Too much light…

The soft colours of dawn were painting the sky as I left for work. The village streets, preternaturally quiet now that the schools were on holiday, were, for once, easy to negotiate. Parked cars take up half the width of every street and, on a school day and with oncoming traffic, getting out of the village becomes a slalom exercise in courtesy and patience.

By the time I reached the long stretch into town, the sun was cresting the horizon, setting fire to the skyline and casting long shadows across the road. Another mile, a bend in the road, and the brilliant disc had revealed itself in all its golden glory. I, and every other motorist in the now-queuing traffic, hit the brakes, dazzled by the low-lying orb on a road that runs due east.

There is, I thought, such a thing as too much light.

As the traffic crawled into town, I thought about that from another perspective. Is there ever such a thing as too much Light on the spiritual path? That Light could be said to be our goal, and so you would not immediately think so, and yet I concluded that yes, it was entirely possible.

As far back as I can remember, aspects of the spiritual path were part of my life. I was brought up in a family whose members each found their own way towards a shared goal. Their paths took many forms, encompassing the magical, mystical, spiritual and religious, but their goal seemed essentially the same, and whether they sought to attain the Christian Heaven, a Buddhist Nirvana, or a more abstract Union, each saw Light… formless, timeless and ineffable… as a perfect symbol for what drew and guided them. How could there be too much of that?

The car in front came to an abrupt halt, brake lights blazing. I saw the driver pull down the sun visor. He could not see the road ahead nor its hazards, any more than I could and had reacted by almost causing an accident.

That’s the problem with too much Light. The road we travel through life has hazards enough as it is, without our eyes being so firmly fixed on the Light that we fail to see them. We are, I believe, here for a purpose. Whether we are an incredible accident of Nature as evolutionary science would have us believe, or part of the design of some Cosmic Intelligence, we are here for a reason and with a purpose to fulfil, whether we are thinking at species level or as individuals.

If you accept that we are part of the design, and that there is a spiritual purpose to that design, there comes a point when you have to ask yourself, “Why right here? Why right now?” And, if there is indeed a purpose to our individual presence here and now, surely we need to be paying attention to where we are? This is practically impossible if your eyes are fixed firmly on the dazzling Light ahead and are blinded to all else.

 

The true mystic sees that Light and seeks to become one with it. Worldly considerations cease to matter… all else is but a shadow. While this is a rare and beautiful path to follow, it is a path for the few who feel called to that life. Those who follow the esoteric path see the Light and seek to align themselves with it, moving towards it while moving through the world with attention. This path is open to all. No path is better than another, as long as you are following the one that speaks to your heart.

My personal belief is that we may need the mystics to show us the way, but that for most of us, paying heed to the lessons, possibilities and opportunities of this life is more likely to answer the need of the inner self, allowing us a chance to learn why here and why now.  Few of us are able to divorce ourselves from the mundane business of living, but that need not mean that we cannot address those needs with due regard to spirit.

The spiritual path should not need to separate us from the earthly and physical life we have been given; it should enhance our awareness of it and bring us to an understanding that shows us that living is a spiritual journey.

Lenses

Orion Nebula

“Religion is a matter of diet. You must choose what suits your spiritual digestion, I suppose.”

Naomi Jacob, ‘Four Generations’.

Growing up, I loved the stories that Naomi Jacob wrote about the Gollantz family. I am not Jewish, though some of my forefathers were. Reading Jacob’s books gave me an insight into part of my own family’s culture and recent history. One passage has come to mind a lot lately. Emmanuel, the lead character, is struggling to come to terms with pain and loss. Hannah Rosenfeldt, an old friend, tells him that he must learn to say, ‘The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord’. Emmanuel cannot bring himself to say the second part, as he cannot bless a God who allows tragedy to happen. I was way too young to fully understand the stories, but this particular dialogue stuck, as some things do. There was an awful lot in that short passage and it reminds of a similar conversation with my grandfather.
I asked him why… how could the loving Father of whom we were taught in Sunday School permit so many horrible things to happen? It is a question most of us have asked. My grandfather was not a religious man, though he had a belief in the sentience of a Divine Light. These days, many would say he was ‘spiritual, not religious’. Even that would not be the entire truth, for he had walked some dark paths and his convictions were hard won. ‘Religion is a matter of diet. You must choose what suits your spiritual digestion…’ . He had tasted and had chosen. I was allowed to grow up with the same freedom, with an incredible cross-section of knowledge and experience from which to draw the raw ingredients of my own diet.
It was my grandfather who gave me the first hint of understanding… that we are too close to events in this human life to be able to see what purpose may be served by them. But that there is purpose, he was sure of. That hint came when he gave me my first microscope.
Mouse cells
Mouse cells
Looking through the eyepiece I found a strange world opening before me… blood cells, plant cells, the scales of the human hair, an insect’s wing. Peering at this magical world through the lens was a wonderful experience for a child… yet I realised there was no way for me to identify what I was seeing unless I already knew all their patterns and learned to understand them. I could see they were cells, but I was looking far too closely to see what they were part of. I could see them, but had no idea what they made.
Then Grandad built a telescope. A big one, with a lens the size of a dinner plate that he ground himself on a pedestal in his study. I remember it well; the black squared surface of the plinth, the pots of jewellers rouge, the steady motion that polished the glass…and while he worked he told me stories of gods and giants, of the fae and the otherworlds and the stories of the stars. He told me of radio waves… he had been a wireless operator in the army… and built me a Wimshurst machine to teach me about electricity. He showed me, from both the scientific and spiritual perspectives, how it was possible for different forms of matter and energy to occupy the same space. I had a fantastic education and did not know then just how lucky I was!
Wimshurst machine
Wimshurst machine
 
