What counts is to be true, and then everything fits in, humanity and simplicity. When am I truer than when I am the world? My cup brims over before I have time to desire. Eternity is there and I was hoping for it. What I wish for now is no longer happiness but simply awareness.
Albert Camus, Essays
One of the themes around this time of year is that of the triumph of light over darkness, the transformation of whatever feels dead in our lives by the way we bring light to it. And at times of struggle it can comfort us to know of this complete victory, as this icon of Saint Jurgis (George) reminds us. However, for most of our lives, the path to happiness is ongoing and lies in taking time to create and celebrate special moments – even if our overall situation is not as we would like it – and in integrating all aspects of our experience, both the good and the difficult, the dragons and the tigers, in our lives :
There is an old Sufi story about a man [who] senses a wild tiger chasing him. Frantically, he runs and runs, and comes upon a well. As the tiger approaches, he has no choice but to jump into the dark well. As he falls, he can see the tiger growling above him. As he falls, he can suddenly see that a dragon is hissing and waiting for him at the bottom of the well. Just then, he sees a branch growing out of a stone in the well. He grabs it. As he strains to hold on, with the tiger above and the dragon below, a single ray of light falls on the one leaf on the one branch that holds his life. And on that leaf, in the light, is a single drop of honey. With the hissing of the dragon and the growling of the tiger in his ears, the man summons all his strength to lick the single drop of lighted honey.
The story ends there, with the man savoring the single drop of honey while the tiger and the dragon await. The power of this ancient story is that it affirms that spirit and crisis work each other in the world, and that the Divine Source is at the heart of every moment, even in the midst of danger. Mysteriously the way that pressure makes the diamond in a piece of coal visible, the press of the tiger and the dragon makes the essence in the moment visible. Again and again, we are shown that life is a jewel waiting in each moment broken open. Whatever the tiger, whatever the dragon, the drop of lighted honey, once seen and tasted, can bless us. And licking that drop of lighted honey is what life is all about. It may not save us from suffering or even death, but it will let the spirit become the jewel that it is. It will let us experience radiance.
Mark Nepo, Facing the Lion, Being the Lion.
We do not remember days,
We remember moments
Cesare Pavese 1908 – 1950 Italian poet and novelist
Today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, when the sun delivers the fewest hours of sunlight. I have posted on it in different ways over the years, sometimes encouraging the balance of light and dark in our lives, but today I will do as the ancient Celts did, and remind myself of the victory of light and life, not letting darkness have the last word:
There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.
Like, telling someone you love them.
Or giving your money away, all of it.
Your heart is beating, isn’t it?
You’re not in chains, are you?
There is nothing more pathetic than caution
when headlong might save a life,
even, possibly, your own.
Mary Oliver, Moments
This is the irrational season
when love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
there’d have been no room for the child
Madeleine L’Engle, 1918 – 2007, American author
When entering a supermarket store on Saturday I was greeted with a banner telling me that shopping there would make this Christmas “the most perfect ever”. This desire for perfect conditions is necessary when we are young, in order to allow the development of a stable self. As the English psychoanalyst Winnicott said, “the mind has a root in the need of the individual, at the core of the self, for a perfect environment”. However, as the child grows, its capacity to live with a less than perfect environment develops and the mother just has to be “good enough” in an ongoing committed relationship rather than being perfect in every instance. And it is the same for us as adults.
Our lives are always a work in progress, with moments of failing followed by repairing, integration mixed with disintegration. Despite what we sometimes think and express from time to time, we don’t really need perfection. We push ourselves hard enough due to that false belief. That things go wrong – despite our best efforts – is just part of the human condition. What we really want is to be seen as we are – not completely sorted out – and for that to be good enough.
It’s odd in a way, this business of Perfect Christmasses. The story of the first Christmas is the story of a series of completely unplanned, messy events – a surprise pregnancy, an unexpected journey that’s got to be made, a complete muddle over the hotel accommodation when you get there… Not exactly a perfect holiday.
But it tells us something really vital. We try to plan all this stuff and stay in charge, and too often (especially with advertisers singing in our ears the whole time) we think that unless we can cook the perfect dinner, organise the perfect Christmas, we somehow don’t really count or we can’t hold our heads up. But in the complete mess of the first Christmas, God says, ‘Don’t worry – I’m not going to wait until you’ve got everything sorted out perfectly before I get involved with you. I’m already there for you in the middle of it all, and if you just let yourself lean on me a bit instead of trying to make yourself and everything around you perfect by your own efforts, everyone will feel a little more of my love flowing’.
Archbishop of Canterbury, Pause for Thought, BBC Radio 2.