Something I rarely do these days is take time to reflect on my life. With my fiftieth year on this earth closing in, I decided this could be both mentally and emotionally uplifting. Instead of going back to the beginning, I decided that a trip through the last few years would be enough. I'm generally a happy person and have much to smile about. So I was surprised when this exercise had an adverse effect. While I was able to picture many pleasing events, I simply struggled to extract the joy from them.
The laughs I shared with my daughter while teaching her to drive had given way to images of world conflict. The new song I learned at church was muddied by angry shouts over rights and equality. News of my relative's new baby was muted by reports of death from gun violence. These negative events seemed to cause my heart to sink lower than the happy ones had lifted it. Instead of joy or sadness, I felt stuck in an emotionless gray area. I was numb.
That very morning, during my routine walk by the lake shore, I saw the opening amidst the nearby trees that I'd ignored many times on my loop path. On this day, it seemed to become increasingly inviting with each pass. So, I turned in its direction. Upon entering, I immediately was overcome by beauty. I wasn't just surrounded by visual splendor. I was being cared for.
I was given a large rock to rest on. I was provided oxygen that was almost euphoric to breathe in. I saw sweet fruit that was in my interest to eat. I saw leaves for healing. I was given shade from a majestic magnolia whose height was masked by rays from the sun. And I saw new life budding from the soil. Here, all of the negativity that overshadowed my reflection was gone. And I was happy. I did indeed have joy.
This experience has shown me how our surroundings have a dramatic impact on our hearts and minds. This not a new concept by any means. Its application, however, may be a new practice for many of us — a practice that my friends at LEAF take full advantage of. Unlike the quaint clearing in the forest that I encountered, their atmosphere of choice is much broader. It encompasses the whole world.
Though I work remotely to serve LEAF, my relationships there are expanding my atmosphere of positivity every day. The chaos of this world isn't going anywhere. We simply must take measures to keep it from suppressing the joy that drives us to love and serve one another.