It was Leo Tolstoy who once observed that “the reason of life is for each of us to grow in love.” No matter how much reading, learning, meditating, thinking, debating or philosophizing we do, it still always comes down to that. Our minds are amazing. We can process, decide, question, conclude, suggest, disagree, concur, analyze and synthesize. We can talk ourselves into or out of, almost anything. But we cannot fool our heart. If we are not growing in love, our hearts will let us know soon enough.
Do you suppose that we are sometimes afraid of love? Does the mind keep us so busy, challenged and focused that love is something we just fit in between so that we are not overwhelmed by it? Recently I made a conscious decision to slow everything down. The adult mind is capable of carrying so much, but I wanted to go back to child-mind. I wanted to re-experience that part of child-mind that only notices what is in the moment. I did this by reducing commitments, and giving myself a little more time. I stopped scheduling my free time. Instead, I just let the time unfold, allowing myself to be more spontaneous, and open to whatever came up.
The first thing I noticed was that I started noticing much more. When we are focused on tasks or organizing ourselves, it is like our heads are down and we do not see too much in the periphery of our awareness. As I thought less, and noticed more, I was also aware of moving much more into my heart. I sat on my deck one sunny day, just listening to the birds and watching the sky. A jet went by high overhead, leaving a vapor trail. Those white lines have crossed the sky so many times in my life, but this time I noticed something different. As the vapor dissipated, it looked like a watercolor artist had drawn a fine white line across a blue page. The white line merged and softened until it was only a soft haze against the blue sky. Then I noticed a bird soaring so high that it was barely a speck against the changing palette. The bird and the vapor trail had drawn my attention to the space far above my deck, and suddenly my world expanded. A melodious chirping brought my attention back to Earth, and there, only a few yards away, was a happy chickadee, jumping from branch to branch on my crabapple tree. He could hang upside down, to gain better access to the fading blossoms or emerging fruit. I was falling in love with the world again.
Earlier that day I had held my three-month old little friend in my arms. I marveled at how quickly she changes from one week to the next. I held her up to the mirror where she stared at her reflection, with a mixture of curiosity and confusion. Looking into her own eyes, she suddenly broke into a smile. What a precious moment! I was filled with delight. I am certain she has no concept that the image in the mirror is her. She was simply happy to encounter that other human being. How wonderful it would be if we could encounter ourselves with such innocent acceptance.
The next day I attended a music recital. Early in the program a woman of about twenty sat at the piano. She had Down’s Syndrome, and was both nervous and excited. She painstakingly played note after correct note, as my daughter did when she was four. Twice during her short performance, a baby in the audience made a sound. Each time she turned around towards the audience, delighted at the sound of that baby. She had a smile that filled the room, and despite being happily distracted, she did not lose her place or miss a note. When she was finished, she was as thrilled as any concert pianist might be after a dazzling performance. The audience, recognizing what a huge accomplishment this was, applauded her warmly. Again, my heart filled with love, as I felt blessed to have witnessed such a special moment.
When I returned home, I spent the rest of the day planting flowers in my pots and in the garden. I remembered times in the past where I would view such a task as work, which would only generate more work. Now, my flowers are a labor of love. I welcome the task of caring for them, for it calls me outdoors again and again.
When I immerse myself in the beauty around me, be it plants or people, I forget who I think I am. I am simply being. And if I unexpectedly caught sight of my reflection in the birdbath, I might smile like the baby in the mirror. It would not be me smiling at myself, or even recognizing myself. I might just be smiling because I am happy simply to be, and to be growing in love.
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