When the telescope was finished the whole affair was huge. Somewhere there is a picture of me standing with it… a great metal structure that captured the heavens for me to see. When elevated, it was much taller than me. We projected the sun’s image onto card; it was too bright to look at directly… and that was a lesson in itself. Some things are beyond the compass of our senses. We see only the effect, not the source. I saw the landscape of the moon and watched the stars wheel across the heavens, learning that much of what we saw through the lens was a past millennia old. Andromeda is 2.5 million light years away… the light we could see was that old. It had taken that long to reach us, so we were looking at the past! Yet time just was… wasn’t it?
Tycho supernova
Tycho supernova
 
It was odd too how similar the view through the two lenses were… microscope and telescope. How could we know that the heavens themselves were not simply the cells of a greater being we were too small to see? Something whose pattern we were too small to understand?
Then there was a time of loss, and that phrase I had learned stayed with me… The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away… Blessed be the name of the Lord. By this time my spiritual diet no longer included the confining thought of the orthodox Christianity we were taught at Sunday School, but the certainty of the One, by whatever name It is known, remained unshaken and unshakeable.
I began to wonder if the lens through which I looked at events in my grief was too close? Or its purpose to big, too far away from my understanding? Was there some pattern that I was simply unable to see through the myopic vision of human eyes? Yet I do not believe that each step of our lives is foreordainedI believe in free will…in the gift of being able to choose our paths, gain understanding or make mistakes, learning from the experience of living. That makes a Divine Plan a little hard to reconcile at first glance. How can we have the freedom to choose and yet believe there is a Purpose to the events and circumstances of this life we live?
We need to step further back… away from our involvement with the heartaches of the mundane world and see from a different perspective. This conviction has grown over the decades as, from the hardest, the worst and most painful events of life I have seen much beauty unfold. From the loss or surrender of things to which I have clung, allowing them to define me by their habitual presence, I have found new directions, new doors opening before me. And I have watched this unfolding, this flowering of possibility, in others too.
Helix Nebula
Helix Nebula
We all face the heartaches and trials of life every day and we often do not understand the ‘why’. When we are facing that unscalable mountain that blocks our path, makes us change course and curse under our breath, how can we know it does not protect us from a lifeless desert or a valley of wild beasts? We can never know for sure, but we can learn how to plan a better route and to understand the landscape in which we find ourselves.
It is impossible to trace the beginning of a series of events with our ‘what ifs’…really trace them back to cause and effect. There is always another ‘what if’ even further from the moment. Nor can we see into a future unknown and know what will come of any given event. Events cascade, creating a domino effect of circumstance and possibility that disappears beyond the borders of our imagination into the unseen millennia to come.
Only a being vast enough to bring the lens to the right focus on time and space would be able to see the beginning and the end of the existence we know… and it would have to know our pattern, like that of the cells under the microscope, and understand what we are in order to see what we form as a whole.
Such a being we could only conceive of as god-like and as such infinite. Yet infinity means there are no boundaries, no borders… no alpha and omega, it would itself be both beginning and end, and yet endless. And if it is endless and All, then we and all we know must be of It. And perhaps It knows the Purpose in ways we cannot imagine.
Horsehead nebula
Horsehead nebula

Healing

P1110417

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”  Rumi

Every life holds its own heartache. We cannot avoid them, no matter how we try. We cannot hide from them, though we can, and often do, try. Yet still they find us. And every heartache, great or small, leaves a wound that remains tender, often prone to infection from further hurts, just as any wound of the flesh. Untended they can fester and even the smallest can bring terrible pain and cause greater damage than the wound itself warranted.

Yet, if we cut ourselves, we do not run from the pain… we deal with the cut first, cleaning it, maybe having it stitched by someone more qualified than we, if it is bad, then we keep it clean and let that cleanliness and the fresh air do their work. There may be a scar, there may not. If there is, most of the time it fades into insignificance and is forgotten.

We do not treat the heart as kindly, though, do we? We often worry at the hurt like dogs with a sore foot, we scratch it and press it to feel how much it pains us, or bite it as we illogically do with a tooth that needs attention. It is almost as if we are afraid that the pain will stop.

windsor 001

I know I am guilty of it.

I have wondered about that. It is not as if we enjoy the hurting. But maybe we feel a need to cling to it, to keep it alive somehow. Perhaps we have lost someone or something and in allowing the pain to heal we feel as if we are betraying that loss? Maybe the pain is due to fear and in letting go of the fear we fear the unknown territory of being unafraid? The familiar is always more comfortable than the unknown… at least in our own minds.

