31 October Big light, little light
BIG LIGHT, LITTLE LIGHT
In my morning meditation I can see a great tree at the bottom of the garden, and as part of the work I have a ritual involving lighting a candle. One dark morning before I lit the candle I noticed that just to one side of the tree, in the distance, was a tiny light, just a single point. I lit the candle, and thought what a pity, the big bright light of the candle quite outshone the tiny light in the distance.
But then I saw that by simply looking beyond the candle flame, I could still see the small light in the distance. It was not an either–or, but a both–and.
Now to me the candle flame was symbolic of the spiritual life. It carried the promise of connection with the divine. It represented the living soul, burning ceaselessly and inspiringly inside me. It was comforting and reassuring. It represented the immanence of the sacred in all the world.
So what did the little point of light in the distance represent? I decided that it said something about the Ultimate, something about the farther reaches of spirituality, where there was absolute purity, absolute freedom, the giving up of everything that was false.
Of course in reality it was the distant light that was the big one and the candle flame that was the small one. The candle flame just looked bigger because it was nearer. But the distant light had to be big, otherwise it could not be seen so far away.
And it seemed to me that the fact that I could see both at the same time gave the lie to the usual assumption that you have to give up the comforts of the lower in order to ascend to the heights of the higher. Why not have both at the same time? There is so much arrogance in the pursuit of spiritual worth, and in just seeing things one way, as if there were just one truth.
I began to see that we don’t have to give up one in order to have the other. We can have both. On one level we can have the immanent, the close by, the approachable symbols of the divine. On another level we can have the transcendent, the ultimate, the farther reaches of human nature, as Maslow put it. We don’t have to give up one in order to have the other. And of course we can have our everyday life too, where we go to Sainsburys, put out the dog, vacuum the carpet, switch the TV on or off, and all that.
We are complex beings, who live on a number of different levels, and have the power and sometimes the impetus to explore levels which are less familiar and less well known. Perhaps the fact that we are human beings doesn’t mean that we can’t be divine beings as well?
And further still, suppose the distant light went out? What if it were not there in the morning? Perhaps it would be enough to remember it, to know that it had been there? Once I have seen it, do I have to go on seeing it? Or is it enough to have seen it once, and hold that knowledge in my heart?