mother teresa and the mocking bird: i choose gladness

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This article is part five in a six-part series that sprang from my 2013 choice list.

The repercussions of one person living in stubborn gladness are incalculable.” ~ Martha Beck

Back in February, I wrote about listening to my life, number two on my choice list. As I entertained the possibility of having ALS, I couldn’t help but wonder:

Why aren’t I more like Mother Teresa?

Something about the very real prospect of death summons a life-worth inventory. But even on an ordinary Monday, without the drama of an existential crisis, most of us want to make a difference. And know it.

Making a difference and knowing it becomes very difficult in a world full of options and possibilities. Possibilities naturally invite comparison. ‎And as Franklin Roosevelt sagely noted:

Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Comparison goes hand in hand with that handy survival skill: pattern recognition. Remember the song on Sesame Street?

“One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong…”

This is a straw. And this is a green garden hose. But that is a slithering garter snake.

Recognizing, sorting, and comparing involves complex, often instantaneous judgement, and usually, by default, discarding the thing/s that don’t measure up. And we don’t stop with things. I know I don’t. I know this because when I feel fragile or more than usually lost, I find myself sucked into the dark vortex of comparing —  my life, my work, myself — with others. Some may argue that this sort of comparison serves to motivate. If so, we are surrounded by wildly inspiring motivation for no one but a hermit lives a life free of smarter siblings, more talented classmates, happier neighbours, or more successful colleagues. Personally, it motivates me to give up or throw up or both.

For too long, instead of stepping away from the comparison morass and shouting thief, I complied and emptied my pockets, indeed my whole heart, of joy. I might surrender only the small change tut-tutting my silly hopes of good-enough-ness or even greatness. Stop navel gazing, Rebeccca, and peddle faster! Or I would surrender all self-worth as I realize that every single thing I do is done better by someone else somewhere. Dissolving into a wobbly heap, I apologize not just for taking up space but for failing to save the planet. Or at least make my corner of the world a bit brighter.

Stunning revelation: Doing the small change or all-out comparison melt-down for a few decades has not equipped me to make the world  brighter. Every time I let that thief comparison steal my joy, I am less able to look after myself or anyone else. I want to shine and show up as the child of light that i am. So I choose comfort and joy. I choose gladness.

This choice calls for several radical shifts.

1) Instead of comparing myself to others, I listen to my own heart and decide what matters to me. I suspend judgement. If you’re skeptical, Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychologist, happiness researcher, and author of The How of Happiness, found that happy people “[a]void overthinking and social comparison.”

2) Watching the news makes me depressed. It brings me face to face with my failure to save the planet. So I don’t watch the news. Plenty of other media deliver current events and I pick and choose how and when I sample them. I ask myself, “Does taking in this information make me kinder? wiser? more compassionate?” If the answer is no, I don’t want it.

3) I celebrate bits of gladness. About the time I asked myself why I’m not more like Mother Teresa, a mocking bird sang to me. Ken and I drove to his office and parked. We stepped from the car into morning air glimmering with pure music. Tipping my face upward I saw the source — a mocking bird perched high on the ragged hedge that grows between the parking lot and the building. The small grey bird seemed near splitting as it released a string of notes it could not contain. And my pattern seeking brain clicked. I got it. Oblivious of Mother Theresa, unburdened of striving to be remarkable the mocking bird surrendered to it’s nature and to its song. A plain grey bird, on a mundane morning, sang it’s dazzling song. And I just happened to hear it. Which may sound unremarkable — except that it’s not. The lilting music would still be magic if I had not come along — except I did.

I will not save the world like Mother Teresa, because I have a different nature, a different calling. But like Mother Teresa and the mocking bird, I’m here to release my own tune into the world. And the more I sing — through words, colors, baking bread, listening, swimming, painting — the more gladness rims my life.

The repercussions of one person living in stubborn gladness are incalculable.” ~ Martha Beck

Taking a chance on Martha’s wisdom, I’m after a brighter world as the repercussions of my stubborn gladness.

What are some ways you celebrate gladness? How do you protect your stubborn joy?

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One Response to mother teresa and the mocking bird: i choose gladness

  1. Tracy May 20, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    Excellent writing, Rebecca. This is so encouraging. I love the quote from Martha Beck, too.

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