Several years ago the husband of a friend had a life-saving experience of light. During a psychotic episode due to a severe infection he felt he was in a pitch black space. In the distance he could see a point of light. He knew that he would survive if he could keep the point of light in sight. For him, “the light at the end of the tunnel” was much more than a metaphor.
In a few days, we arrive at the longest night and shortest day of the year: the Winter Solstice. Flicking a switch to turn a light has dulled our appreciation for the natural rhythm of light and dark. Winter Solstice—the return of the light—meant incalculably more to people who lived by firelight and candle light. Consequently we can have light on demand. We can easily get stuck in the literal meaning of light, but we also associate light with consciousness. A return of the light implies a return or an increase in consciousness.
When I started thinking about what needed to be said in this December article, the famous lines from Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities came to mind:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . . .
Dickens’ first edition came out in 1859. The frontispiece has two panels: on the left, a bourgeois garden party; on the right, a poor slob sitting in a cell in beggars’ prison. We could easily update the pictures for 2017.
Then I consulted the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, the I Ching, perhaps the oldest of all books. You can read the I Ching as a wisdom book; you can also approach it as an oracle. I asked the I Ching a simple question: What needs to be said in the December issue of the Ommani Jewel. The I Ching’s answer surprised me: “Progress.” The sun rising over the earth images “Progress” in the I Ching:
The sun rises over the earth:
The image of Progress.
Thus the superior man himself
Brightens his bright virtue.
The rising of the sun over the earth instructs the “superior man” to brighten his “bright virtue.” The “superior man,” the chün tsu in Chinese, represents “the ideal of a person who uses divination to order his/her life in accordance with the Tao rather than willful intention.” TaoRi – “literally, The Way, is the flow or stream of creative energy that makes life possible, the way in which everything happens and the way on which everything happens.”
Richard Wilhelm, translator of the I Ching, comments on the image of the sun rising over the earth. He writes that light of the rising sun is by nature clear. The higher it rises, the brighter it shines, “spreading the pristine purity of its rays over an ever-widening area.” So too the “real nature” of the human being is originally good, “but it becomes clouded by contact with earthly things and therefore needs purification before it can shine forth in its native clarity.” What, then, are the earthly things that obscure the natural brightness of the human being?
Our unhealed wounds and the conditioning that has shaped and mis-shaped us, distort our essential nature. Although expressed in various ways, the great spiritual traditions agree that we let progressively more of our innate radiance shine forth as we clear away the accumulated emotional and mental debris. In this way we “brighten” our “bright virtue” and bring about progress, an “ever widening expansion and clarity.”
The sun will continue to rise following the Winter Solstice. We will gradually have more and more daylight. If we want more expansion and clarity, however, the I Ching tells us we must brighten our bright virtue. Simply put: we have to work on ourselves if we want to affect progress. We have to identify and heal our wounds. We have to recognize those aspects of our conditioning that prevent us from expressing the goodness in us.
It’s up to us to change the story of the best of times and the worst of times. Ultimately we must serve something greater than our narrow self-interest. The Chinese called this the Tao, the path, the way.
I wish you all a time of reflection and the peace and courage to brighten your bright virtue as we celebrate the Return of the Light.