A few evenings ago while taking a walk, I was stopped in my tracks by the irresistible sight of the late day sunlight illuminating chartreuse-toned, newborn leaves up in the trees. It was a stop-and-take-a-picture moment, which is my version of stopping and smelling the roses (unless there are actual roses to smell!).
Sometimes the simplest things can transport us into awe, joy, and gratitude if we are receptive to them. If we can even notice them in the first place. I am passionate about photographing such “magic moments” and have a library of nearly 10,000 images that is essentially a visual gratitude journal. It helps me to remember. It uplifts me. And it trains me to see the light in this world. Holding that frequency is what I feel called to do. There are others who focus on the darkness. There are some who insist, “If you’re not angry, then you’re not paying attention!” There are those who are committed to finding solutions. There is room in this world for all of us. However, I know my place. I’m here to hold the light. Not in a Pollyanna sense, but in a despite-it-all sense.
I woke up this morning thinking of someone who often disturbs my inner peace. I tend to hold a negative opinion of this person, even though I realize they are hurting and have reasons for their behavior. Then the image of the sunlit, baby leaves popped into my mind, and I imagined visualizing people who annoy or upset me bathed in the kind of light that illuminated the tender leaves. I noticed how it felt to even think about doing that. My defenses were up. Why, though? What is so threatening about seeing people illuminated in the most flattering way, from an angle that allows us to perceive their goodness, which I believe is inherent in everyone, even if it’s buried deeply – perhaps beneath an overwhelming desire to be loved and accepted?
Hmm… It felt like my ego asserting itself again. (I call her Susie Q.) Cling to an unflattering view of someone else to…make me feel better about myself? Simplify my world? But the feeling of tightening, closing, and cutting myself off doesn’t feel good. It feels like shrinking and constricting. It doesn’t feel intuitively right.
It feels much better to soften, open, and connect with someone’s higher nature, to bathe them in the light of love and compassion. It doesn’t mean I have to do anything differently. I don’t necessarily have to get any closer, interact more, make myself vulnerable, or take on responsibility that isn’t mine. It’s really not about the other person as much as it’s about freeing myself from a narrow, limiting view that prevents me from expanding and evolving (which is what I think I’m ultimately here for).
All I know is that it feels good in every cell of my being when I’m able to shine some love and compassion on the stories Susie Q creates and to see others as beings of light rather than boundaries by which I define myself. And I am grateful for the power of images to awaken me so that, like the sunlit leaves freshly emerged from tight buds, I can open and expand and gather more light.
Sometimes the Universe seems to conspire to ensure that certain works are accomplished or (in my case) images are captured. You can call it intuition, inspiration, or various other names. It’s the voice that might literally wake you up so you can be in the right place at the right time and sometimes employs unwitting accomplices.
That happened to me yesterday morning, after staying up late doing research. At 6:00 a.m., my phone rang. It was the director of a private school calling to ask if I could fill in for the day. I had to decline because I had promised to care for my granddaughter for a few hours. After taking the call, I realized I wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep, although I closed my eyes to try. But something about the misty morning light compelled me to get out of bed, despite not feeling as rested as I wanted to be.
It had been a while since I’d photographed a river sunrise, mainly because of my late night work habits. It was a shocking 7° (F) outside and a morning when I’d prefer to stay indoors. But something wonderful was about to happen. I could feel it and (as I’ve said before) have learned to trust that feeling. So I put on my warm clothes, coat, and shoes and went to the chilly river’s edge to photograph the sunrise, which looked rather like a painting.
If there is a way to predict the “wow” value of sunrises and sunsets, I have yet to discover it. But the pink-orange mist was intriguing, so I stayed outside to see how it would develop.
As the sun began to climb the trees, the way it played with the trees and appeared to stretch their branches with golden light was phenomenal. In my four years of photographing sunrises on the river, I’d never witnessed that particular effect so intensely.
It made me think of Moses and the burning bush – for the trees were “on fire” with brilliant light but not consumed. I hoped I could capture it exactly as it appeared so as to express what drew me to it and stopped me in my tracks – because when a sight grabs you like that, there must be some kind of spiritual nugget in it.
I selected the image below to share online because the way the various elements came together was most pleasing to me. The deciding factor was the relationship between the branches stretched by sunlight in the center of the image and the branches across the river in the lower right corner that seemed to reach out to them. That spoke to me.
After I shared the image, people reported being drawn to different elements of it and seeing certain shapes and symbols in the sunlit trees. I’m fascinated by how we gravitate to certain images or elements and discover meaning or satisfaction in them. When we gravitate toward an image, it’s an invitation to go deeper. We can consider what calls us to it. What is our connection to it? What does it stir in us? What longing does it satisfy? What does it reflect that is alive in us?
As I contemplated the above image, the words that arose from it were: Source it higher. Fuel your life from a higher source. Gas station and food metaphors came to mind. Tapping into ordinary consciousness is like filling up with regular gas or fast food that makes you feel jittery. But there are higher quality options, like premium gas or farm-to-table, organic meals containing a rainbow of nutrients that leave you feeling truly nourished and energized. A beautiful soul who adopted the name Peace Pilgrim said, “Junk thoughts can destroy you even more quickly than junk food.” That is the idea I’m trying to convey.
