Monday, December 21, 2015

The light inside

Tomorrow is the winter solstice, one of my favorite nights of the year.  I plan to turn off the lamps and light all the candles in the house, so the soft glow of firelight can dance on the walls while I listen to Paul Winter's annual solstice celebration on WGTE radio.  Someday I hope to fly to New York and visit St. John the Divine Cathedral where Paul and his consortium host this extraordinary event every December.  But for now, I'll cozy up on the couch with a mug of something hot and enjoy the concert from the comfort of my living room. 
It will be a wonderful respite from the busyness of the past few months and the sorrow I've been feeling since a close friend recently told me his cancer has made an aggressive return after lengthy treatment.  Surgery is scheduled for Christmas Eve.  Hopefully, he'll be able to go home the next day to be with his family, but nothing is certain.  And until the test results come back, all we can do is wait...and pray.
Last week while driving home after a long, difficult day, I was stopped at a red light.  As I sat there, my thoughts drifted; bittersweet images from the past flashed through my memory, then worries about the future took their place.  Finally I took a deep breath and noticed the license plate on the truck in front of me.  It read:  BPRESNT
I've been practicing present moment awareness for over twenty years, so you think I'd have the hang of it by now.  But these days, it's not been easy, and I was infinitely thankful for the synchronicity.  I smiled, remembering what I had said to my friend earlier that morning: "We'll take this step by step.  Whatever matter what, you're still you, you're still here today.  Really, that's all any of us ever have."

This year in particular, being present in every moment of my life has been an ongoing challenge.  For over a decade, I've been teaching workshops that incorporate lofty ideas and beliefs.  The past twelve months have brought those lessons into a tangible reality that is occasionally frustrating, often mesmerizing, and continually palpable.  It's easy to practice an ideal when safely harbored within the walls of my home.  But what happens when the darkness outside creeps through the cracks, shadowing what had previously been brought to light?
Like the Velveteen Rabbit, I've longed to be real outside of teaching yoga and writing essays and novels, beyond my quiet world of meditation and contemplation.  Slowly, but surely, the past ten years have aged me (often times in reverse), but they've also transformed me into someone brand new.  Although much of it has been painful, it's what I've be connected to people on a deeper level.  Even the hurt can be healing because at least I know now how much I can let myself feel.  
Maybe that's why I love the winter solstice so much.  For when things become as dark as they possibly can, there's always the reassurance of light returning once more.  At the dawning of winter, the sun will rise higher each day, steadily reminding us of the promise of springtime.

I'm reminded of a Christmas Eve more than twenty years ago, when I stood at the altar of Christ Presbyterian Church holding a single white candle.  The overhead lights had been extinguished while the minister lit a long taper from the Advent wreath.  He lit mine, then I walked to the choir loft where I shared the flame with the sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses. Once a soft glow filled the loft, I went back to wait by the pulpit, watching as the ushers lit the candles of the people who stood at the end of each pew, who in turn passed the light on to the person next to them. 
Silent Night played softly in the background, and when the last verse was sung, the whole congregation was illuminated by a warm, white light.  I listened to their voices echoing in the open space, captivated by how each individual flame created the entirety of the brilliance that filled the church.  Then I realized I wasn't alone, a solitary candle shining in the distance, for I knew that our source of light was one and the same.
And it still is.    
I may not know what the future holds.  Shadows may obscure my path, and I may need to wait a while longer for guidance or momentum.  Still, even though it may be pitch dark outside the haven of my heart, the light inside will still burn bright.

Open Road:  Year Three is now available in paperback and digital download on