Relationships counsellor Dr Charmaine Saunders guides us as we step, with greater confidence, into the Light.
As I always do when approaching a NOVA theme, I think about the word and all its connotations. The word "light" makes me think of where we all came from, the source of everything. It's also about all that is good and pure in this world and beyond. I pondered what I could bring to this discussion that would be useful and fresh. I decided that I would write about living in the light and how to go about it, as in a miniature handbook.
After 25 years of counselling, teaching personal growth and writing about human issues, I have identified the following areas as key to happiness, peace and, therefore, living in the light.
It all has to begin with acceptance - of Self, of others and of Life.
It's the foundation of everything else that matters. A lot of people mistake acceptance for submission, taking second best and settling. Yet, acceptance is not the same as agreeing. People with opposing views can find peace with each other simply by acceptance and respect for their differences. But the area that benefits most from acceptance is in dealing with the dark side of human nature, which, of course, we all have. It's easy to love the nice parts of ourselves and that makes us want to hide the darker bits. That simply doesn't work, even in the short term because our negative egos will always make themselves known, like naughty children who have been told to stay out of sight - do you really think they'll obey? No, they will find ways to assert themselves. Now, guess how we grownups do that? We have a whole range of ways to sabotage ourselves - addiction, conflict, depression, anxiety, stress, just to name some key ones. To be complete in our human-ness, we have to accept all of our selves and allow the opposing parts to balance out and be compatible so there's no need for shame, excuses or disguises.
Part of acceptance is not wishing things to be different and that largely means letting go of the past, outdated expectations and old beliefs and patterns. To do this, I take my clients on a journey backwards. It's rather like being a detective, finding answers one step at a time. In examining childhood, we need to consider aspects such as family relationships, parenting styles, and school life but, more importantly, such matters as discipline, emotions, labels and sexuality. Of course, any abuse or cruelty must be faced head on so it no longer has power over us. Early sexual experiences play a vital part, as does dating, relationships, and later, marriage. Our lives are made up of stages and each plays a part in our development. If we don't resolve difficulties encountered at each turning point, we just collect miseries on our way, eventually drowning in them.
Once we reach adulthood, we must find our own centre and live by our integrity. This involves self knowledge which comes first from awareness. Through therapy, reading, studying, meditation, and other spiritual practices, but most of all, the willingness to be open and honest about ourselves, we are empowered to live authentically and without fear. First, we must let go of labels, beliefs, patterns and negative childhood influences. This can take a lifetime and even then the job will never be completed. I always say that a life is like a jigsaw puzzle to be tackled without the aid of the completed picture so, to a large extent, we're operating in the dark. The more light we bring into daily existence, the better we can walk without stumbling.
Empowerment works hand in hand with self value. When we know that we are precious, and we know this with humility, we become truly powerful.
Just as we have to balance out our positive and negative sides, we also have to juggle the more practical aspects of daily life such as work/play, love/hate, self/others. Life management is essentially time management, for what else is life made up of but hours and days? It's how we use our precious time here that matters. Modern stress is the result of poor time management. People say, "If only we had more hours in the day." Well, guess what, if we had 25 or 30 hours in a day, we would still fill them and complain of lack. Then there are those who do not know how to fill time in a pleasurable yet productive way.
Time itself is a great gift, the stuff of life, so to give yourself or others time is the ultimate. Everywhere we look, there are inequities, imbalances. It's vital more and more now in the 21st century to find the balance within ourselves or life becomes intolerable. We need to seek our mother, the Earth, our healer, the element of Water and be one with trees, the wind and all living things. That's the best destroyer of stress I know. I can literally feel my blood pressure going down when I sit under a tree or gaze at the ocean. There's endless light in nature.
The light of love is inside each of us, so we really don't have to search for it or earn it or fear losing it. We always have it. Sharing it gives us more and spreads the light, such as in offering a smile or a kind word. Living with love is living in light. This involves embracing such philosophies as acceptance, tolerance, forgiveness, respect, caring, kindness, sharing, giving, helping - you get the picture. It also entails offering these same gifts to yourself as you can't share what you don't have. If you're in tune with your inner light, it naturally flows out to others. Self sacrifice is not necessary, nor is it healthy to merely do one's duty. There must be the presence of joy in order for light to exist. Meanness, judgement, hate, bigotry, cynicism - these cancel the light and keep us in the dark. Love need not be selective; in fact, it ought to be random and universal. There's love of family and friends which is personal and special, but if love is confined, it suffocates. I have to quote my favourite poet again, Kahlil Gibran, who wrote some of the most beautiful words about love perhaps ever penned:
"Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed. For love is sufficient unto love. Love has no other desire but to fulfil itself."
What better evidence can we have of light than in a happy life? I really think happiness is underrated in our society, even trivialised, treated like the Holy Grail, to be sought but not expected to be found. Yet, to me, it's an entitlement, a birthright, as natural as breathing. Anyone who says they're unhappy is simply saying they don't know how to access their inner joy. First of all, it's easy. It's like those trust exercises where you allow yourself to blindly fall into someone's arms - just let go. Secondly, know you're important and you're here for a reason, you're surrounded by love, inside and out, then you'll automatically break into a smile. Look after your body, enjoy your days, gather positive people around you. Spend time in nature, relax, trust, trust, trust - that's the big one.
Be thankful. Gratitude is a wonderful energy to work with on a daily basis because by focusing on gifts and blessings rather than lack brings, not only a sense of peace, but also more of the good things. It's also important to play every day, laugh a lot and have lots of fun, not the sophisticated kind, but the childlike kind which involves icecream, chocolate, sand, water, running, skipping, singing, dancing and the like. Be as silly as you can.
We who believe we are spiritual beings just visiting here on Earth are convinced we have a special mission to undertake during this time. Whether or not this is true, it's very important to wellbeing to have a sense of purpose as we journey through life. There would be a lot less violence, crime, vandalism and general malaise if young people had access to activities that stimulate and interest them. Likewise, after retirement, many die from boredom rather than from old age or illness. If there's no excitement in getting out of bed each day, how can be there be light in that existence? I once heard a good saying about this: "If you want to be happy for a year, win Lotto; if you want to be happy for the rest of your life, find work you love."
I don't understand the concept of retirement. If your work is your joy, why give it up unless you're ill or otherwise incapacitated? A guy in his 90s was recently on the news for still giving to the community by distributing meals on wheels and doing it with great good cheer. It's not a matter of finding a cure for cancer or writing the great Australian novel. It's about contributing, making use of one's talents right till the end of life. Purpose also lies in attitude, for example, being joyful every day, staying positive no matter what life throws at us, loving those who drive us crazy, doing our best in everything we do.
These will ensure a life lived in the light.
So, to sum up, here are the steps to the light:
Finally, I saw this on a car bumper sticker the other day and thought what a perfect quote to end this piece with:
"You don't have to die to begin to live in the light."