Archive for October, 2010

“There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one small candle.”

— Robert Alden

Happy Halloween.

The last day of October has arrived, and the chill of winter is creeping into town.  More than half of the trees have shed their leaves; and only their skeletons stand, branches reaching upward to touch the sky.  The remains of summer lie in multi-colored piles, raked to the curb for tomorrow’s leaf vacuum to whisk them away.  This is the paradoxical season where darkness and light stand side by side and challenge us to see them both.  Brilliant sunlight and clear blue skies call us out to play; and cold, bitter wind sends us running for cover.  Bright colored trees make our eyes dance with delight; and stark, bare branches remind us that the season of color is also the season of dying.  We do our best to hold on to summer’s warmth by adding extra layers of shirts and jackets to our outdoor attire; but when the wind hits our faces and makes our cheeks rosy, we know that the summer is only a memory.

Memories rise at this season of beauty, and I recall those I’ve loved who now live on the other side of the veil.  I feel their absence at this time of the year — at the time of transition that Nature reveals with such eloquence and such finality.  I feel their absence as I take a deep breath that breathes in Autumn.  As I pause in the moment before I exhale, I can feel the absence mix with something else — their presence.  As they come to my mind, I am reminded again that although I don’t see them, they live in my heart; and I exhale their presence.  It warms the Fall breeze, for only a moment; and I look to the sky, filled with millions of stars.  In the dark, cold night of Halloween, I feel the warmth and the light of my memories and the stars; and I know for certain that darkness cannot win.  It only takes one star, one small candle, to dispel the darkness.

Last night at a family gathering, I heard young parents talking about taking their little ones out for Trick or Treat and having adults in ghoulish costumes come roaring and shrieking through the darkness and intentionally scaring the children.  So much of our world focuses on darkness these days.  Halloween seems to be all about the terrifying and gory images of torment and pain.  We have lost sight of the Truth about darkness and light; and now, more than ever, we must remember to teach our children to stand as small candles and trust that their light will drive the darkness away.

Tonight, when our town holds Trick or Treat, I will not hide behind my door and wait for children to be afraid.  I will sit on my front steps with a bowlful of treats and hand necklaces with glow sticks to the children who stop.  “Light the night,” I will tell them.  “Happy Halloween.”  I will sit on my step and watch them move on, like a hundred small stars that glow in the night and light our streets with hope.  We must tell our children to carry their light into the darkness and light the world.

“Your mind knows only some things.  Your inner voice, your instinct, knows everything.  If you listen to what you know instinctively, it will always lead you down the right path.”

— Henry Winkler

AAAyyy!!!  Listen to the Fonz.  I think he has something going on here!

What a great way to start the morning, with a reminder not to confuse wisdom with knowledge!  We are born with a sort of intrinsic “knowing” that prepares us for the adventure of being human.  We have a survival instinct handed down from our ancestors, embedded in our DNA, that regulates us.  There are times when we listen more acutely to this inner knowing; and those are the times when we say, “I can’t give you a reason, but I feel it in my gut.”

In our modern world, with so much science and so much knowledge and so many opportunities to expand our experience beyond our selves and beyond our small community, we are taking in an incredibly large amount of data.  We now are able to explain some of the gut-level reasoning of our predecessors.  Knowledge — learning — is now seen as having primary importance in preparing us to interface with the world around us.  There is no need to worry about learning things.  I would never suggest that we should throw out learning and return to surviving based on our guts alone.  The modern world has too many man-made calamities in it; and often there are instructions that we can follow to navigate them.

I do think, though, that it is important to keep our brains and our guts in touch.  I also think that Henry Winkler makes a good point when he says that our minds can only know some things while our instinct knows everything.  What our reverence for learning has done is to reverse the direction of our response to our environment.  Now, when our gut sends us a message, we pass it through what we have learned and stored in our mind.  If we find no explanation for what our gut tells us, we push its message aside.  What we should be doing is the opposite.  We want both our brain and our gut involved in the decisions we make, but it would be to our advantage to take what our minds know and then pass that knowledge through our inner wisdom.  Our brains can tell us what is real.  They can help us organize the facts our logic uses to assess the situation; but it is our inner wisdom — our hearts — that tell us how to be human and how to respond in a way that is humane.

