If you are anything like me there are moments when you feel far from this degree of brightness yet in reading these words today I am moved by the beauty and hope they represent.
A clear night sky in Little Melton (the village where I live just outside Norwich) reveals many more stars than we would be able to see in the City. Mark and I have often stood outside in the garden trying to make out ‘the plough’ and other less obvious configurations. A lower pollution level allows us to see more - an experience we knew more sharply when staying on Bryher, an off-island in the Isles of Scilly. While trying to feel our way home one night with no lighting and no torch, a glance up at the sky revealed stars in numbers we had never before witnessed. It was breath taking, all we could do was stand silently and look; ‘When I consider the heavens, the works your hands have made, the moon and the stars which you have ordained, what is man or woman....?’ Some things take us beyond ourselves to a wider knowledge that is impossible to identify with words. I read recently that there are 200 billion identified stars let alone the number unidentified. It blows the mind.
Of course our meditation experience is a prime example of moving beyond the limit of words to a place of silence and awe. This is often occluded by our own personal pollutions of pre-occupation and self concern, yet the dark cave of the heart remains the place where new light may be found. For me this remains an absolute truth even within the trying nature of disease that is frightening and unknown. The regular twice daily commitment to just being with the source of all being provides a means of enlightenment, wider understanding and new knowledge to us all, whatever form the darkness of our own particular fears and uncertainty may take.
The darkness can be a very threatening place. A newspaper report last week described appalling smog conditions in China where ‘choking smog paralysed a north-eastern Chinese city as visibility fell to under 10 metres and pollution levels soared to 40 times the recommended daily level.’ There is a picture of a young girl masked and blurred while other indistinct figures loom in the grey mist behind her. We witnessed this at a less threatening level when visiting China four years back. Beijing is characterised in my mind as an unwieldy mix of old and new; ancient Buddhist temples and sophisticated modern shops, obvious wealth and less obvious poverty all swathed in a louring pall of grey pollution.
A picture of life I guess as a bundle of horror and glory in which clarity can be hard to find. How to handle such incongruity? A regular meditation practice is no way of floating above reality as some people suggest to me it might. There is much more to it than that. Rather it is an experience that may be known at the heart of everything however trying or joyful that particular time may be. Acceptance seems to be a key word, not fighting those things that feel like pollutants but knowing at the heart of them a presence that has capacity to transform - not magically but gently, allowing us to learn whatever our particular circumstances need to teach.
I am about to lead a lunch time meditation at Norwich Cathedral and have words to read from Patrick Woodhouse: ‘Teach us O Christ the quiet way down....thus shall we know your lightness of being; and from the dark cave of our hearts rise up and live a strong, new day...’ This comes from his beautiful book, ‘With you is the Well of Life’- do find it if you have not already!
So, as ever, I discover that great truths are held in paradox. Our suffering and those things we feel we will never completely understand, are if accepted and held carefully, a part of our potential to see more widely and more clearly. ‘Even the darkness to you is not dark and the night is as clear as the day’ says the Psalmist. Mysteriously our greatest insights and potential for enlightened living seem to emerge from the darkest times. So in this way, despite any reserve on our part, we are entitled to identify with the members of the ancient church at Philippi as they respond to St. Paul’s urging to shine like bright stars in the world.
One of the most joyful examples of this unselfconscious shining may be the 17th century English poet and clergyman, Thomas Traherne, cited as ‘One of the most radiantly infectiously happy mortals this earth has seen’. In his writing, ‘The Celestial Stranger’, he says ‘’...Verily this star is a nest of angels - this little star so wide and so full of mysteries - so capacious and full of territories containing innumerable repositories of delight when we draw near...”
Perhaps the WCCM provides us with some experience of a star that is a nest of angels! It is certainly a participation in spiritual community that enables us to grow and shine more brightly through both challenging and joyful times. Within our shared meditation practice there are profound resources prompting us to accept and know ourselves more fully. Inevitably we are then more able to accept others as they are and thus enjoy greater richness and authenticity in our relationships and life generally. This commonality of spirit is described by John Main as he writes, ‘In others, I recognise the same Spirit that lives in my heart, the Spirit that constitutes my real self. In this recognition...the other person comes into being as he/she is, their real self not a manipulated extension of myself. True community happens in the light of drawing each other into the light of true being.’
So we enable each other to shine more brightly. I feel privileged to know people from the community who consistently support and encourage me during the unpredictability of my illness. My daily meditation practice helps me to ‘polish the mirror’ so that I can see more clearly the opportunity for engagement and fulfilment that each day brings. ‘In you is the fountain of life’ writes the Psalmist, ‘in Your light we see light’. As we endeavour to live in the genuineness of that light, and the insight it illumines, I believe it becomes a means of healing to ourselves and to each other. By that I mean a day to day increase in clarity that leads to a wider more inclusive vision and greater joy.
I learnt a chorus at Sunday school when I was about 4 or 5years old and can remember prancing around energetically singing it at home, enjoying the syncopated rhythm and pictures of candles it brought to mind. It still impresses me as an assertive and happy expression of the inner light of life. You may feel like having a sing (or even a prance) if you remember it too!
‘This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, this little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.’
Bye for now!
* Anne is the WCCM regional co-ordinator for East Anglia and runs 'Noggs Barn', a building in her garden used for meditation and retreat days.