Find the Light
Changing the world starts with this.
I went to an event a few days ago that brought together passionate, committed thought-leaders who are attempting to break through censorship to share their considerable expertise. Brave souls to a person, many speakers presented slide after slide of carefully curated information — studies, data, graphs — to the hundreds of appreciative attendants.
There were standing ovations, dozens of them.
So why did I go home depressed?
Because much of what was presented was a grim litany of everything that is wrong with our world at this time, some of which I already knew, some I didn’t and was unhappy to hear. I don’t need to catalogue it all here, but general categories include censorship, corporate capture, discrimination, and the corruption of power at every level, including the highest.
It’s overwhelming. Yet it’s all real, and pretending it isn’t won’t change a damn thing.
So what to do? I came to a realization this morning: the solution comes from the acting training I did long ago.
Theatre, in its earliest forms, was performed outdoors, in arenas filled with daylight. (And rain sometimes too, but that didn’t stop the show.) An actor’s most important attribute was his (female actors came later, of course) voice; to reach the cheap seats he had to project powerfully and elocute clearly.
Fast-forward a few thousand years. The modern stage has now evolved into a windowless box. The actor’s voice has become and less and less important, as microphones have become ubiquitous — even high school dramatic productions rely on them. (Don’t get me started.)
Stage lighting, once provided by candles (500 years ago), then oil lamps (250 years ago), is now an elaborate essential. Without it, the actors are in total darkness. (Funny, isn’t it, that that’s exactly where the audience is?)
Every good stage actor has learned and internalized this necessary direction: always find the light. Lighting designers work with a grid of changeable lights above the actors to tremendous effect, but no matter how many lights they hang, it’s still the actor’s job to make sure her face is illuminated — so that’s what she does.
This morning, I read the day’s entry by Mark Nepo in his The Book of Awakening. This moved me:
“When brought to the crest of a swell, we can see as far as eternity and the soul has its perspective, but when in the belly of those waves, we are, each of us, for the moment, lost… the work of the inner pilgrim is to keep eternity in our heart and mind’s eye when dropped in the belly of our days.”
I’ve been lost the past few days. Lost in sadness for injured children and adults, for separation of families, for violence and emotional damage inflicted. Grief for what feels to me like humanity’s “belly of our days.”
I brought this heaviness with me into meditation outside, under a shaded porch overhang. As my breathing slowed and my mind finally came into a place of stillness — it can take awhile, especially when I am troubled — I noticed one side of my face warming, and the color inside the eyelid on that side brightening.
All I had to do was tilt my head a fraction of an inch, the tiniest little inclination shift…and suddenly my whole face was fully lit. I had found the sunlight.
I pulled my journal to me and wrote:
Look for the light. It is always there. Like a good actor, find that beam and center yourself underneath its radiant path. Let it illuminate you. Darkness is always there, too… so your job is to see that darkness, recognize it, then take a step to the side to inhabit the light that is always nestled right next to it.
Then I remembered the one piece of the thought-leader event that had gotten lost in my depressed recollection of the day.
Half-way through the roster of speakers, a singer I had never heard of took the stage in sparkly sequined tights, shook her long mane of voluminous curly hair and introduced herself sweetly into the microphone as “Jierra.”
I did not have high hopes as the music started, probably due to a combination of the recent presenters’ dire predictions and the canned musical accompaniment. (I can be such a grumpy snob about live performance sometimes.)
And then Jierra opened her mouth to sing. In an instant, joy flooded my body. Wave after wave of goosebumps swept over my skin within her very first notes, and my eyes welled with gratitude. It was crazy. I felt like my spirit was riding on her voice, soaring with every note and phrase. In Nepo’s terminology, her singing brought me to the crest of a swell, where I could see as far as eternity.
She sang three or four songs — I’m not sure which, I was so transported. After her final standing ovation, there was a break in the program, and I was able to seek her out to thank her for the gift she gave me. We hugged, and she said, “I don’t know where it comes from, sometimes. I just open my mouth and it all flows through me.”
This is what art is meant to do, I think: bring us back to the light.
There were plenty of brave souls presenting at that event. Many of them talked about the power of a higher power, reminding us that when we are standing in that place of divinity, we can find a strength beyond strength. This is true.
But none of them actually inhabited the light themselves, as Jierra did. Any artist — or individual — who has found her light and is standing in it, fully and completely, gives us all permission to shine. We can’t help but be swept up in the glory.
Once we’re there, though, there’s no guarantee we’ll stay there. Heck, I fell off that crest and back into the belly just a few hours later! But if I’m committed to finding my own light, over and over, then I am doing the true work of the inner pilgrim.
That inner pilgrim work also includes recognizing that no one but you can find your light. I realize now I showed up at that event unconsciously expecting this group of well-meaning presenters — or one of them, at least — to have all the answers. They would tell me what to do to fix the mess we’re in.
No wonder I went home depressed.
Here’s the last bit of what I wrote in my journal, today, before I found out that today happens to be the day of a partial solar eclipse. (!?!) I wrote it for myself to hear, but perhaps you need it, too:
“Once you’ve found the light and stepped into it, the next job is to speak your own bright words into the space, no matter who is out there listening, or not listening. Don’t be afraid. Just stay in the light. Because the light is looking for you, too.”