Trust your inner voice.  Listen to your knowing.  It will not fail to teach you how to be kind, compassionate, and human.  Your memory may fail you; your education may fall short; but when they do, you can call upon the backup system that is your birthright.  It will not let you down.  Just remember to listen.

The universe cries out for order and peace.  Each day — each season of the year — offers examples to  us.  We must open our eyes and open our hearts and resonate with the Peace that is our birthright.

Autumn Peace

Peace like a falling leaf

Peace like a starlit sky

Peace like a breeze

Blowing cold in the night.

Peace like a flaming tree

Peace like the rushing clouds

Peace like the wind

Blowing Summer away

Peace like the leaves

Rustling, dry, at my feet.

©Pamela Stead Jones 2008

“Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.”

— Jonas Salk

This Sunday will be Halloween.  For many it is the time to dress in costumes — funny or scary — and go from door to door shouting “Trick or Treat.”  We often lose sight of the origins of Halloween — the Eve of all Hallows, or all saints — in which we remember those who have died and now live on the other side of the veil.  The ancient Celts believed that on one night of the year, Halloween, the boundary between this world and the otherworld was blurred; and spirits of the dead were able to walk in the world of the living.  Because they were afraid of what these spirits might do to them, the people began dressing in disguises so that they would not be recognized as being among the living.  Food was left outside of windows that were illuminated with candles, so that the dead might eat it and go on their way.  It was also a time when the poor would wander from house to house and beg for food or for alms.

The door-to-door begging tradition is alive and well, and many a child will be overdoing the chocolate this weekend.  The tradition of remembering also lingers; and on this night when the veil is thin, many will reach out to touch the fingertips of those who have loved them and departed this world.  Just as this time of year marks the end of the harvest and the need to let go of the bounty of summer and prepare for the winter months, it also reminds us of other times when we have relinquished people we loved and sent them on to the next life.  As we say goodbye to the life of summer, we remember the dear ones who no longer walk among us.  The memories of all that they brought to our lives once again touch us with love and encouragement.

It makes me think, at this time of the year, of what kind of ancestor I would like to be.  What legacy do I want to leave to those who one day will remember me?  Perhaps, as Jonas Salk says, it is our greatest responsibility.

“Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.

— Desiderius Erasmus

All summer long I would awaken early and pull on my sneakers for a pre-dawn walk.  I learned to time my departure so that I would reach my favorite view of the eastern horizon just in time for the arrival of the sunrise.  It never gets old.  There is something about the return of the light each morning that fills me, encourages me, and sends me into my day with my head and heart aligned.  I just love sunrises.  I love the way they begin with a faint glow that barely crests the horizon.  I love each day’s unique blend of color and light that illuminates the clouds and tints the morning mist with pink, purple and orange.  I love the way the bright-white sun finally appears in all its glory and pushes the clouds aside.  I love the daily reminder that Light triumphs over darkness.

Now it is Fall.  Each day the hours of daylight have become shorter.  Now, when I arise in the morning, a full two hours pass before the sunrise.  By the time that daylight shows itself, I’ve already begun my day.  Sunset is escaping as well.  By the time we are finishing our evening meal and our pace begins to slow, I glance out the window and see that darkness already has consumed the day.  Soon Winter will begin, and the hours we spend in light will grow even shorter.  Even as I write these words, I sense the stillness of the long nights of winter; and I remember the longing I’ve felt on a snowy winter night to see just one star shine through the clouds.

Perhaps the time is coming when I understand best my love of the sunrise — the return of the Light.  Now, as I call upon the memories of the hundred sunrises of summer, I remember the joy, the color, the warmth —  the victory of Light arriving to dispel the darkness.  I think of the magnificent sunrises, but I also remember the joy of finding one tiny star shining through a stormy winter night.  The same Light that created the sunrise created each of us.  The same Light that shines its color and beauty at the start of the new day, that shines its tiny beacon from a lone star among the dark clouds of winter, also lives in each one of us.

