Healthy self-care leads us to be generous with our time, energy, and resources. Our cup overflows with love. And that can make all the difference in the world.
The Chautauqua Institution on the shores of Chautauqua Lake in western New York State is a family favorite for summer vacation. We’ve gone there every summer since 1994. It’s a place that brings out the best in people. For 125 years, Chautauqua has featured top-rate artistic, educational, recreational, and inspirational opportunities at affordable prices. You can visit Chautauqua on line at http://www.ciweb.org.
Going to Chautauqua is, for us, a part of healthy self-care. We come away guided and inspired to be better people, truer to our own ideals. By taking care of ourselves we’re better able to care for others. That’s one way to discern whether you’re just being selfish or practicing healthy self-care. If the time, energy, and resources that you spend on yourself and your family make you a more generous person, not just in spirit but also in actual practice, then you’re on the right track indeed.
Consider the story Dreams Come True, written by Patricia E. Moniot who lives in Jamestown, New York, which is just down the road from Chautauqua. The story illustrates the beautiful way generosity goes around and comes around.
“I began a struggle with manic-depressive illness in 1968, just as I was entering graduate school. Through years of hospitals, group homes, and homeless situations, it was music that healed me • always. I had studied piano throughout high school and college, and played for the college glee club as bravely as I could. In the •60s, when living in mental health facilities, there always seemed to be a piano within easy reach. Playing the piano kept my mind focused and gave me hope of recovery. In the •70s, music brought me out of a depression that had made me bedridden for three years: I tried playing the organ at our church. The job lasted for eight years. It improved my mental health so much that I was able to move away from home and start working in the mainstream of life.”
“In 1968, the famous Jamestown pianist, Dorothy Brooks, first caught my attention when I was a patient in an institution. There she was, performing a sing-along session involving us in singing and clapping.”
“Dorothy Brooks has volunteered in our community for decades, playing in hospitals, senior centers and any place where people could benefit from, and join in, her lively programs. Through the years, I encountered her and her music in many local places, and for a while, we were neighbors. She always told me to use my talents. I dreamed of someday playing music for her.”
“Finally, I bloomed, and started playing the piano twice a month at local nursing homes, churches, senior functions, and even at my mother’s funeral. I developed groups of singing partners, including my 83-year-old father, Joe, who plays the harmonica, sings tenor and tells jokes. His wife Ruth reads her sister’s poetry during our programs. I also accompany a wonderful German lady, Ingrid Grunert, who has a strong, inspiring voice and a generous spirit. She wears German dirndl dresses and enlivens any group.”
“My dream finally came true last April 1997 when I played at the nursing home where Dorothy Brooks now resides. She sat in the front and kept saying, •I know that song!’ A frail 95 years of age, she was still a shining star. So I say life is mysterious, and out of darkness can come light.”
Such a simple act: singing and clapping in hospitals, group homes, and senior centers. Who knows what motivated Dorothy to be such a generous spirit? It may have been the illusion that she could change the world. But, as Rousseau asked in the 18th century, “Who would not prefer the illusions of a generous spirit, which overleaps all obstacles, to that dry, repulsive reason whose indifference to the welfare of humanity is ever the chief obstacle to all schemes for its attainment?”
Dorothy may not have changed the world, but she did change the life of Patricia Moniot. And no act of generosity, no matter how small, goes unrequited. The Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, puts the precept this way:
We may feel that we don’t have the time to make people happy • we say, ‘time is money,’ but time is more than money. Life is for more than using time to make money. Time is for being alive, for sharing joy and happiness with others. The wealthy are often the least able to make others happy. Only those with time can do so, (and when we do), we will improve all the time.”
Do you have the time to make someone happy? Give yourself to others and you will discover the meaning of life. Be generous with your time, energy, and resources and you’ll never go wanting for more. Be they random or well-designed acts of kindness, you have the power to choose life rather than death. Your choice can make all the difference in the world.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC