This Little Light of Mine

“Some of my friends don’t know who they belong to. Some can’t get a single thing to work inside,” lyrics by Gram Parson, from “A Song for You.”

I spent years in the condition Gram Parsons describes in the song lyric. I had no idea who I belonged to. I seemed to be isolated in the universe. I would sometimes have a fleeting feeling I was part of something larger than myself,  but it was usually an odd inarticulate sense. It was certainly not a feeling or a sensation I could call up for support or comfort.

I had great difficulty trying to get anything to work inside. I had a head full of noise – insecurities, uncertainties, fear. That didn’t stop me from trying to accomplish things – a writing career followed by successful efforts to launch and grow a publishing company. From the outside, my life probably looked orderly and deliberate. In reality my life was a whirl of dashing from one thing to another – putting out some fires, starting others.

At some point during adulthood, we all reach a point when life just doesn’t work any longer. When we get to this point, we usually realize life hasn’t been working for a long time. Even if we do everything right – whatever that means to us – things just stop working inside.

If we have half a brain and a little bit of guts, we throw up our hands and say, “Wait, just wait! I want off this crazy train.” Tom Waits described that feeling of desperation well in the song, “Fumblin’ with the Blues.” He sang, “Two dead ends and you still got to choose.” That’s when it’s time to change your life.

Some turn to alcohol or drugs. Some turn to therapy. Some turn to spirituality. I tried all three. What worked was the therapy and spirituality. Slowly I began to become aware there was a tiny light inside. I began to gain some new enthusiasm for life. I loved singing the words, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”

At the time, I didn’t really understand that tiny light. I thought it was mine, and I thought it would only show up intermittently. When I sensed it, I would feel wonderful warmth and encouragement. Inevitably, though, things inside would go dark again and the noise in my head – the fears and insecurities – would return.

Real change in my life began as I came to learn that the tiny spec of light wasn’t mine at all, but something larger. And it wasn’t distant and intermittent. It was constant and inextinguishable. I came to realize the light was spirit and it was always in me. The light wasn’t tiny at all; it was everything. What was tiny was my ability to perceive it, my ability to truly believe in it, my ability to call it forth into my life.

The noise doesn’t go away when you come to believe in the infinite light within. Fear doesn’t go away. But it becomes less important. You notice the insecurities and anxieties, but you let them go. They’re the cage-rattling of the ego. You learn that the noise doesn’t have to threaten the truth, and the fear doesn’t have to disrupt your life.

If you focus on the light inside it grows until you are aware of it most of the time. You come to realize whatever truth we find in this world resides there. The light will guide you. The fears and insecurities that were once vicious monsters become mere gnats that are easily swatted away. That’s when you truly know who you belong to,  and that’s when things really begin to work inside.


Watching Love Watching Back

So, who am I? Such a huge question. Who am I and why am I here? When I was a teenager and later as a young adult, these questions were critically important. They meant everything.

Later life, I became surprised by the lightness of the questions. The intensity is completely gone.

These questions were so  mysterious once. Who am I? Why am I here? They were colossal. Existential chaos lived in the unknowing of these weighty considerations. They were the only questions that mattered.

Yet they no longer hold any mystery for me. The answer to these questions are as simple as breathing. I am spirit looking out through the eyes of a human being. While the answer may seem pat, it is true. I have always been with spirit. I always will be. And I am here because love is present.

When I was young, the questions swirled in a dizzy wind of change; change surrounded me every day. Now, the answer to the questions is unchanging. And though the world still seems to change, I know that’s an illusion. Only its appearance changes. The spirit within does not change. That is my truest self.

I have a worldly self – some call it the ego, some call it the false self. It walks and talks and has a personality. It grew up in this world. I remember a moment when I was young – about eight years old – when the idea of who I was moved to the earthly self. At the time, the shift was overwhelming. That feeling of overwhelm happened a number of times over a period of a few weeks. I would suddenly realize I was actually a human being.

That thought – that I’m a real person – was so surprising, so startling, that I would run inside from play, plop myself on my bed and just spin around with this new idea. This extraordinary feeling was physical. My bed seemed to fly around the room. I would think the thought over and over – I am real. It was tantalizing, frightening, and thrilling. It was a new and powerful thought – that I was a person, a distinct human being, and that I was real.

From there I began the dusty trek through the world. My ridiculously dear self had to go through the rough thickets of life – falling short, knowing that my tender core was hopelessly incomplete, raw, and vulnerable. And of course I was drawn to those very souls who could effortlessly penetrate even my strongest defenses. And since hurt people hurt people, I attacked back.

Through all the years, I would get the taste of something greater in life, whether it was young love or early spiritual strivings that made me believe I could walk into heaven intact. Young love was followed by a more mature love where we would negotiate a truce – a pact between two able warriors. But the pressure of the world is unrelenting, and it was only a matter of time before we would take up the emotional weapons – reluctantly, out of necessity, but brutally – and use them on each other.

