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Light the Light
by Dr. Dale V. Atkins, January 2013

I often speak about the importance of filling our personal reservoirs so we have what we need, within, when we face life's unexpected storms. The Newtown, CT tragedy is one such example. Most of us were caught unawares as we struggled with the horrendousness of the crime and considered ways to comfort and be with our children and other family members, parsing what to say, how to say it, while being mindful of our own emotional responses.

We all need to find ways to calm our minds and emotions so we can be supportive and comforting to one another and our children. One way we can calm our minds a bit is by focusing on the details of something -- as if we were going to describe it at some point. Really concentrate on its properties.

Dr. Janet Weathers suggests this simple yet profound focusing exercise. In the winter, and particularly around the holidays, there are lots of candles. If you look closely at the shape of the wick and the great variety of colors in the flame as you take a few deep breaths, you can look carefully and you will begin to actually calm your mind and body. If you don't have a candle, you can look at the details of anything, really: an orange, a bowl, or even the palm of your hand. Imagine you were going to have to pick it out of a group of 20 items. If you look with that kind of attention, your mind becomes calmer. Having done this for two or three minutes, you can then begin to think about what was causing you to be off center. This very simple exercise can become a daily practice which each of us can do when we're not upset, so that when we are upset, it is familiar and easier. Focusing on something simple with undivided attention, is a valuable daily practice. It's the careful attention to precise detail that engages the mind and calms us. By doing this, we are keeping our personal reservoirs full.

And speaking of candles --

On the anniversaries of the people's deaths we are often inclined to light a memorial candle, say a prayer, spend some contemplative time evoking memories. This can be a healthy practice for our total well-being. Imagine what would happen if we extended that practice throughout the year, bringing memories to light as we share the wisdom and life lessons of the people we love -- for ourselves and for the next generations.

We honor their memories by living lives of charity and and we can keep their light alive as we share their personal qualities and tell their stories. As we do this, we attempt to understand the choices they made and the lives they lived. We use their stories as a guide to the wisdom of our ancestors, which can become a living and relevant part of our lives today. Just because children did not know their grandparents, great grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins, is not reason for them to miss the myriad opportunities to learn about who they were, what they believed in, and what they stood for.

We are all conscientious about reading inspiring books with compelling stories to our children, which, of course, is important. Let us not miss the invaluable opportunity to tell stories about the people who came before us so we can learn where we came from as we continue to discover who we are.

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