Maybe Light My Fire

In the natural world, or at least when human ingenuity impinges upon it, we see moths flying into candle flames and hovering around porch lights and street lamps. If a sea captain were to steer toward a lighthouse on a premonitory jutting out from the coast, his ship would come to grief, like a moth scorched by a candle flame.

The bright lights of Vegas and TV advertisements all seem designed with the moth mind in mind, scamming for our money while purporting to satisfy some conditioned ‘need’ or another. In the absence of lives that are fulfilling in their own right, such impulses circle around realms of imagined satisfaction like fireflies circling a field in late summer–with no motivation other than to catch the nearest flashing light.

So why, then, do spiritual traditions use ‘light’ as their image for realization, redemption, and great fulfillment? What kind of light are these traditions referring to?

Bright light is used in interrogations to exhaust and disorient their subjects. Yet the first light of dawn—if we are quiet and attentive enough—can draw us forth into feelings of presence and hopefulness, kindling interest in what the day will bring.

It seems that when light is used as an image of understanding, (illumination) and realization (enlightenment), we are being invited to explore the darkness of our own confusion and discouragement; and then the light that instills clarity and hopefulness is found within us, not outside.

In my experience, this light is more a glow than an intense flame; more a pervasion of warmth and comfort than a deluge of illumination from some external source; more ubiquitous than locatable phenomenon; more inherent than an occurrence, no matter how exceptional it may appear to be.

In the workings of society and the world stage, it seems that the light of caring and kindness comes from within the actors, not the floodlights of the theater or the footlights at the front of the stage. Unless we contribute our own light, the illumination of cities that never sleep, and the screens that are never truly turned off, will confuse us. It’s not that there is no greater light than our own, but that we won’t be able to tell the difference between the interrogation bulb and the dawning of a new day, unless we nurture the light of being within ourselves and recognize its resonance with the greater light into which we have been born.

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