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Chihuly exhibit at Denver Botanic Gardens

There’s a vulnerability on the planet during the holiday season. I see it in people’s faces: beneath the stress and tightness and frantic pace lives the softness of an open heart, as if the emissaries of grief travel from broken heart to eyes and softening the edges. I see the longing for connection, the most basic human desire to break through our isolation and sit comfortably in others’ company. I see the desire for peace. I see the longing for love.

It happens in small moments as I walk through my day. I catch the eyes of a driver in the parking lot and smile. She smiles back. A meeting of strangers. I drive out of the parking lot and wave at the homeless man on the corner. “Can we give him anything, mommy?” my son asks. I know I don’t have any small bills. I reach into my wallet and hand my son a large bill, who rolls down his window and hands it to the man. The man sees the bill, chokes up and turns away, then turns back to stammer through tears, “God bless you.” I put my hand on my heart and my eyes fill with tears, too. I turn back to look at my son to see his smile radiating as big as his soul. A holy moment.

These small moments of pared-down, open-hearted contact are what this season is about. We call these days holidays, but they’re also holy days, for embedded in the encrusted outer layers is an invitation to connect more strongly to peace and love. We can focus on the over-consumption that seems to intensify each year or we can focus on the archetypal underpinning that informs every holy-day: the desire to connect to our true nature, our essential goodness, and to give from that place in others. To me, that’s holiness. It’s the unencumbered heart. It’s the moments in life when we touch into the divine, which means the highest parts of ourselves that carry a spark of divinity. It can occur at the top of a mountain or on a city street corner. It’s when our hearts are wide, wide open – open enough to receive what Martin Buber called the “I-thou” experiences: standing eye-to-eye with a person, an animal, a tree, a rock. It’s letting ourselves see and be seen without inhibition or obstruction. It’s, in a word, love.

But we don’t understand love in this culture. We think love is something that you get from someone else, an ecstatic feeling that you feel consistently and lifts you up with its otherworldly power. We don’t understand that real love is defined by one word: giving. Real love is what you give. That’s all. It’s what you give to yourself, yes, and from that filled up place real love overflows like a fountain of blessings and pours onto anyone that intersects with your life.

That’s what this season is about. That’s what it means to sink down into the underground river that informs the holidays and turn them into holy-days. It’s about giving for the pure joy of giving. When you connect with the archetypal river that hums beneath the frantic top-layer pulse of shopping and parties and spending and wrapping, you’re given an opportunity to learn more about what it truly means to love.

One of the most giving acts we can engage in is to see another’s essence. When we hold another’s gaze and see them with eyes of love, we’re giving a great gift. I find it fascinating, although not surprising, that many people who find my work are in helping professions: therapists, teachers, nurses, social workers, and, of course, parents. These are people whose hearts are as big as the moon and can easily give to others and see their essences but have a hard time seeing it in themselves. So we start there. We make a prayer during this veil-thinning time when the Earth is tilting on its axis and turning into winter or summer to please, help me see my goodness. Please let me know that I am loved. If you need a reminder, please read this post. 

And from that filled-up place, even if you remember your goodness for just one moment, you can set your compass to the dial of giving. One aspect of relationship anxiety centers around the focus on what I’m not getting: I’m not feeling in love enough; I’m not attracted enough; I don’t feel butterflies and I’m not seeing rainbows. Again, we’re so culturally entrenched in an idea of love defined by what we get that we lose sight completely that love is what you give. Like gratitude, giving is a practice. We think that if love is “right” – meaning that we’re with “the One” – giving should be effortless. It’s not so. Real love in all of its manifestation – with partner, children, family members, friend, co-workers, strangers – calls up every wall and wound inside of us for the purpose of helping us heal and move toward wholeness. The more we heal these fearful and hurting places, the more we can give.

It’s important to know that giving doesn’t hinge on healing. It’s a common line of the ego that says, “If I’m not fully healed then how I can give?” The giving facilitates the healing and the healing nourishes the giving. They work in tandem: twin, symbiotic poles that help us grow and move more and more toward love.

So here again is the invitation of this season: To give. We focus on giving gifts, but what if we widened that focus to include giving our hearts? One tangible way to practice this is to set an intention that with every person you meet from now through the New Year  – from intimate loved ones to perfect strangers – you will take a moment to see their essential goodness. I once read about a rabbi who would silently say tehora hee – your soul is good – to each person that he met. It’s similar to what we say at the end of yoga: Namaste, which means “the light in me sees the light in you.” Isn’t this what Jesus taught as well – to love your neighbor as yourself? Isn’t that what we’re celebrating as we walk toward Christmas – the birth of a man who embodied unconditional love and brought peace to this planet? What would it be like to bring this Christ-consciousness into our hearts and make it a conscious practice to see goodness and give this silent or verbal reflection to any life we touch in any form? To see with the spiritual eyes that reside in your heart.

I see you. I see your goodness. I see your heart. I don’t know what stories and experiences brought you to this moment in your life, but as I hand you this bill, I’m handing you more than money: I’m handing you a moment of love. We are two humans, each suffering in our own way, each touching into the divine in our own way. As I write this, I’m holding you in my heart. I’m sending you love. I hope you have a warm place to stay tonight. I hope you have a blanket. I hope you have food. I hope my thoughts reach you in some mysterious way. I hope for a more peaceful planet where all beings are free and safe and loved. 

If each person oriented their compass in the direction of seeing others’ essences we would be living on a different planet. Perhaps we can taste that planet during this window of the holidays by seeing good, reflecting essence, and sending prayers for peace into each heart we meet. Perhaps, in doing so, we can transform the holidays back into holy days and open our hearts just a bit wider to merge with the great expansive river of love.

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