I was recently invited to sift through my past year and reflect both on a recalled and prominent moment of insight, and on ways to carry its wisdom into the New Year. It’s an interesting spiritual practice.
At first, I doubted any unique awareness had penetrated my gray matter deeply enough to set the brain case on fire, as Bertie Wooster might say, but in exploring the idea, I realized I have tiny insights every day; I think we all do. Big epiphanies are rare (for me), but looking back over the year was helpful because the retrospective perspective allowed me to see how the momentary understandings may accrue into deeper ones, if we pursue them with focus and enliven them with our actions.
And I learned that even established and deepening rituals can become more profound by scrutinizing their intent and value. Why am I doing this? What aspect of my growth does it serve? How does it enrich what I’m offering others? Sitting with the symbols, metaphors, and archetypes that arise when we consider our rituals is helpful. If our spiritual practices aren’t transforming who we are and how we move in the world, perhaps we can explore and retrieve their value, alter them, or discard them and seek other ways of conscious becoming and meaningful being.
Here was my insight on a ritual that began with lighting candles and evolved into what we call our Gentle Time:
When we both retired a few years ago, we stumbled for a time, searching for new ways to begin days that had always started with us rushing, spinning, and leaving in separate directions.
I began lighting candles in the kitchen and great room as I moved through them in the morning to make our coffee and feed the cats, while my husband walked and fed the five rescue dogs. Then, we’d sit with our coffee, the four-leggeds snuggling on the couch with my husband and beside me on my chair, and we would enjoy the morning’s stillness, the flicker of the candles, and the rising sun. Sometimes, we’d read to each other; or we’d share what we’d read or dreamt about the night before, discuss our anxiety for the world and our country’s increasing disparities (and how to solve them all), and set out our plans for the new day.
That simple practice of lighting candles has evolved into what Phillip calls our Gentle Time, and it all began with the lighting of the candles. My favorite insight this year came at midsummer, when I paused to consider the sun was rising and there was no logical need for candlelight. I realized then that we’d created a valued ritual that now holds deep meaning for the way we begin each morning.
I’m like an acolyte, in service to life’s Great Mystery; lighting the candles to consecrate the gift of a new day. They wake us up to the sacred space which surrounds us everywhere, and the Love that binds us to it. I realized last summer that it’s so much more than a habit of lighting candles and beginning the day quietly; it’s beginning each day with reverence and gratitude. And this realization has begun to change the way we complete our work throughout the day.
In the new year (well, starting now, thanks to the slowing and pondering offered by writing the requested reflection), we’ve decided to consciously end our day with a Gentle Time as well, turning off the discouraging news programs, the movies–and yes, even PBS–to again light a candle and just be together, grateful for the day and its gifts, sharing the ways we’ve each tried to add our own light to the world during these precious hours, or acknowledging missed chances and committing to trying again tomorrow. Such practices help us to live more consciously—and so we heal, we make ourselves whole, and we evolve.
Tomorrow, I have a surgery to repair a torn meniscus, so I’ll be offline for a time to focus on healing and the holidays.
I also wanted to share three of my favorite charities, if anyone’s casting about for a way to help during this season of giving. I know there are greater needs than we can meet, but everything we share makes us more profoundly understand how deeply we’re all connected. Feel free to share your own favorite charities in the comments.
The first I offer for your consideration is local to Madison, Wisconsin. A dear friend and gifted physician has led an effort to create a hospice/home for the homeless, which I see as both a blessed goal and dire need. She’s connected with other agencies and gifted helpers, and Solace Friends Inc. plans to open this home in 2022. You can read more about this and make donations at solacefriends.org
The second charity is Unbound. Phillip and I have participated with Unbound as sponsors for 30 years. When you go to the website, you can search through the profiles of elderly people and children all over the world, all of whom are in need of your help. You choose one (or more) and “sponsor” them by sending a small monthly monetary donation that provides basic needs for them and, of course, contributes to their family’s welfare as well. You’re encouraged to exchange e-mails with your friend, and translators assist, so no worries about language barriers. We currently sponsor a young man in Guatemala whom we’ve been honored and delighted to know since he was a small child.
The third charity is your local animal rescue organization, and if your health and the ongoing pandemic allow, they can always use volunteers as well.
I wish us all a bright and blessed New Year. Be merry, and gentle peace to you and your beloveds.
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