I woke up on Saturday morning to find Paris in pieces. For a couple of hours after the Guardian app pushed an alert to my phone, I kept crying as waves of grief tore through me. I was fascinated to observe my own reaction. The news hit me harder than some other events because I’ve been to Paris and I love the city. And because a lot of people who live in Paris look just like me and I’ve sat in bars and restaurants just like the ones that were targeted. And because for once, I actually knew it had happened – I almost never watch the news, so I only hear about the things that warrant an alert on my phone. Apparently even the liberal, worldly Guardian newspaper decided they didn’t need to tell me about the Beirut funeral bombing the previous day… a tragedy surely just as worthy of our grieving?
On Saturday morning in Australia, I didn’t know about Beirut but I was weeping for the people who were dying on Friday night in Paris and for our planet and for all of us – for the insanity we’re all caught in, from which there seems no easy escape.
Bad news is shocking because it so often seems to come from nowhere: there’s no gentle slope down into despair. One moment, those of us who are lucky enough to live in wealthy and peaceful communities are happily absorbed in our first world problems. The next, BOOM! The world goes dark, seemingly without much warning.
Or is it simply that we’re not sure what signals to watch for?
Humanity seems to share a collective karmic imprint around the interplay between light and darkness. I have no doubt that long ago, after we fell from grace, we co-created a collective story that said “too much light always leads to collapse into darkness”. Because it happened once, we believed it would inevitably happen again.
The day I learned of the imprint, I kept seeing an image of the death of a star. There was a huge explosion of light, followed by a collapse. When I Googled it later, the interweb told me that when a star is big enough (about 5x the size of our sun) its death usually forms a black hole. The dying star collapses under the weight of its own gravity and creates a vacuum where no light can get in or out.
When I look at my own life and scan the highlights of recorded history, it seems a collapse into contracted states of fear and war regularly follows periods of relatively peaceful expansion. Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. The life of Jesus Christ and the world after his crucifixion. The two best years of my corporate career, followed by the two worst. First the light and then the darkness. But always, the great rebalancing.
I believe almost every person on this planet’s carried the imprint of the fall for eons. It keeps us small and quiet and terrified because when we’re anticipating collapse, it’s not safe to expand too far. Even if we try it, we have a built-in corrective mechanism that kicks in when we push past the edge of our personal expansion threshold. When we really start to open into love, we quickly fall back into fear… unless we clear the imprint.
Despite what the mainstream news tells us, there’s a huge opening to love happening on our planet right now. If my understanding of the imprint is true, it’s not surprising we’re seeing a huge counter-response from the forces that would seek to keep us small and quiet and terrified (and I’m not just talking about ISIS). The question is: what’s our best response?
It’s so easy to take our lives for granted, especially when they’re as comfortable as mine and yours. But there are many people in our world who live in real suffering, day to day, with no prospect of a peaceful existence any time soon. Unexpectedly, the citizens of Paris found themselves there this weekend. And for a few hours, many of us joined them… before we got back to our comfortable lives.
I’ve often wondered whether it’s self-indulgent to live the way I choose to live and where I live and to do the kind of inner work I choose to immerse myself in. (Other people have certainly suggested it could be.) But when I find myself unexpectedly rear-ended emotionally and energetically – either by world events or something closer to me – I’m grateful for the choices I’ve made. Because by choosing to clear the imprints that’ve held me back in the past, I’ve cultivated a greater capacity to experience despair. And by continuing to clear what comes up as I move through this life, I stop new imprints from forming and begin to relieve myself from the need for distraction from pain. At least some of the time, I’m able to simply be with the beauty and the horror. I can lean into the joy and the despair, without running towards or away from either.
So here’s what I’m doing for Paris and Beirut and the rest of our world: I’m lighting a candle against the dark, every day. Lighting a candle isn’t literal – for me, it can be writing some words that touch one person, or working with someone to help rewrite an old fearful story. Or it can be as simple as a timely conversation or a well-placed smile.
It’s the easiest and most powerful to-do list I’ve written yet. I light a candle against the dark every day, because I can. And I do it for all those who can’t.
One candle isn’t very bright, but a million candles can create a furnace. So let’s start a bonfire big enough to outshine the darkness, adding to it one candle at a time. Because if we stand together, this time we’ll stand without falling.
If you’re still suffering after the events of the weekend or from something else that feels out of control, try focusing on your heart and repeating these phrases out loud.
I’m so sorry you’re in despair.
I’m so sorry you’re helpless.
I’m so sorry it’s hopeless.
I’m so sorry there’s nothing you can do.
I’m so sorry you can’t make a difference.
I’m so sorry we can’t have peace in our lifetime.
I’m so sorry you always have to fall.
I’m so sorry the darkness always triumphs.
I’m so sorry that darkness always follows light.
I’m so sorry it’s not safe to shine your light into the world.
I’m so sorry it’s not safe to shine all your light into the world.
I’m so sorry your candle isn’t enough to make a difference.
I’m so sorry we can’t unite our candles to outshine the darkness.