All the time, my true self was brimming with love but hidden from me, far out of reach. In the world of my true self, no balm was needed for my wounds, nor even for the wounds I had scored against others in my frustration and confusion. For all is healed in the presence in the true self, the Krishna, the Christ within. My true self waited for me in the place where nothing changes, where nothing is real but love. Some call it heaven. It’s the place we came from, where we were born, where all road eventually lead.

What a way to see the world, from the eye of the truest self. The world is gorgeous in spite of its fiery delusions, and it is even more beautiful when we come to see the help we may bring to this rough and eager place we once called home, knowing that our Christ-self looks upon it all and sees nothing but love and offers nothing but healing. In this earthly world, with each person we meet, we can see the Christ within – even if just an ember glowing – and see that this person before us, struggling so hard with life, is actually at home with spirit all the while, watching love watching back.

Healing Through Forgiveness

Forgiveness is an easy virtue to praise. Forgiveness is psychologically healing. Many believe it is absolutely necessary for spiritual growth. That’s all great. But when you are struggling with some very real wrongs that have been perpetrated against you or those you love, forgiveness can seem nearly impossible.

How can you forgive without actually accepting – nearly condoning – the offense or crime? Some say, we should forgive the sinner but not the sin. That thought is nearly worthless in the face of brutality or deep betrayal. Some offenses are so hurtful, so permanently damaging, that forgiveness seems a trite and wholly inappropriate response.

I was in a group recently where forgiveness was discussed. Out of 30 people, about a third insisted there are some wrongs that just can’t be forgiven. Those who rejected forgiveness were emphatic, deeply offended by the thought of forgiving grievous wrongs.

Yet not forgiving means you have to hold bitterness, resentment, and even hate. When you hold these dark emotions, the perpetrator in effect hurts you over and over and over. There’s one simple fact that argues for forgiveness, that makes forgiveness an imperative: forgiveness heals the forgiver.

Nelson Mandela said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Mandela couldn’t get his 27 years back – the best years, the most fruitful years of a life. Yet if he kept his bitterness and hatred, he would be useless as a man and worthless as a leader

Some say forgive, but don’t forget. That’s not forgiveness. Forgiveness must be unconditional or it is not forgiveness at all.

Forgiveness is a psychologically healthy act. In an article in Unity Magazine, Carla McClellan, quotes psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky saying that forgiveness “is a shift in thinking toward someone who has harmed you. It has nothing to do with reconciliation, forgetting, excusing, or justice. When you are ready, forgiveness is a powerful choice you can make that can lead to greater well-being and relationships. This choice carries with it an intention to heal yourself.”

Even more than a psychologically healthy act, forgiveness is spiritual cleansing. In his book, “Radical Forgiveness, Making Room for the Miracle,” Colin Tipping explains that ordinary forgiveness is letting bygones be bygones – letting go of the past while still holding onto the idea that something wrong or bad happened. He believes that’s a difficult task and that it usually takes a very long time before we begin to feel the forgiveness.

Instead, he suggests trying “radical forgiveness,” which he describes as a deep commitment to releasing the past. The release is more total since it involves a shift in perception that allows us to see that what happened was actually perfect from a spiritual point of view. It is experienced as a profound insight and can occur in an instant.

Tipping says that radical forgiveness enables us to see the spiritual meaning in any situation. We are able to recognize that life is divinely guided and unfolding for each of us exactly how it needs to unfold for our highest good. We are able to surrender to the flow of life and to learn that, ultimately, there is nothing to forgive.

When we receive this insight, we can let go of being a victim and find peace, even in the most unpleasant memories of what happened. Our hearts open and we are able to experience spiritual oneness with the world.

Forgiveness is necessary to relieve ourselves of the dark and damaging emotions of bitterness, resentment and hate. Those emotions will eat us like cancer. We can – and must – purge these destructive forces with true forgiveness. We can forgive and be healed. When we allow forgiveness, the world changes. The veil of darkness is lifted and we can see we are surrounded by light.

Even in Utter Darkness, You Can Find the Light

When things in our lives are most difficult, our contact with spirit may seem lost altogether. When our life grows dark – and it will happen no matter how true our path – it can seem we are completely alone. Yet it is in this darkness that we sometimes find our way to a new closeness with spirit.

The whisper of the spirit inside is always audible – if we take the time to listen – even when we’re experiencing the dark night of the soul. When our days are rough and seemingly impossible, spirit is just as close as our breath, telling us always that we are loved and we are safe. Yet it is very difficult to hear the voice of spirit through the roar of pain, fear, and doubt. At times like this, we can turn to faith to find spirit, and at times like this, we may find a deeper connection to spirit. The darkness may actually be a new door into the light.

