The Inner Light

My favorite episode of Star Trek is “The Inner Light.”  Star Trek has always been a show about what it means to be human.  Yes, it has a lot of flashing lights, special effects, green aliens, esoteric worlds, starship battles and journeys to countless planets and stars.  And yet for all the glitter, the show, at its best, is a grand exposition of the human condition, the human experience.  In “The Inner Light”, Captain Picard is thrust upon a life totally different from his own.  Instead of commanding a starship, he was a man with a wife he didn’t know, on a planet slowly dying.  He didn’t want to be there, but there was this woman he didn’t know who nevertheless tended to him, nurtured him, loved him.  Slowly, the fantasy became a reality and in a scant twenty minutes, Picard experiences a life he had never known.  A love he had never known.  A wife who adored him, children who loved him, needed him and in the end, taught him that being a parent elicits emotions ranging from worry, consternation, disappointment, pride.  All the by product of the most basic human emotion of all.  The ability to feel and to give love.

It is a masterful story and when I need to find meaning in my own life, I watch this show again and remember that all that glitters is not gold.  Kamin was not rich by any means.  His family was but one of many families in a village being ravaged by drought.  Yet the life he was living seemed so much more complete, so much more fulfilled than the life he lived as the dashing captain of a Federation flagship.  And when the illusion ended, when he realized that what he had thought was his life was actually a mental recreation, he did something extraordinary.  He took a flute, sat by a window, gazed at the stars, and he began to play.

We can go through life and be dazzled by the success that we are taught to go after.  We can go through life looking for the next star, hardly stopping to even look at the world that we are in.  We can go through life and experience ecstasy, the heights of fame, the allure of power, the spoils of wealth and yet feel empty, broken.  When we look outside ourselves for validation, we allow others to judge us from their point of view; to tell us that in order to be happy or successful, we must follow someone else’s dream, live the life that someone else envisions.  Is it such a surprise that a life that always looks outward misses the simple joys that life can bring.  A fluttering butterfly.  A cool breeze on a warm day.  A sprinkle of rain blurring one’s view of the world, for an instant.  So many small moments that can bring meaning to a life.  Do we spend the time looking at the world in its own terms, feeling the infinitely small breezes of fluttering wings, feeling the hair on our forehead dance, just a little.  Do we look inward and in our heart find that inner light, the one true beacon that can bring meaning to one’s existence?

It is like the nondescript houseplant pictured above.  Green leaves on a pot.  These leaves have a secret.  They are the leaves that will bring sustenance to this plant, that will eventually provide the nourishment for flowers to bloom.  These are the leaves of a sampaguita plant.  Jasmine.  Beautiful and sweet.  A flower, that to many, symbolizes purity and humility.  It is, in many ways, ethereal.

So as the year ends, I think of this special Star Trek episode.  And of a beautiful flower.  And look inward and see the beauty that the inner light reveals.  It is within all of us.  And when you find it, share it.  Be kind.  Be gentle.  Be generous.  In the grace that the beatitudes bring, we experience the greatness of all creation.

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Sometimes, it just withers away

I was looking at some of the pictures I took in the last year an a half and this one caught my eye.  Flowers, no matter how beautiful they are, always seem to have a lifespan.  Even as it fades, you can see the beauty that once was.  It didn’t wither because of lack of care.  The garden was the beneficiary of abundant rainfall.  The flowers were well taken care of.  In their time, their beauty was a reflection of the warm sun that nourished them.  And yet, as with all things, the flowers have an expiration date.

Each thing on earth has an appointed time.  In its time in the sun, each flower provides beauty and sustenance.  They may fade away, but each leaves a mark all its own.   And come next spring, another set of flowers will sprout and grow.  And like the flowers that came before them, they too dazzle the senses.

The circle of life.  Mysterious.  Essential.

Joy

Make someone happy.  Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life.  In our day to day lives, we are bombarded with messages, overt and subliminal, about the importance of being happy.  Live your life to maximize your happy moments.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?  And yet.

In the height of happiness, everything seems possible.  The world is at your feet.  The view can be intoxicating – everything around you is orbiting a central sun.  The central sun that is you.  And yet.

Moments of happiness never last.  They are not illusory, but they are transitory.  A lifetime lived pursuing happiness is a life lived in selfishness, self centeredness.  A life that put’s one’s self in the center of everything is a life that means nothing.  A life that constantly searches for affirmation, for the next big conquest, the next big raise, the next mountain to climb – is that really a life worth living?  A life where the self is the centerpiece of existence will experience moments of happiness.  And it will experience moments of sorrow.  Moments of pain.  Moments of great accomplishments mesh with moments of great disappointments.  A life that centers on the self and the self alone leaves the soul barren.  And the heart empty.

Perhaps, just perhaps, we need to understand that true existence must be centered not on one’s self, but on what one can do for those around us.  Selflessness instead of selfishness.  A soul exist within the body and outside its confines.  An existence that seeks to give, instead of take.  Not the material things that we all covet.  But one’s self.  To let others see you as you are.  The crooked smile, the thinning hair, the not so perfect eyebrows?   These are not the things that define you.  It is that smile, as imperfect as it may be, given to others that may be in need of a smile.  Helping someone cross the road, in a stiff wind that blows your hair into a frenzy.  Listening to someone, with eyes wide open, eyebrows raised, to let them know that they are not alone, that you can share their burden.

Respecting people, no matter who they are.  Embracing differences as a means of recognizing that an individual is but a part of a greater whole.  To see the weak and the oppressed and then realize that their struggle is your struggle.  Our struggle.  To understand that the sense of self is completed when it becomes entwined with the many selves that surround us.  Understanding that it is a kind heart that allows joy to permeate a life.

Joy.  When happiness subsides, there is something that centers us.  When sorrow overwhelms, there is something that supports us.  When we feel pain, we somehow know that like happiness, it will not last and a new page will eventually be written.  Joy allows us to know ourselves; to find value not in what we have done, not in what we have accumulated; but instead, to find value in who we are, in what we give of ourselves to others.  When our heart is filled with generosity, we can truly love.  In the selfless abandon of truly sharing who we are, what we have, what we do with others around us, we find that in moments great and small, in the important and in the mundane, there truly is meaning in our lives.  That in the core of our existence, there is joy.

On an August Day

It was, for August in the Washington D.C. area, a relatively cool day.  In the midst of summer, it was time for a walk in the garden, to take the sun in, to find that even in the undulating continuum that we call life, beauty always beckons, just waiting for us to find it.  We need not look far.  It is always within ourselves, if one decides to live a life not solely for one’s self but also for others.  Happiness comes not from selfish abandon but from selfless generosity.

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