Into the Light

The question on everyone’s lips is: “Did I run into the light or did the light run into me?

This question takes different forms depending on our interests and orientations. For an astronomer or physicist, the predawn light has been streaming out into the solar system and beyond, in all directions and without a moment’s interruption, for four billion years. Its daily penetrations into predawn darkness—lighting up the mesh of tree branches and backyard fence posts as Earth rotates around again—is experienced by people and animals as the first rays of a new day touching down on their bit of land.

Meanwhile, beyond our plot of land, beyond our whole planet, the entire solar system and beyond is as full of sunlight as a mountain lake is full of drops of water. Yet all of that light-drenched space, out to the Oort Cloud which marks the edges of our solar system, appears as dark as the bottom of a mine shaft in the dead of night. Only our moon and the other solar planets reflect back to us bits of sunlight on their way out into the cosmos.

Until light runs into an object, it is invisible. Never mind that there is not a cubic nanometer of space in this universe that is not saturated with the light that has been streaming forth from countless suns for at least 13 billion years.

Our visible world is a dance of shadows cast by whatever is standing in the way when some of this light runs into it. Shadows draw our attention; not the stream of light that we cannot see; not the sun that blinds us in seconds if we turn full face and wide eyed towards it.

If a person’s orientation to light is more spiritual than astronomical, they may use words such as enlighten, illuminate, and elucidate; expressing both the importance of light for our world and for the clarity and brightness cherished by our inner being.

It’s not just for our daily lives that the presence of light is fundamental. Something in us feels related to this light. For instance, the presence of light is regularly reported in near-death experiences. This is encouraging to those of us still here; just as the discovery of another planet in synchronous orbit on the far side of our Sun, whose inhabitants are living in peace and harmony, would encourage us to feel hope for our own future.

Imagining ourselves, or our loved ones who have departed this world before us, immersed in a realm of warm, welcoming light, can give us a comforting vision of another, kinder life awaiting us. Of course, we can’t fully imagine how this other life would play out, how it could provide an alternate reality for our newly disembodied being—suddenly shorn of arms, legs, eyes and beating hearts. But we can hold in our minds and hearts a vision of a continuing life in which we will be embraced in a warm, healing and illuminating light; our own being also woven from this fabric of living radiance, since there is only light to provide threads for the warp and weft of a consciousness abiding in eternity as a being of light.

When I was two years old, I drowned in Lake Ontario, and I sometimes wonder if I had something like the experience that adults the world round have reported, after they have died on operating tables (their clinical deaths documented in hospital records); then returned to life, their hearts once more beating. Since I have no conscious memory of such an experience (I just feel that an unremembered near-death experience might explain a life-long tendency to find this world strangely incomplete), I like to believe that when it comes our time to pass from our present embodied lives in the world, we will experience another realm in which the frustrating edges of things that obstructed our efforts and aspirations here will be replaced by a welcoming illumination, a kinder understanding of what we had hoped to achieve here but couldn’t.

I wonder if this is more a fantasy born of unrealized longings than anything that pertains to the phenomena of light as we know it, here and now, in this world. Those of us gifted with sight can attest to the importance of light in our travels among the things and people of this world. It makes sense to appreciate the presence of light in our lives. And it is comforting to hear that a version of the light we know—transformed into a welcoming warmth in place of the light of a sun we don’t dare look at directly—may one day welcome us into its arms. It is comforting to hear that this kind of light is almost universally reported in near-death experiences.

As far as I know, I’ve never personally experienced this kind of light. Yet, our very language embraces the idea that our highest aspirations are a reaching out to a realm in which light is at the heart of everything. Not only in words such as enlighten and illuminate (in which light is contrasted to dark), but in describing how our burdens will one day be “lightened” (contrasting light to heaviness), we find this same word. It seems that the idea of lightness is profoundly woven into our image of a kinder, happier realm which we hope is awaiting us. And if such a realm exists, might it be open to us here and now?

I was once trusted by a man I met in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, to live on his land, where he was building a house that was very important to him; he was building it without the use of a single metal nail, screw or hinge. He invited me to stay there, in a large Teepee, while he was at sea on a scallop trawler for its two-week run. He shared with me that he had trouble trusting others but that he trusted me. He also shared that he carried a barrel on his back and that he longed for the day when he could lay it down. Perhaps, because I was not a fellow fisherman living in Lunenburg, he could see that I too was staggering under the weight of my own past, desperately searching for a new relationship with life.

That image has remained with me almost 50 years later. It captures for me the deep longing among human beings to lessen the burdens we accumulate in our minds and hearts over the years. Who among us doesn’t yearn to lighten the burden of our failure to realize our dreams and to help others realize theirs? Who doesn’t hope that if we can allow light– the medium that carries the understanding, clarity, and caring for which we have reached out since taking our first breath–to enter our hearts and minds, then the barrel, under which we have been staggering, will slip off, as freely as mist rising off a lake and dancing in the first rays of dawn?

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