The danger is, of course, that then we allow the hurts to define who we become. We sink beneath the murky waters of pain and cease to see clearly, allowing events and our reactions to them to shape who we are and how we see the world. We learn to see ourselves through a veil of hurt and in turn this is the image we expect others to see.

Yet we are not our hurts. The pain can teach, or it can, like a flame, burn away the impurities and leave behind something cleaner and able to move freely. I have a feeling that is its purpose, to allow us to burn for a little while, cleansing the grief and fear, before emerging like a phoenix renewed.

The scars remain as reminders. Nothing is lost or forgotten, but it can be allowed to take its place in the past and be a solid foundation for the future. Perhaps if we are able to allow ourselves to heal, seeing the wounds, as Rumi says, as the places where the Light enters, the pain would find its proper place in our lives as a teacher, not loved, perhaps, but respected and acknowledged for the value of its experience and the healing it can bring.

“Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.”  Rumi

P1110418

July 2013

Wings


P1120129‘Which is the greater blessing,’ someone once asked, ‘to have the sublime unity of God to centre and save the universe? Or to have the concrete immensity of the universe by which to undergo and touch God?’ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

In many cultures the butterfly has been seen as the symbol of the soul. It is, in many ways, an excellent analogy, and no less so for being much used. From the earthbound caterpillar that munches its way through the garden, feeding the physical body by consuming its environment, much as we do with the emotional, intellectual and sensory input we receive, to the imperative that sets it to build the cocoon. It does not know what is coming, but it has no choice. It is a change of state that is inevitable… like death… and the small, soft body responds to the inner command, building a place in which, to all intents and purposes, it will dissolve into its component parts, becoming nothing at all like the caterpillar… yet the essence, the life force that animates those glorious wings and takes flight above the earth, is the same. What was the caterpillar becomes the butterfly… they are the same creature, but wholly different in their appearance, their abilities and their goals.

Can it feel, in some vague, instinctive way, that inner call? That desire to fuel transformation through its environment? Is the squishy little body aware at some level of what is to come? Does it glimpse a passing butterfly and yearn for wings and a reflection of that beauty? Does it recognise something akin to its own nature in the glorious creature that flutters around it? Maybe it recognises at some deeper level that this is its kin, its parent… the one who laid the egg from which, long ago, the caterpillar emerged. Or is it simply consumed by the desire and need to consume?

Why caterpillars anyway? Why not just lay eggs that become butterflies? I do not know, but I have thought about it a fair bit… my mind wanders down some odd pathways sometimes. I think it is about the fuel. The butterfly is already inherent in the caterpillar, yet the mechanics and beauty, the colour and complexity of the design takes a lot of creating. Think of trying to make a caterpillar… even from clay. It is a simple design… simply a mobile feeding tube. In terms of engineering it is quite basic… and its functions are minimal. Now, try sculpting that butterfly… and make it a working model.  The time, effort and energy to do so is far greater. So I think that is why caterpillars. A neat package… a simple egg, that hatches to feed and grow itself, learning its environment, consuming it, experiencing it and carrying the programming to make the butterfly itself once it has grown enough, fed enough, matured enough….

butterflies 007

It follows the dictates of its own nature and, by obeying the inner imperative, is transformed, in one of the most incredible moments of glory, into sheer beauty, taking flight under the summer sun.

As an analogy, I’m not sure we can beat it.

We are not so much different, I feel. Though how you interpret that depends upon your own perspective, of course. We do consume our environment, taking in all the stimuli and information in our need to grow, both in time and in understanding. And there is that odd nagging set of questions about the why of it all.

It is a touchy subject this, this debate around the nature of the world and our spiritual place and purpose within it. Or should it be, its spiritual purpose around us? Many, possibly all those amongst us who seek, have asked so many why’s and probably each of us has come up with different answers. That’s fine, and, I feel, as it should be. The relationship in which we see ourselves with however we conceive of Divinity… even if we reject the very concept… is, and should be, a personal one.

Some feel the world should be overcome… that we should be able to transcend its call, its desires, the flesh itself. Some feel no call to another level of being… they are here, now and that is all that matters. Some see the world as an expression of the Being of the One and thus see all as sacred, even our faults and flaws part of a higher purpose.

But regardless of our beliefs, or the way they shape us all, the inevitability of that moment of transformation we call death awaits us all. As we approach that inescapable leveller where king and pauper are alike, we have only our beliefs and hopes and that still, small voice that whispers within. Do we simply return the elements of our physical bodies to the earth and cease to be? Are our hopes of survival merely fears of annihilation? Are we nothing more than a body? Am ‘I’, are ‘you’ just this flesh? Is there more to being who we are than appears when we look in the mirror? Or is there within us the butterfly waiting to emerge, nourished by the experience of living, fed by what we have consumed in life, awaiting that transcendent moment of dissolution and transformation when we fly free?

Me, I’m with the butterflies.

butterflies 025First published August 2013