Enlightenment

Light and darkness are two sides of the same coin, essentially. They belong together. There is no light without shadow, no day without night, no good without evil. Although we would very much prefer to keep the negative, the uncomfortable, difficult and painful out of our lives, it doesn’t work that way. 

Nothing’s a constant in life, it is merely a sequence of ups and downs. It’s scary that we cannot take anything for granted. That’s why we are trying so hard in many ways to create some form of continuity. But we need to learn how to live with incertitude, how to navigate these winds on the ocean. And sometimes it might feel that this is all too much for us and we just want to shout out “Why can’t it all be different, easier?” Especially now.

We are yearning for getting one state without having to face the other, but we cannot have it, as all such antipodes are inextricably interconnected. And that is actually necessary to remind us of how fragile life is, and to really appreciate happiness as something special and cherish it in our hearts.

Life is frustrating right now, we want this pandemic nightmare to end, to get on with our lives and return to some kind of normalcy. We expect a well organized conduction of the vaccination process in our countries, or at least good enough project management driven by common sense. Interesting to see though that more or less all our governments fail in the process. We are facing a chaotic and desperate situation; even in my home country Germany (often hailed as the lead example of good organization) things go pear-shaped.

However angry it makes us, we cannot control or change it. It’s a learning curve for all of us, also for our governments. This is the first time they are confronted with a task on such scale, and they try, fail and learn. In the end it will all work out, it just requires more patience from us  – which is a tough call of course – since we have already gone through a very difficult year and we very understandably want a break.

But we still need to hold on, hang in there and simply trust. Finding the confidence that things will work out eventually. And convey that to others around us even more.

What always helps me is focusing on what has been already achieved: the progress I see, the learnings and changes, overall and for me personally. Let’s remember:

– We got an efficient vaccine developed in a very short timeframe – what an achievement!

– The focus has shifted on dealing with and speeding up resolution to some long standing issues.

– Things which were not thought to be possible before suddenly are.

Being grateful for what I have and what I still can do is equally important to me. And not to waste my time worrying too much.

We have a responsibility toward ourselves to take good care and keep us mentally sane, and not to give up at the last moment, after braving all these obstacles. That responsibility extends as well to inspiring hope and confidence in others, especially to those going through even harder times.

What keeps me sane for the most part are the people I talk to, in person on a safe distance or on video, messenger, email, phone. We are sharing our thoughts and feelings, our joys and concerns and encourage each other. It’s what keeps me going, allowing me to calm down and make it to the next day.

And sometimes, we become witness to an omen of a better future.

That’s how I felt last week while listening to the amazing young poet Amanda Gorman reciting her poem at the inauguration of the 46th president of the US, Joe Biden. Her powerful, wholehearted words, her determination speaking about the light in times ahead really struck a nerve. It brought tears to my eyes.

She incorporates the pure antithesis to darkness, doom and despair: a young black girl, a poet wise beyond her age, using words with meaning and kindness, projecting hope, inspiration, a foreboding of better times to come.

In fact, she looked like a beacon of light herself, marking the start of a new era.

For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it. (Amanda Gorman “The Hill we climb”)

The light is always there, we just need to see it, acknowledge it, in the small things in life. And let ourselves be enlightened and spread it to others.

Not surprisingly, the internet is full of praise for this poet, calling her the secret star of this event, bringing back hope to Americans. Some of the unanimously positive comments I read on YouTube, from people watching her being interviewed by James Corden:

“This girl is like a ray of light”, “The world is a better place with her in it”, “When God shows up, He really shows up. A woman brought peace into this world before, and I believe it will be a woman who brings peace into this world again.”

It shows how many people are longing for a signal of hope, especially in these times. How much we want this world to be a different one. How much we want to leave hatred, lies, division and fear behind us, how desperately we need unity, equity, justice and peace. 

The words of this extraordinary young woman resonated with us, her clarity highlighting the simple truth that words should always have meaning and purpose. It makes me happy to see the accord of so many people from around the world sharing these feelings. 

