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You’re Glowing. Literally: So Be Sure To Shine On Your Kids

By Bruce Dolin, PsyD

A 2009 study by several Japanese scientists found that “the human body literally glimmers.” It turns out that the light the body gives off is of 1,000 times lower intensity than the sensitivity of our naked eyes. They found this by making a rather fancy camera that could pick up the bioluminescence of the body— a process similar to that seen in fireflies and certain jellyfish. The study, by Kobayashi, Kikuchi and Okamura, appeared in the journal PLoS ONE, and is available online at

I’m a mindfulness-oriented parent (and person), so the subtle implications of this research fired my imagination. Some claim able to see auras, I believe that women glow when they are first pregnant and some people seem to glimmer when in love; maybe these ways of talking about extra life-energy have a physical, not just metaphorical or metaphysical, reality?

Another intriguing finding of this research project was that the level of bioluminescence varied with the metabolism of the subjects. As cortisol levels dropped during sleep, the luminescence increased. One way of thinking about this could be that when we are calm, we glow. Cortisol relates to adrenaline and stress, so becoming Zen helps us reduce risk of heart disease, improves immune functioning and makes us better parents at the behavioral level (e.g. not shouting). Maybe it also makes us more radiant, which might help our kids shine, too.

In the Old Testament, when Moses comes down from the mountain after 40 days and nights of communing with God, he is described as glowing or radiant. In fact, the Greek translation of the word was “horned”—meaning with rays of light—which inspired Michelangelo to sculpt Moses as having little goat-like horns. In getting back to the intended meaning, it would seem that communing with spirit, whether we find it on the mountain or with our children, might also contribute to our inner, as well as outer, radiance.

The researchers assert that we have “clock genes” that know what time it is, and that the human body glitters to the rhythm of the circadian clock. As conscious beings, perhaps we can go beyond the clock, and cultivate our luminous aspect by being compassionate. Stranger things have happened. Bioluminescence is spread unevenly across the body, with the face being the most luminous region. So, in addition to the elixir of attention that we shine upon our kids, when we turn to face them we may literally be shining our love on them…even if it’s at a very subtle wattage.

I know that I am exaggerating and extrapolating from the modest lab findings of some super-sensitive cameras, but I do believe that we humans are much more sensitive to cues, vibes and thoughts than we often consciously realize. Thus, cultivating a loving and compassionate heart is a great idea, no matter whether anyone is able to consciously see it. But if anyone can see it, that would probably be our children—especially when they are very new in the world and have not yet been taught what they are supposed, and not supposed, to see.

So, let’s dedicate today to doing whatever we can to be full of life, love and compassion—to cultivate equanimity in the service of shining whatever light we can muster on all our collective children. Maybe it will make our world a little brighter, even if we’re too dim to consciously see it.