Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dark Confessions and Bright Miracles.

Dark Confessions first. Bright Miracles below the photos of me with Santa.

I was entranced by the spinning disco ball within the mirrored star on top of the magnificently ornate, 11 foot tall Christmas tree. I sat by the crackling fireplace watching this magical star scatter tiny rainbows over the vaulted ceiling of my grandparent’s darkened living room.

My enjoyment was enhanced by illicit inhalations from a small brass pipe. I surreptitiously blew the smoke up the chimney that I had once believed Santa slid down.

I have no clue what year it was. The memories of my teens are a bit fuzzy given that I started experimenting with drugs at age 11, but I do remember that it was Christmas Eve. My grandparents were either at the Good Shepherd Catholic church in St. Louis Park Minnesota or possibly St. Agnes in St. Paul. 

They had given up shepherding their decidedly un-saintly, smugly cynical, atheist granddaughter to midnight mass. In previous years I would huddle Grinch-like in the corner of the choir loft with a new Christmas toy or a book, rebelliously muttering the equivalent of “Bah humbug” under my breath and engaging in entertaining past times like attempting to drip candle wax down on the parishioners parading below.

It's not that I didn't like any aspects of Christmas, I loved the feasting and greedy frenzy of gift opening. The lion’s share of everything that was under that impressive giant Christmas tree was mine, ALL MINE!

That is until the arrival in rapid succession of the first 3 of my five cousins who were ever so much more adorable in their infantile innocence than the surly kid I had become by the time the first rival appeared on the scene.

Me at 24 in that same living room with my uncles, aunt, cousins and grandmother, still apparently attempting to steal the limelight.

I worshiped my Uncle Garry all through my childhood and loved him dearly until the day he departed this Earth so suddenly on St. Nicholas day, 12 years ago. I still miss him keenly.

So when he brought HER (the woman who was to bear all of those usurpers) to my grandparent’s home, I alternated between sulking under my grandmother's bed and skulking at the perimeter of the living room shooting poisonous looks at my adored uncle’s new fiancé.

I did, however, sweetly volunteer to bring her the Bloody Mary that my grandfather had mixed for her. I stopped off to add some pencil sharpener shavings and dust bunnies from the stairs to the cocktail and watched gleefully as she obliviously sipped my offering, not noticing the extra “spices” I had added that were slowly settling to mingle with the ice cubes at the bottom of the red drink.*

I share these confessions to show the juxtaposition between the skeptical, miserable and vindictive kid I once was, and the more open, optimistic and compassionate adult I have become.  My over-dependence upon my overly praised intelligence and my fear of trusting anything outside of myself, exacerbated my suffering enormously as well. It seems to me that our culture right now is a bit like I was as that child.

We are consumed with doubt that there is not enough of anything and that we ourselves are not enough. This fuels our contentiousness and consumption of material goods, drugs (legal and illegal), the equivalent of hiding under the bed with other escapist behaviors, and the desperate quest for love and approval.

I do not claim to be the pinnacle of enlightenment by any means. I find myself occasionally sucked into black holes and have plenty of fears about insufficiency. I still have tendencies to over consume - even if my current overindulgences are in social media and organic food vs my previous far more destructive vices.

But I have changed. And not just because of the passage of time. My ongoing transformation has occurred as a result of countless dark periods far worse than the addition of some new family members.  These dark passages helped me find love, faith and the gifts in the shadows. As a society we also have the capacity to change. The challenging times that we are going through right now as well as our past difficulties are part our collective evolution.

 I probably still believed in the first photo, but I think it was over by the second one.

Typically, children are the ones who are naïvely more likely to believe in miracles than their more rational, logical adult counterparts. But I have rarely ever been labeled typical. Although I must have believed in Santa Claus when I was little, I have no memory of that belief or when it ended. I did not believe in anything else that required faith until my late teens.That process of opening my mind and heart is still a work in progress. 
I have been inundated in recent years with persuasive evidence that there is a greater creative power that is far beyond what my intellect can perceive. Much of this confirmation is from direct experience, but I have also learned from a wealth of anecdotal and more “respected” forms of documentation. 

