Monday, January 26, 2009

Light

I've been thinking lately about light.
Light at the center of so many rituals and celebrations: Hanukkah, Christmas, Ramadan, and many others. Including lovely Diwali, which was held during our last week in Chennai. Small oil lamps in front of each door, set out on the tops of walls and windows, gathered in groups inside houses that you can peak into as you walk by. And firecrackers - set off in that universal practice of boys, large and small, lighting them in the streets and then racing out of range to hear the pop and see the flash.


In my house, I've strung white lights along the tops of the windows in the dining room and living room. On very cold, grey days, it surprises me each time that I walk through the room to see these magical lights. Not Christmas lights, but winter lights. Several years ago, I wrapped them around the Adirondack chairs in the backyard. At the darkest time of the year, it was good to look out and see the light.


Today, there was still some light in the sky as I walked to the car after teaching a class at 4 o'clock. Two weeks ago, it was pitch dark at that time. I was so pleased that I pointed it out to the man going through the door ahead of me.


This quote about light fell out of one of my yoga books when I was moving them into the dining room as I set up a space for seeing yoga therapy students from home. It came in an email from my younger daughter all the way back in 2004. The subject line was "torch-bearers"; the quotation is attributed to Plato:


The souls of people, on their way to Earth-life, pass through a room full of lights; each takes a taper - often only a spark - to guide it in the dim country of this world. But some souls, by rare fortune, are detained longer - have time to grasp a handful of tapers, which they weave into a torch. These are the torch-bearers of humanity - its poets, seers and saints, who lead and lift the race out of darkness, toward the light. They are the law-givers and saviours, the light-bringers, way-showers and truth-tellers, and without them, humanity would lose its way in the dark.


Pretty nice, huh? I especially like that we all have the same light, and that it's only by virtue of chance (they happen to have time to grasp a few more candles) and by art (weaving a torch sounds pretty impressive) that torch-bearers are a bit different from the rest of us.
Yoga contends that we all have a light within our heart, an inner sun that some might call the self and some might call a soul and some might like to leave it unnamed and some are unsure that it exists. Through the practice of yoga, which is the act of focusing the mind and maintaining that focus over time (yogah citta vrtti nirodah, Sutra I.2 in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras)so that agitation decreases and understanding improves (hmm, knitters, riders, writers, gardeners, does this sound familiar?), we clean the smudges and dust and dirt off of the glass so that the light can shine through.

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