A settling torch

Today is Malala Day, the birthday of Malala Yousafzai, the young woman shot in the head for defying the Taliban and daring to work for girls’ access to education. Tweet with the hashtag #StrongerThan to show support for girls’ education and for Malala’s clear, peaceful way of being. Malala says, “Together we are stronger than oppression. We are stronger than violence. We are stronger than fear.”

It was a childish slip—my sweetie, Tim, thinking his dad said “a settling torch” when he talked of an acetylene torch. But I knew Tim’s childish error was, in the ways of children, wiser than it appeared.

A “settling torch.” Two words we never put together. Hearing them side by side jostles the mind out of the usual, into new territory.

For me the words conjure an experience of awe, like watching a sunrise in springtime. The light slowly grows, faint and pink in the east. Birds begin to wake, a morning chirrup, a few tweets there, then full-on operatic trills. Watching and listening, I feel my insides grow quiet.

Dawn is so filled with awe that it stills the mind. It carries so much of the beyond that it settles me fully in the present.

Dawn is a settling torch.

People too can be settling torches. Some months ago I watched in awe as Malala Yousafzai talked with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Malala was a Pakistani teenager in 2012 when she was attacked by a Taliban gunman with a Colt 45 because she dared to assert girls’ rights to education.

But it’s not just Malala’s recovery from the near-lethal wound that is so inspiring. It’s the spirit with which she has responded to this attack on her life, on her human rights, on her body. Today she is loving, she is firm, she is self-possessed and eloquent. She carries renewed conviction and vigor—and a sweet and happy sense of humor. Malala is moving the world to reaffirm the universal right to education. In the wake of her assassination attempt, Pakistan passed a Right to Education act, and though it is not clear how well the bill will be implemented, it is a sign of slow and quiet progress in education in that country, especially for girls.

But back to Malala’s interview on The Daily Show. Listen at 4:20 to what she would like to say to the Taliban. Then see Jon Stewart’s reaction at 5:10. Malala is so truthful, so present and human, that Stewart’s jaw hangs open. She stops him cold! No easy feat.

So full of heart that we are stopped in our tracks: a settling torch is like that.

Someone who has become a settling torch is inspiring, connecting us if only for a moment with something much larger and greater than ourselves. And at the same time settling—with a simpleness that quiets and calms. Their voice startles with the big-hearted rightness of their words. They provide a glimpse of something so real and true that the only response is to fall silent. Suddenly we feel peaceful, a peacefulness that was there all along, we just didn’t have access to it.

Maybe you find your settling torch in walking beside the ocean or hiking in the forest; maybe you find it by sinking into a great painter’s vision or a poet’s words; maybe you find it in sitting on a meditation cushion or swaying to soul music. Wherever you find it, go! Do more of that! Fill yourself with whatever large-hearted vision inspires you, for only by touching your settling torch on a regular basis will you have what it takes to make that inspiration real in everyday life.

Malala is extraordinary for her jaw-dropping clarity—and for reaching such clarity so early in life. But she is not extraordinary in this sense: the path to becoming a settling torch is open to all. Indeed, the world needs each of us to become more simple and clear, more truthful and happy, more full of heart.

The world needs your settling torch.