Just as the sun returns each morning to light our way and delight our lives, as though it had nothing better to do, so we must make it who we are to bring the Light within us to a dark and weary world.  Even when the best we can do is to be a single star in the dark sky of night, we must remember that if we give light the darkness will disappear of itself.

“The best memory is that which forgets nothing but injuries.  Write kindness in marble and write injuries in the dust.”

— Persian Proverb

Each day brings a mixture of sadness and joy, of injury and kindness, of wounds and of healing.  How we greet these different experiences and which ones we choose to make an ongoing part of our lives is really up to us.  How often do our choices stand in the way of our own healing?  What is it that we want to write in marble — to etch in stone — and carry with us from today into tomorrow?

What a beautiful image — to write kindness in marble!  Stop for a minute and think of the last kind thing someone did for you.  How do you feel?  Warm?  Loved? Encouraged?  Now think of a time when you were hurt by the actions of another.  Those feelings are not so pleasant.  Wounded.  Angry.  Heavy-hearted.  Which memories do you want to etch in marble?  Which ones do you want to see each time you greet a new day?

How often do we spend so much time etching our wounds in stone that we leave the kindness lying in the dust at our feet, vulnerable to the elements and soon disappearing?  How often do we stand in the way of our own healing by holding on to the injuries and forgetting the love and encouragement that could help us to move on and live in joy?

It probably is not a good idea to ignore injuries.  When we are hurt, we learn how to protect ourselves the next time around.  Still, I love the image of kindness written in marble and injuries written in dust.  Suppose that at the end of each day we could commit to memory all the kindness, all the love and all the joy.  Suppose that at the same time we could revisit the hurt, write it in dust, and then let the healing breath of God wash over the injury and gradually remove it from our hearts?

It is the heart that holds the courage born of kindness.  It is the heart that bears the burden of unreleased injury.  Fill your heart with love at the close of each day, and let your hurt be blown away like the dust.  Only Love is permanent.  We must toss the rest into the wind.

“Peace is the first thing the angels sang.”

— John Keble

Peace.  The sound of angels singing their first song.  Can you hear them?  They still sing of peace — peace for all, without reservation.  As we move toward the end of October, I always begin to think ahead to Thanksgiving.  We have a family tradition that involves making a Christmas ornament after dinner — something that each family takes home to add to their Christmas tree, a little piece of family for the holidays.

Peace.  Every year when my children ask me what I’d like for Christmas, I answer, “Peace on Earth.”  It isn’t a cliché.  It really is what I’d like most for Christmas; but so far, they have failed to deliver.  I suppose a DVD or a candle will have to suffice.

Peace on Earth.  How will we ever find a way to make that happen?  With so many religions and so many cultures, each certain that it holds the key to the truth, we tend to judge one another instead of following the mandates of our own belief systems to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Peace on Earth must grow out of the love that stands firmly rooted in the Golden Rule.

This year, when we meet for dinner on Franksgiving — Friday Thanksgiving — we will be a diverse group.  There will be Christians, Jews, and Buddhists as well as people who are spiritually inclined but give their belief no name.  My mind leans toward collecting the symbols of all the faiths and all the cultures I can think of and letting each person decide which symbol will be the large one in the center of their ornament as we include all the symbols of all the groups of all the people we are called to love.*

Only when we can reach beyond our own space and touch all others with the Love that created us all will we be able, once again, to hear the angels sing.

* I would love to hear ideas you might have about creating such an ornament — adults, teens, and young children will all be participating, so it must be uncomplicated — just like World Peace.