I still struggle with allowing myself to fully accept what I know to be true. A lifetime of thinking my small self needs to be “in control”, often supersedes even the most compelling substantiation. Partially because the implications of this vast mysterious power and my potential access to it are mind-boggling! 

Here are some theories I currently have about darkness and miracles that I hope you will consider the next time you find yourself experiencing a dark time in your life.

  • Miracles often come during the darkest of times. 
  • Dark times are when we most need help and thus are more willing to accept it. Desperation makes us have less to lose in hoping for and/or recognizing miracles.
  • When things are dark, and something bright appears it's more noticeable by contrast, so we are less likely to miss it. 
  • When life is at its darkest (especially when we experience sudden losses or betrayals) we are broken open. This allows for light and new beliefs to slip in through the cracks in our protective shell of rationality - if we let them. 
Sharing One of my favorite quotes again.

I also believe that dark times come to us for the purpose of evolution. We need these times just as much as we need night time, dark rainy days and the fallow darkness of winter months. They are part of a natural, beneficial cycle of life. 

The secret to getting the most from these difficult challenges is to be as fully, consciously present as possible with the pain and vulnerability that arise in the darkness. When we change the story of our pain from one of needing to protect ourselves, by resisting and controlling events, to one of willingness to explore the depths in search of the gifts, this is the portal to miracles.

There are little every day miracles such as the synchronicities that I have been sharing in my blogs. There are bigger miracles such as life changing transformations (for me it was my Phoenix rising from the ashes experience) and then there are the epic miracle legends like the birth of Jesus or the Hanukkah lights.

But the world is filled with miracles that we don't acknowledge or even recognize. Have you really thought about how and why your human body and the various parts of it work (just your eye alone is beyond miraculous!) or the amazing planet Earth upon which you stand and its place in the infinite cosmos? Talk about mind-boggling!

The words "miracle" and "mirror" both stem from words that mean “look”, "wonder" and "smile". I think that to help accept the possibility of miracles we need to look in the mirror, and smile with wonder at who we truly are. Not the surface details and perceived flaws, but the truth of our own miraculous power to love, evolve and create. 

I only get occasional glimpses, but it's enough to keep me showing up in the world with renewed delight even when there appears to be absolutely no reason for optimism.  This allows me to be more compassionate and even more productive in the world, so looking for brightness and miracles can actually be rather practical. 

December is the darkest time of the year, so it is not surprising that it is a time of myriad celebrations to help offset those long nights. The entire month is packed with holidays from around the world, but I'm just listing a few in chronological order, related to miracles and/or light. I am celebrating all of them and encourage you to pick a new one to add to your holiday season - just for the fun of it!

Hanukkah - A Jewish celebration of miraculous lights.
Bodhi Day - A celebration of the Buddha’s enlightenment (some Buddhists put lights in trees in honor of the where the enlightenment took place - under the Bodhi tree).
Our Lady of Guadalupe feast day - A celebration originating in Mexico of a miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary.
St Lucy’s Day - A Swedish celebration of the sun goddess wearing a crown of candles.
Winter solstice - A Pagan celebration of the return of the sun's light.
Christmas - A celebration with lights, candles, a bright star and the miracle of Jesus’ birth.
Kwanzaa - An African American celebration with candles.

Whether you believe any of these ancient stories are based on verifiable facts does not matter. What is important is the firm belief in the possibility of miracles.There are millions of stories of astonishing, inexplicable wonders and probably millions more that are untold for fear of disbelief and derision. If even one is a true miracle, then that means miracles are possible for us all. 

Wishing you faith during long dark nights and joy in the bright miracles of the season.

*Against my will, I eventually fell head over heels in love with my aunt and my cousins and this love only grows stronger with the passage of time. My aunt not only forgave me for the Bloody Mary (and for obscuring her face with little drops of hand lotion on her wedding picture), but became like a second mother to me. I continued to find ways to be mischievous - ask my cousins about the misadventures with the Cabbage Patch dolls in the photo and the chocolate crickets I fed them on my most recent visit!