Saturday, December 3, 2011
When I was a child, my father showed me how plants turn toward the light. He explained to me how living things need light while he taught me that I should turn my indoor plants regularly so that they would be well-shaped and not lop-sided.
For whatever strange reason, I remembered that "turn toward the light" guidance when I turned down my street on the first night my neighbors had turned on their Christmas lights. Like a child, I caught my breath with delight. I always love it when the streets light up during this season, the darkest season of the year.
It fascinates me every year how much trouble people go to in order to turn on the lights of the season. There's just something about the celebration and observance of it all that keeps on pushing us to light up the world when the nights are the longest.
It's such a simple fact of nature that we humans crave the light, isn't it? It's so simple, in fact, that it might even provoke a shrug of indifference or that irritating question, "So, what's your point?"
"Follow the light you have," a wise person told me when I was young and floundering around, thinking about what it was I wanted to do with my life, what I wanted to major in and whether or not to take this road or that one. "Go where the light is," he told me, "and then you'll know the next step to take, the next thing indicated."
So it is that "following the light you have" has been a principle by which I've gotten myself through confusing times, dark times when it seemed that the light had gone out and I was groping around in the darkness, trying to find the light switch. "Going toward the light" has helped me find the way out when I've been lost and lonely.
Darkness is good, if you're trying to get a good night's rest. Enough darkness is good if you're trying to watch a movie, but for most of life, being in the dark can bring up feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, anxiety and confusion. For some, being in the dark, either literally or figuratively, can be terrifying.
If you're up to something you need to hide, you may want to remain in darkness, but even if you're hiding something or in hiding, there's anxiety about getting caught. There's anxiety about getting caught, that is, unless you're somebody that get high on that kind of risk-taking and danger. But, isn't that a kind of darkness, in and of itself?
It is a terrible punishment to be confined in a dark place without the benefit of sunshine and fresh air, and it can be equally terrifying not to be able to find that shard of light under a door to help you find your way out of the darkness. It is a horrifying predicament to be trapped in the dark and not be able to get out. We must have light and air to survive and thrive. The yearning for light and the impulse of turning toward the light seem to be inscribed within us. Without light, we become lopsided creatures of nature and left without light long enough, we die.
"You say that you attempt to follow the light and the life, the love and the laughter," another wise man said to me only a few years ago. Challenging me after a particularly stressful panel discussion about weighty issues with some really serious people and a few contentious ones, he waited for my response.
Weary from the intensity of the discussion and my careful concern about saying the right thing and not the wrong thing, I felt myself armoring up inside my defenses. "Yes," I told him. "That is what I try to do."
And then that man, a stranger to me at the time, smiled at me, his eyes twinkling, and asked me something similar to this question, but a little more direct: "Then why are you putting yourself through this?"
The question he asked has come back to me repeatedly since that hot August night. Gently and with humor, he beamed a light of truth into the darkness I was in, teasing me toward a path of self-examination. Carefully, he asked me to wake up and turn toward the light of awareness and personal responsibility, and from that moment until this, I have been grateful for that moment of enlightenment.
Truthfully, I was in the dark about what I was doing and why I was doing it. I thought I was doing the right thing, but the truth is that I was trapped in a dark place, the place of people-pleasing and accommodating to persons who did not have my best interest at heart. I had trusted people I shouldn't have trusted, and in the moment of that brief conversation with this new friend, still a stranger to me, it was as if a light bulb came on in my head. I saw that I didn't need to sabotage my well-being any longer.
Light bulbs in the head, I've learned, are like those miners' hats that shine a light ahead, leaving your hands and arms free to hang on to rails, hold hands with friends and reach for the ropes, in case you have to pull yourself out of a deep hole. A light bulb can be just what you need to see and walk the path to freedom, step by step.
I wasn't doing those self-sabotaging things because I'd awakened one day and said, "I think I'll see how I can mess up my life today." Instead, I'd walked myself into the darkness one step at a time with a compromise here, a giving in there, the lies of people-pleasing and the habits of accommodating to others. The light of awareness dawned in my darkness and I realized that I was trapped in a cave of my making, mostly. The other light bulb that was to go off later was the one that showed me how others had helped me stay in the dark by their attempts to hold me to the patterns of a lifetime, patterns that served them but harmed me.
Into the darkness of deep winter, we are offered once again this glorious chance to turn toward the Light.
Into our our own dark caves, the Light that is bright enough to penetrate the dark can seep through the cracks and under the doors of our defenses and shine out the truth: You were made for the light. Turn toward the Light, the Light of the world. Walk in the light, and for God's sake, let your own wild and precious light shine out in the darkness.
I needed that light of insight, beamed by the stranger-who-became-friend. I needed it more than I knew. I needed it desperately.
You never know, do you, when somebody else needs the light you have or the light you are?
What about you?
Are you in a season of spiritual darkness right now, or are you walking in the Light?
How long has it been since a light bulb of insight or awakening has come on in your mind or heart?
Who has turned the light on for you?
What can you do right now, today, to turn yourself toward the Light?
How good are you at letting the light of who you are shine?
Who needs the light of who you are to shine in his/her own darkness?
Could it be that by taking yourself more lightly, you might be able to walk toward the Light a little more gracefully?
It is the season of lights; it is the season of welcoming the Light. Turn on the lights. Turn toward the Light. Let your light shine!
Grace to you --