I love surprises, and I really enjoy surprising others, too. It’s one of those treasures in life that should never be abandoned. To really catch someone unexpectedly, you need to be awake and sensitive to what they say and do when they’re with you. “Waking up” is a continuous process. There’s no limit to your awareness, but it takes practice. How many of us have lived or worked with someone for years who has to keep asking us how we like our coffee. You wonder if they would remember your name if they had to take you to the emergency room. The poet Kabir expresses this idea very well: “If you are in a deep sleep, why waste time smoothing the bed and arranging the pillows?” It takes the ability to listen and be fully present in conversation so you’re able to recall the things that please others. It doesn’t have to be extravagant or complicated; in fact, it’s the insignificant details that truly delight people. To remember how a certain individuals take their coffee or what their favorite colors are means that you care and you’ve paid attention—you’re awake! Similarly, you need to remain open to the surprises that occur in your life. They can be lovely gestures from others, and sometimes they’ll be nothing more than a sudden appreciation of something new and wonderful. There’s a profound side to living a life full of surprise: It can spur your ability to be grateful. To act as if each day has wonderful unknown opportunities opens the door to being thankful and feeling happiness. I’ve watched many children clap their hands gleefully at a butterfly, flower, or rainbow—it’s the merry delight in the unexpected that they’re experiencing. What’s really great about kids is that they are surprised repeatedly over the same thing, however, our culture is making it more and more difficult for this to continue, since anything new becomes old very quickly. I have grown to greatly appreciate the surprise of finding my mate has emptied the dishwasher, cleaned the countertops and vacuumed the crumbs off the kitchen floor. I am totally surprised and delighted when I sleep through the night and when I can still fit in some of the clothes. It makes for a really good day. Try to fill your life with surprise and don’t allow cynicism to become your ally, for it will only age you quickly…then the only surprise you’ll get is an early death
The holiday season is upon us and I am trying diligently not to feed my inner curmudgeon. I must admit to having a lot of mixed feelings about Christmas. I totally embrace Thanksgiving, because it makes me feel warm and fuzzy knowing I will have a wonderful meal with those I care about.
I realize that I can create a similar experience with Christmas day and I have. My need to run out and buy gifts that I hope will be appreciated by those that receive them has become a thing of the past. I now celebrate by sharing experiences that give my family and friends memories of us being together.
My own memories of the holidays are rife with nostalgia. I remember spending time with my grandmother making cookies and breads that she would give to friends and family. I received very few gifts and I still remember them because they lasted a very long time; a small toy piano, a red shiny wagon, a porcelain doll, a music box. They did not come all together, but one at a time, one Christmas at a time.
Perhaps part of my dismay is how wrapped our culture has become in the need to accumulate hordes of stuff that often ends up having no meaning. I have been witness to children ripping open package after package of contents that end up in a pile in their room. Their delight in any of it soon fades. We have all heard the metaphor that “too much of a good thing is too much”! Not only does this old adage make sense but it’s also something neuroscientists have discovered resonates with our brains. When the pleasure center of the brain is over stimulated it becomes harder and harder to feel pleasure.
Our 21st century culture has definitely created a mindset that fosters this concept. Consumerism has practically become a religion in America. We have slowly removed the possibility of having any respite from stores being open. There are probably a handful of days left and I am certain they too will soon go by the wayside. When did the retail industry become such a necessary part of the American experience? I truly would like to know how and when the transition occurred. Is our economy so entrenched in needing retail dollars to sustain itself that without them we would spiral into a huge depression? Not a day goes by without constant advertisements reminding us to buy, buy, buy. Many of the messages often allude to the fact that we should feel guilty if we are not purchasing something.
The media spends time reporting on how much we’ve spent this year compared to last year and shows us pictures of crowds pushing their way into stores that decided to open at 3AM on black Friday. Some people were injured in the wake of frenzied consumers who were fearful that they might not get their bargains .
How about spending an equal amount of time showcasing individuals that are volunteering their time helping their fellow man, or those that are overseas defending our country? How much do we need, and when will we have enough?
Perhaps it’s time to spend more time filling our souls than emptying our pocketbooks.