This Little Light
In addition to being inspired by the song of the same name and Amma (as I mentioned above), this month's practice is also inspired by one of the exercises I teach in the Mindful Self-Compassion course. It's an opportunity to get in touch with what is most important to you and find a sense of purpose and meaning in your everyday life, especially when life feels very hard to make sense of.
So, how do you discover what really matters to you? Maybe you already have a hunch. If not, try this exercise:
Find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed. You'll likely want to have a pen and paper. Take three slow, conscious breaths. Imagine yourself many years from now, very near the end of a long life, looking back on your years between now and then. As you reflect, what would have given you deep, authentic satisfaction, joy and meaning? What values did you embody that gave your life this satisfaction, joy and meaning? Take time to sincerely pause and reflect. Write down what you discover ~ these are your core values.
As you consider what you have discovered, you may realize that there are some ways that you are not currently living in accord with your core values or ways that your life feels out of balance with those values. If that's true, see if you can identify the external obstacles that prevent you from living fully in line with your core values. It's normal to experience obstacles like this ~ maybe having limited time and resources, or other obligations.
You may also notice that you have internal obstacles: maybe you're afraid of failure, or you doubt your ability to have an impact or to truly embody your values. These, too, are normal and human.
Now, consider if self-compassion might help you live more in alignment with your core values. Is there a way that it could help you feel safe and confident to take new actions, or risk failure, or to let go of things that aren't serving you? Might self-compassion help you let your light shine? It's a common misconception that we have to be hard on ourselves if we want to make a change. Research and personal experience show that self-compassion is a far more effective motivator than self-criticism.
Also, if you have insurmountable obstacles to living in line with your core values, can you give yourself compassion for that? Most especially, if the insurmountable obstacle is that you are imperfect, as all humans are, can you forgive yourself for that, too?
Now, reflect for a bit and see if there is a small, meaningful way that you can express this value in your everyday life. It's not necessary to make some grand gesture that attempts to solve the world's problems (or to finally fix yourself, for that matter). You can relate to your experience with a sense of integrity, knowing that ~ no matter how small your action seems ~ it matters.
And, if you feel stumped about how to express it, or even knowing what your core values are, here are some simple experiments. Try listening to "This Little Light of Mine" in the morning as you're getting ready for the day, or on your way to work, or listen to it before bed. See how you feel and how you orient to your day when you begin (or end) it this way. You can also experiment with making up your own verses. One of the striking things about "This Little Light of Mine" is the seemingly infinite number of variations that are sung. So, make your own! For example, if you don't know what your "little light" is or how to let it shine, you can try "Even if I don't know what it is, I'm gonna let it shine!" or "Even if I don't know how, I'm gonna let it shine!" It's more than ok to not know; it's enough to be curious and willing.