the same responses within us as do all other unexpected events, especially fear or anxiety, depending upon our history of such instances and their intensity. Whether or not we account sudden life-changing insights or transcendent illuminations of mind and heart as being of a religious nature, such movements take place in most of our lives. We can become more appreciative by first giving them acknowledgment, and then by naming them as seems helpful to us. For some, “spiritual” or “heightened consciousness,” are meaningful words for describing surprises that, with no devising on our part, elevate our appreciation for life and our purpose in living.
From perspectives of faith and lived experience, surprises become less surprising, because we have learned to trust our manner of responding, and we also trust the likelihood or receiving further incidents that can be identified as religious or by whatever descriptors we choose to use for them.
Surprises are not only a reality, but very often a reliable sign of God’s presence with us and affection for us.
When parents teach their children not to use bad words, they are usually referring to those intended to express hostility, disdain, or intense dislike. Often, we notice bad words, and do not want to hear them directed toward us or at anyone else. Yet, do we notice or even advert to the “good words” in our lives? Mention of good words is much less frequent among us, probably because we are not as sensitive to the benefits of receiving them or expressing them as we are to the hurtful consequences of bad words.
Rather than ponder why it is that bad words capture our attention more readily than good words, we can reflect on some of our personal experience, and thereby improve our awareness of good words in their manifold presence in our lives, and expand our use of them to our own and to others’ benefit. The idea is not foreign to us, as we might have heard, or spoken in praise, of someone’s comments or a speech they gave, by saying, “Good words!”
We could begin with calling to mind any kind, uplifting, or helpful words that we read or heard recently, words that have been good for us to receive. Just by acknowledging such occurrences, no matter how seemingly ordinary they might be, increases a sense of peace within us. Gratitude or appreciation for such gifts that were freely given, boosts our immune system for getting through the unavoidable contrary movements that affect us. At the end of a day, if we take note of any good words that had been directed to us by persons we know or even by authors or speakers we do not know, we will be better off by far than if we go to bed with negative comments uppermost in our minds.
Rather than search our memories for any unhelpful comments we might have written or made, we do ourselves and all those with whom we come into contact a favor when we look first and primarily for the good words we have shared recently. Such a practice is not prideful, for when we take conscious ownership of well-intentioned expressions of sincere interest or concern, words that help, heal, or contribute to others’ benefit, we are more likely to continue a manner of communicating that is good for us and for all. The use of good words becomes easier as we become familiar with the positive results within us as well as their effects upon those who read or hear them.
The price of good words is very little in terms of making the decision to use them, and the consequences almost always more than justify our efforts. We can see this more clearly when compared with the long-term harm to relationships that can happen if we speak or write words that are sharp, pushy, or impatient expressions which, however briefly satisfying, leave within us a residue of discontent and also the likelihood of further negative consequences to come.
We have within us an endless supply of good words with which to gift the world, including ourselves.
All of us have lost material things as well as memories, and sometimes we refer to having lost time. Lost items are sometimes restored to us, surprising recollections of the past my come to us, and we could even say on occasion that we regained lost time. However, none of us can bring back lost opportunities. Whatever we did not do at the time remains undone. We can do something new as alternatives arise, but lost opportunities for good or for ill belong irrevocably to the past.
Whatever was not once done in its unique context can never be done at another time. However, by reflecting on the past, we can learn from the consequences of our decisions and turn our consciousness from losses to gains, no matter what we once chose for action or inaction. If we acknowledge either the pain of regretting what we lost, or the consolation of knowing that we are the better for what we lost, superior options open before us. In this way, we progress from lost chances to the discovery of new openings for greater good.
Even some of the things that we once considered as painful losses are often found to be the human price of choosing to act in accord with our values instead of mere surface appetites. As children, it might have been notably difficult to stop playing when we were called to share a family meal or to fulfill a responsibility that was clearly ours. Perhaps we soon were mollified by having eaten food in company with those we loved, or became comfortable in knowing that we had done our job. Reflection, however, might have only occurred at a later date, when we came to appreciate that the apparent losses we endured were the small cost that precedes becoming a dependable and trustworthy person rather than one who is selfish and unreliable.
As adults, we have made decisions to pass by opportunities for doing things that no one else would ever know about, but that we knew were not in keeping with our values. These losses were gains, but some decisions might at the time have been difficult, when thoughts arose of “how good this appears to be” and “no one will ever know.” Sometimes courage is involved in accepting certain losses. Courage might not be the word we think of as related to taking selfless and generous action that no one will see and for which we will never receive recognition. However, if we reflect on what is required of us in lost opportunities for obtaining other’s approval, our honest appraisal might reveal that what we gained by doing what seemed right to do at the time had a cost, but one that was, and still is, acceptable
Frequently, losses become gains through the graced action of reflecting upon our experiences, including the various levels of feeling that accompanied them during and immediately after we enacted our decisions. What we found irritating, annoying and perhaps inconvenient at the time, but did solely because we knew it was right, later became consoling, encouraging and affirming of who we truly are.
We are the judges of what to count as real losses and gains in our lives.