Below is an essay I submitted to the NPR series This I Believe in 2007, and recently edited. Although it was not selected to be read on NPR, I Still Believe in the spark.
I believe in “Feeding the Spark.”
You know that old spiritual, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!” It’s that miraculous spark of life that burns inside each of us.
I believe we need to tend our own ember of the divine – feed it, blow on it, and poke it with a stick every now and then — to keep it burning strong. Everybody’s spark loves different things, so there’s a million ways to feed and tend it. Since I’ve been on the trail of spark for a while, I’ve picked up a few tips for a passionate, authentic life of spark: Listen, Learn, Love and Let Go.
1. Listen to the spark.
My little light can sometimes be hard to find. It’s often hiding under my ego, the part of me that needs to prove itself, or it’s crouching under a stack of to-do lists, complaints and general grumpypants. So each day, I take some time to seek out that spark inside and give it some loving attention. It can be as simple as remembering that I even have a spark; breathing into my heart; noticing the sky, its particular shade and movement right now; a walk in nature; or a full-on gratitude ritual.
Tending the spark means to listen to the deeper knowing that my heart and soul can access. It’s a different voice than my brain, my ego or my desires. It can be tricky to tell the difference. For example: “That cake looks good. I could eat the whole thing!” Or, “I really should do this or that now, and I better do it right, or else.” Who’s talking here?
In contrast, my spark is very simple. It just knows, in my body. If I ask a question, whether I should do this or that, all it ever says is “YES,” or occasionally “NO,” or sometimes even nothing. It’s the still, small voice of conscience. The more I listen to it, the more it speaks. And it tells me, what is right for me, what is wrong.
2. Learn what you love – and what you hate.
Feeding the spark means to do what makes us truly happy, to “follow your bliss,” as Joseph Campbell taught. But what are those things that resonate in a deep way? What connects you? What sparks you up?
It’s often the same things you loved as a child. What did you naturally do before you learned to please others, to be ‘normal,’ to do the ‘right’ thing? These same things will create joy for you now. It’s not easy to make space and have courage to dream this way, to play again, but it’s so vitalizing. Life-affirming. Sparkalicious.
I’d love to avoid the shadow side of life, but it’s just not the way it is here on planet Earth. Having courage to face what I really fear or hate or am envious of – or what I have lost – is essential. Just like in the body, pain is a pointer to the areas of our lives that need some loving attention.
3. Follow the Love
I love water in all its forms; to walk the beaches near my Puget Sound home melts any worry, fear or anger. Writing satisfies my yearning for truth and meaning. It’s pure joy to sing, to dance, to make art — to bring beauty to the world. I rejoice in a simple meal with family or friends, gathering in the glow of a warm sunset. And I love to spark others, especially young ones, as they discover what makes them truly happy.
When I do any of my most-loved things, it’s like blowing on a flame. I just light up. And with more light, I can see the way ahead more clearly. I have more energy, and am less tempted by my addictive habits (overwork, sugar, complaining). Best of all, I can more easily feel the sparks of life all around me, and see the many gifts life has to offer. I have much more to give others.
4. Let Go of the shame-blame-game
A well-fed spark shows me how to cherish my whole self, with all my faults.
When I make yet another mistake, take a wrong turn, even hurt someone I love, it’s the spark that reminds me to speak gently to myself: “It’s ok, you’re learning, it’ll be all right…” It’s the same patience and tenderness I’d offer a suffering friend, or a child struggling to succeed.
If I don’t let the flame of light guide me, how can I accept myself, as I am? How can I tolerate others, with their different values and points of view? How much easier it is to blame everybody else for everything that is wrong. I believe that many of the world’s conflicts, large and small, could be soothed if more of us could love ourselves.
Remember Mr. Rogers Neighborhood? When he walked in, put on that cardigan and said, “I like you just the way you are,” I melted inside. I wanted to believe him so much!
Gradually, over time, I learned to do this myself — to feed the fire inside, with love. And I wish the same for you.
Thanks to my Mom, who first told me about the inner voice, and to Shel Silverstein, who said it so well in his poem, “The Voice.”
And to Carl Jung, who wrote: “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”