Although sunrise had come two hours before, the shade from the forest trees cooled both its light and its warmth.  It the tiny, low-lying glade, the sun was barely visible above the hill to the east.  All was silent except for my own breathing, the beating of my heart, and the whooshing of the wind in the very tops of the trees.  It was as though my own breath might be moving them.  Exhale:  the trees begin to dance and sway, making circular arcs above my head and revealing patches of blue sky and pure white clouds beyond their reach.  Inhale:  the colorful leaves, touched by the finger of Fall, release their hold on the trees that have nourished them and spiral toward the Earth that has nourished the trees.  They splatter like drops of paint — yellow, red, brown, gold — and carpet the forest floor with color and silence.  The mist of my breath hangs in front of my face; and as I look upward, I join in the dance.  I spin and I sway, like the treetops above; and my feet dance on color, cushioned by the finest carpet in all Creation.  The sun peeks over the rise, and the whole scene is lit by the Fire of Autumn.  It burns in the sun and the glorious color.  It burns in the passion I feel for the beauty of treetops and breezes and carpets of leaves whose cycle soon moves on to replenish the soil that will once again bring them to life in the Spring.

Autumn Carpet

Leaves of yellow, red, and brown

Through the air come drifting down.

They spread their color on the ground,

Like a carpet, all around.

The finest carpet, I believe,

Is made of lovely Autumn leaves.

©Pamela Stead Jones 2010

“Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature.  And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are a part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.”

— Max Planck

Science vs. Mystery.  I have a friend who takes great pleasure in taking my expressions of wonder and amazement at the ever-changing ways the universe presents itself and trying to boil them down to simple occurrences that can be explained by Science.  I am very much in favor of Science.  Certainly, I could never say that I have the sort of interest and understanding that the great physicist, Max Planck, had; but I do enjoy learning about the way things work.  That I have such an interest is, to me, amazing and mysterious.

For all the pleasure I find in learning about the way things work, from the way my muscles work together to move my body to the way the cells in those muscles work in order to make the muscles function, all that understanding only leads me again to conclude that I am a miraculous mysterious being.  Planck raises the point that we can never really solve the ultimate mystery of nature because we, ourselves, are a part of that mystery.  I would have to agree, but I don’t think it is just a matter of being too close to the subject to be objective.

We can explain the processes that combine to make our bodies function, but we cannot explain the mystery of the Mind that is great enough to invent such a thing.  We can explain the way that muscles move our fingers, but there is something mysterious in the way that some people use their fingers to build houses, some use them to write, some create great works of Art, some play music — we can explain movement, but the mystery lies in what animates our souls and calls us to take our biology to another level and choose to exist as more than just organisms explainable by Biology.

Nature, ultimately, is a wondrous mystery.  It calls to us to discover scientifically the answers to the way things are made.  And it calls us to reach beyond what we know to gaze in wonder and awe on the beauty, the order, the limitless possibility of being a part of something infinite.  As our understanding grows, our sense of wonder grows even greater.  Each day is a celebration of the inexplicable miracle that lies beyond our attempts to define or limit it.

“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.”

— Joseph Campbell

Where is your sacred space?  This week, mine has been in the woods.  I have watched the changes of Autumn blow through the treetops, painting them with a new brush.  I have listened to the whisper of the wind in the trees and the soft sound of leaves fluttering through the air and landing silently on the ground.  There is a special energy of change at this time of year; and when I feel it, I am drawn into reflection on my own changing life.

The woods in Fall are a wonderful place to find the entrance to my own awareness.  It is in my sacred space that I see the vast panorama of my own life — the growth and changes and new awarenesses that have brought me from my beginnings to the place where I now stand.  It is not the woods that are sacred, but the holy space inside my own being that I find once again on a breezy, sunny, golden yellow Autumn afternoon.  There, in the context of the changing energies of Fall, I find that part of myself that recognizes the endings and beginnings that carry me forward to the days the lie ahead.

Soon it will be winter; and as stillness blankets the land, I will open the door to the silent corner of my own sacred space and explore myself in a deep and quiet way.  We carry it with us — our sacred space — and we can go there any time we choose.  If we are very lucky, we can leave the door ajar; and, standing on the threshold, let the sacredness of our own space mingle with the sacred energy of all creation.  In knowing ourselves, we become aware of who we truly are.  It is knowing ourselves in the midst of the whole of all that is; and knowing that we are a part — an integral part — that makes sense of our journey.

Come with me to the woods.  Bring your sacred space with you and let the breeze of change blow through your life.  Reflect on your endings and your beginnings.  Look toward the dancing treetops and the golden sun and know that the farewell of Fall will open the door to realizing your potential.