Dedicated to my Dad.
Almost two years ago, my daughter Felicity was born just over 3 months early. My wife and I were traveling a little over 2,000 miles from home at the time.
I may share more of that story with you in a later post, but what I'm writing about today is something different.
About two weeks after Felicity was born, my Dad decreed a daily practice on her behalf.
The centerpiece of his practice is thankfulness: He lights a candle in a celebratory attitude for every breath and every heartbeat that Felicity experiences and he expresses his thanks out loud.
Writing this now stirs up that lump in my throat. I remember the fear and anxiety that saturated the atmosphere during the first months of Felicity's life.
Dad's practice was a lighthouse for me, shining beams of joy out to my storm-tossed ship. Waves of concern crashed up against our bows while tears of jubilee fell from his eyes.
Every night, Dad would record an iPhone video of himself and my Mom lighting their candles, expressing their appreciation for the gift of Felicity's life.
An Invocation of Awe
While the pain and trauma of our experience were certainly real, the present feeling that abides with me to this day is one of immense awe.
This awe feels similar to but greater than gazing up into the galaxy's stars. There's a twist. Throw a questionable parachute on your back, jump out of an airplane at midnight, then turn and look up into the starry night sky. That's what it feels like.
It's like you're free-falling, dive-bombing to what could be a devastating end. But you turn and look up and every ounce of air in your lungs is pressed from you in something that's either unspeakable joy or sheer terror... you aren't sure if the parachute will open. Joy and fear commingle and in a dance, what you feel can only be described as awesome. Do you want to repeat the experience? You're not sure.
Because fear (a special form of awe) has a way of both deterring us yet also vivifying us.
Something to take with me
Felicity passed her entrance exam into the world with flying colors. We were very fortunate. After 100+ days in the NICU, not only did I take a healthy, cute baby home with me, I also brought home a value for the feeling I now struggle to put into words.
That feeling I am choosing to call awe for this post. No, not the 'awwwww' we speak over cute babies like Felicity, but the one that blows the golden blades of grass in open fields, folding them in waves.
It's the awe that rustles and sighs through the auburn leaves of fall. The one that kisses your face when you summit a mountaintop. It's that first warm sun ray that envelopes around you when you visit a sandy beach. Awe is what you hear 80 feet underwater scuba diving... when you hear absolutely nothing, and you're completely alone.
It's the tremble in your chest when a majestic elk steps boldly into a quiet, still meadow haloed by tall pines.
It's that awakening, but often momentary experience that catches you off guard when you're not looking for it. Suddenly you become blissfully aware of the wondrous life surrounding you, living inside you, and breathing through you.
When I experience it, I'm reminded that it's never left me. Somehow I'd forgotten the sky was blue, or that sunsets were worth watching. But it has always been here and it always will be.
During a time of deep apprehension, my Dad launched his counterattack by enacting a daily practice of gratitude for Felicity's every breath and heartbeat by lighting a candle. But he remarked to me after a week, "I can't believe I haven't been doing this my whole life! I'm going to try and make a habit of cultivating this attitude for my own breath, and my own heartbeat. All of life is a miracle, isn't it?"
I've started to identify my own defiant means of resisting that devious, daily blindness that sneaks up on me when I'm not watching. I want to continually develop practices that help me hold mystery in wonder, that keep the veil lifted from my eyes, and that cultivate my awareness of life.
While I could list off several things that invigorate life's essence in me, I want to leave you with a more expansive approach to the journey of awareness by advocating something that didn't come from me. It came from my Dad.
Here's what you do: Light a candle.
Bring your focus and attention to the candle, and through the physical practice you are performing, bring your heart and mind to the present moment.
say "thank you" out loud.
For the breath in your lungs, for the heartbeat in your chest. For the feelings you experienced throughout the day. For the feelings you experience during the practice. All of them. All the feels.
Notice the effects
Simply pay attention to what happens inside you. I have no absolutes or guarantees to offer you, but I will share my own experience. I have found that cultivating the attitude of gratitude does something wonderfully mysterious for me. Not immediately, but eventually.
- The feelings I had previously told myself were good feelings expand and are given wings. They soar to entirely new heights.
- The feelings I had previously labelled bad transform, but somehow without change. I don't know how else to articulate it.
The good and bad labels suddenly fall short of whatever blossoms from them. I'm not talking about granulating more detailed descriptions. It's more like a new taste in your mouth, when you add that special ingredient. It's like the first time you try combining gingerbread and roquefort; even if you hate roquefort, the pairing is so magical you find yourself loving it. (If you still don't love it, try adding some honey.)
A bad feeling, when married to a good attitude, has the potential to become something even more brilliant than a good feeling standing alone.
If these things fail... check out Tales by Light on Netflix
This show is the most aesthetically pleasing show I've ever watched on Netflix. It's sure to invite some serious awe into your life. I just discovered it tonight and can't stop watching!
It inspired this post. Seeing nature on my television set isn't the same as being in it, but it's starting to get closer with 4K...