The spirit within may not be what we’ve imagined. Spirit is visceral, spirit is personal, and spirit can be frightening. Most of all, spirit is close. Spirit is at the very center of our being. It is the essence of who we are.

Sometimes the distance between our everyday life and our spirit life seems to be counted in miles, even years. But this is an illusion. Our everyday life and our spirit life are one in the same. Our everyday life is our spirit life. Yet often it doesn’t seem that way. We can experience a great distance between ourselves and spirit. While spirit may be a breath away, sometimes that breath is not apparent. We can get trapped by the illusion that spirit is far, far away, and between us and spirit, there is nothing but darkness. There are times when we have to traverse the dark chaos to reach spirit at all.

If we’re not willing to cross the dark abyss, then out spirit life may seem to vanish altogether. “It is precisely because we resist the darkness in ourselves that we miss the depths of the loveliness, beauty, brilliance, creativity, and joy that lie at our core,” said Thomas Moore in Dark Nights of the Soul.

When we are facing darkness, it is most important that we reach into the abyss for light. It is always there when we reach out. “Facing the darkness, admitting the pain, allowing the pain to be pain, is never easy. This is why courage – big-heartedness – is the most essential virtue on the spiritual journey,” Matthew Fox said in his book, Original Blessing. He went on to say that “if we fail to let pain be pain, then pain will haunt us in nightmarish ways. We will become pain’s victims instead of the healers we might become.”

There is no way to escape darkness on our spiritual journey. Darkness is part of life, part of our existence. We just have to make sure we don’t fall to the fear-based temptation to believe that once the darkness settles in that life will always be dark. In the book, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations, Matthew Fox said, “Faith takes us to deep places, to the ruptures in our self-confidence and our lives. Do not settle for spiritual comfort all the time. Darkness is divine also.”

When we are willing to cross the abyss, we not only re-engage with spirit, we gain courage. There is great freedom that comes when we are able to sit in our darkness with faith that we are still surrounded by the grace of spirit. In the song, “I Found Out,” John Lennon said, “No one can harm you if you feel your own pain.”

Find the Bad, Honor the Bad . . . Then Let It Go

Only when we are spiritually awake, can we really help others. And only by helping others can we stay spiritually awake. But to help others and stay in the light, we must be willing to confront our own darkness.

A true spiritual awakening is more than just positive feelings about God or a higher power. In order to live in sustained spiritual light, we have to process our darkness and turn even that into spiritual wellness. We have to dive into the darkness of our inner self and come out into the brilliant light on the other side. The other side of darkness is always light.

To keep our spiritual life whole, we have to see and acknowledge who we really are, all of it, every little piece of our torn and suffering self. We have to uncover our trapped grief, our hurt child, and release it before we can heal ourselves and be of any real use to others.

In the 1960s folk song, “Pack up Your Sorrows,” Richard Farina sang, “If somehow you could pack up your sorrows and give them all to me, you would lose them, and I know how to use them. Give them all to me.”

The idea that you can use your difficulties or sorrows and focus them into purpose is not unique. Farina is also the author of the novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, which further celebrates authenticity gained through the rough side of life.

Unless we accept ourselves, even the parts we instinctively hide, we cannot be happy, we cannot be whole. That means accepting even the bad, and that involves digging deep inside ourselves to uncover the hidden darkness.

There’s a passage in All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, where the narrator is talking with his friend who is also the governor of Louisiana, Willie Stark. The narrator says, “You did some good things, building bridges, building schools and hospitals, but there was always corruption as part of it. Why did you have to bring in the bad?”

And Willie replies that he didn’t bring in the bad. He insists that the bad was always there, that he used the bad to create the good. “You have to make the good out of the bad because that is all you have to make it out of.”

In another part of the book, the narrator says, “We students of history always learn that human beings are very complicated contraptions and that they are not good or bad but are good and bad and the good comes out of the bad and the bad out of the good, and the devil takes the hindmost.”

Carl Jung noted that “if a doctor wishes to help a human being he must be able to accept him as he is.” In order to do so, Jung insists that the doctor must accept himself. But in order to accept himself, the doctor must confront the most despicable aspect of himself, the darkest recess, and then forgive it.

There is no virtue in seeing just the good and accepting just the good. Praising just the positive and denying the negative is a form of willing blindness. And the truest place to face darkness is within ourselves. That’s where the real work of growth begins. Jung said. “I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”

Our unexamined attitudes, our uncovered darkness, our unhealed grief, all bind into a wall that holds us back from our most authentic self and keeps us small. To awaken, to really grow, we must drag our darkness out into the light where it can dissolve, where it can shrink to a manageable size and haunt us no longer.