The significance of her recital, a much needed inspiration, is like a precious gift bestowed upon us at the right time. It certainly helps me to re-focus.

What we witnessed was a unique moment in time showing to us a glimpse of what is possible and how things ought to be. 

It’s a roadmap for the future, a call to action, and it’s up to us to carry and pass on the light.

Change has begun. This is only the start.

Reflections on the past year

Just a few days into 2021, my dear friend Brian shared a reflection document with me which he had been using more than once in the past to reflect on the previous year.

Some of us might have been doing a similar exercise to take stock of the last year, reflect on what’s happened, and also set an intention for the next one. As 2020 was quite an unusual and highly challenging year for all of us, such an exercise is now even more important to get the perspective right. After all, even in this challenging year not everything was bad.

What I really like about this approach is the focus on things to be proud of, enjoyment, connection, inspiration, gratefulness, new experience, growth and learning. 

Good to get started early in January while the last year is still fresh on our minds, before we get swept up by our daily life, work and all the tasks that need to be done. We tend to forget so quickly, and it would be a pity not to pause for a moment, contemplate our successes and learning, and especially all these invaluable, joyful moments we had. 

Focusing on our achievements and experiences will also help to set the balance right. Because the human mind has a tendency to remember negative things far easier and more strongly than positive ones, there is a need to counterbalance.

Learning

  • What are you most proud of and why? What dream did you achieve?
  • What did you begin last year that you will stick with? And what might you abandon in turn as it is not serving you anymore?
  • When did you take a risk, have a pleasant surprise or exceed your own expectations?
  • What new experience did you enjoy most and why? Which new skills did you acquire?

When it comes to being courageous and trying something new, especially if treading a new pathway that might be risky, we are often not sure about where it will lead us or if we can succeed at all. Sometimes we doubt ourselves too much and are in for a nice surprise when we achieve something we did not believe we could manage that well. 

That happened to me last year when I started taking singing lessons. My goal was to improve the strength of my voice – not only for singing but also when speaking – as I need to speak a lot in my job and my voice usually got hoarse very quickly. 

Being a contralto I had no ambition to sing high notes, but to my surprise my vocal coach told me that this was definitely within my range. Her encouragement made me selecting and practising musical pieces outside of my comfort zone and making good progress as a result.

Connection

  • Which value did you bring to others? Who did you help?
  • What inspired you – people, events…? Who had the most influence or biggest impact on you?
  • What gave you most joy – being yourself, in the flow – and who were you with?
  • What are you grateful for?

Connection with others is particularly important for us – we need other people. This became very painfully clear last year when we suddenly had to stay away from elderly family members, and maintain a physical distance to our friends and neighbours on a daily basis. We skilfully managed to find creative workarounds though – which are helpful – but of course, they cannot replace the real thing. 

We will need to continue the distancing for some time still, but thankfully there is hope to return to a more normalized way of life this year.

Forward-Looking

  • Any loose ends to tie up, e.g. relationships, apologies, any unfinished business?
  • Where did fear prevent progress towards your goals and how will you overcome this next time?
  • In hindsight, what would you have done differently? What was your best decision? What advice would you give yourself?

Sometimes things work out and sometimes they just don’t. Whatever we discover about ourselves in the process has an impact on the path we are walking, on our mindset and our approach to life. It is important to know what we want to change from now on, continuing on our way to find our purpose or at least getting closer to it. 

Such insights always make us grow as a person and we need to approach them in a non-judgemental manner.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Contemplating like this on the past year feels comparable to a success diary focusing on achieving the next level – so it’s important to invest the time and take notes, before our busy mind takes over again.

Once I got started answering those questions the list quickly became quite long. You could easily spend a few hours on it and still revisit it later to complete some bits and pieces which had almost evaporated from your memory. 

Let’s not forget our unique value we are adding to the lives of others around us – and also what makes our own life worthwhile.

I found it to be a very uplifting exercise and hope you will enjoy it, too.