My infant granddaughter, Ava, arrived soon after I photographed the sunrise. She napped a few times during the course of our time together. She fell asleep in my arms, when I swayed gently with her, and when I lay her on my bent legs so we could face each other. As she rested in her human cradle, I found myself feeling bad about conditions in her life. But then I heard, “Source it higher” and recalled the luminous image of the sunrise trees – and lifted into a state of trust. I thought of how many challenging circumstances I’ve lived through and realized that my own life experience will help me to trust in her strength and guide her to discover her own strength and resilience. It seemed the spectacular sunrise was the source of the energy I was giving Ava – the energy she was feeding on, even as she slept.
“Source it higher,” backed by the sunrise image, has quickly become my new mantra that helps to dispel worry and fear. It reminds me to unplug myself from a lower source of energy and tap into a higher, more luminous source. Without a mother or grandmother in my life anymore, it seems to be up to me to hold the faith and nurture subsequent generations. Connecting with that light eases my worries and allows me to trust what is and what is in the process of becoming.
Oh, the bliss of being out here on the river during late sunset! Come float with me.
It’s getting dark. The colors in the sky are quite vivid, and I’m floating in my kayak. The birds are singing their goodnight songs, the frogs are croaking, and I’m feeling incredibly light. There is an unidentified, sweet, floral fragrance in the air, and so far I’ve seen two beavers swim by me. Such peace! I breathe slowly and deeply.
I have not a care in the world. Everything is right with my world. Everything is hush. All personal concerns are so far away when I’m out here floating. They can’t reach me and have no pull on me. I smile and fill with joy.
The colors deepen from moment to moment. Being under this sky is like watching an enormous Polaroid picture developing.
I worked an 11-hour day today and have so much to do in the next eight days that it makes my head spin when I think about it. But not right now. Now is all just peace. I feel so light. I’m dictating into my journal on my phone so I can remember that this state of being exists. It’s one big ahhhhhh.
The first light I see is a plane making its way across the sky as its reflection sails across the water, almost like the flight of a mosquito because of the gentle ripples on the surface of the water bouncing it around.
This is the real me. The unconditioned stillness. I recall when I felt grief deep down in my bones. Now I feel peace and joy just as deep. A line from Kahlil Gibran’s “On Joy and Sorrow” from The Prophet goes through my mind: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” It’s not an unbridled, frenetic joy but a balanced, full-bodied joy steeped in tranquility. When you’ve been down as low as I’ve been recently, it’s such a blessing to feel this way. You really appreciate it.
I perceive a lengthy decrescendo of birdsong. Fewer birds are singing now.
I observe two pinpoints of light in the sky, which I determine (after several minutes) to be celestial bodies, perhaps Venus and Jupiter. One is larger and brighter, and the other is tinier, fainter, and higher above the horizon. I could have sworn they were airplanes. It’s so hard to tell what’s moving and what’s stationary out here. I’m drifting on the water, the clouds are floating in the sky, and I can’t tell if the pinpoints of light are moving or if everything around them is.
The sky grows dimmer, and the air becomes cooler. It feels wild to be out on this great river alone with all these sounds in the stillness under the darkening sky. I feel so alive, even tingling. Surely, this spacious serenity is my more natural, open state. It feels like being Home.
Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have this wish I wish tonight.
I wonder: What does my heart wish for? To follow love, not fear, and to experience right now what it would be like to let that energy flow like this river. Imagining this makes my whole body smile. Makes me feel vibrant and liberated.
I look in the direction of the swamp – where the frogs are croaking in the distance – and notice what at first glance appears to be car lights coming down the road. But they’re not. The fireflies have come out! I’ve been waiting to see them flashing their light in the darkness, looking for love. The light show has begun. Now there are no birds singing at all. The sky is almost completely dark. There will be no moon tonight.
The first few stars are twinkling in the sky, the fireflies are flashing below, and all the light is reflected on the water like a mirror. Some fireflies are near the ground, and some are way up at the very tops of the trees.
The sight I’m most drawn to (besides the light of the fireflies) is the rippling light on the water, the reflection of the last remaining light in the sky. Light and darkness dance on the surface of the water in a wavy pattern.
I barely can make out a beaver swimming in front of me. I can only tell by the interplay of light and shadows moving silently on the surface of the water. If I were to start paddling, the beaver would slap its tail on the water, adding a percussive touch – like a kettledrum – to the swamp symphony.
Now there’s almost no light whatsoever, so I decide to head back to the dock. This is such a different state of consciousness than the gravity of being on land.
But there is grace upon returning home, for the light of hundreds of fireflies flashes in the back yard in a spectacular light show. It looks magical, like the light of hundreds of fairies – and fills me with delight.
“Where there is darkness, let me bring light.”-Saint Francis of Assisi
I am writing in the pre-dawn darkness of the Winter Solstice, surrounded by the light of several star lanterns and the flicker of light shining through the window of the wood stove.
This is the shortest, darkest day of the year, and this year is darker than usual. It is drizzling outside, and the cloud blanket is thick. Looking eastward during early sunrise, I notice a very faint band of pink stretched across the gray-blue sky above the horizon that probably wouldn’t register as sunrise unless you were looking for it. Despite the cloud cover, the sun is still there, ascending as it does every morning even though it is more difficult to see this particular morning.
This has been a challenging week for a number of reasons, and midway through it, when I felt like I was at the end of my rope, it occurred to me that this is literally the darkest week of the year.
Every ray of sunshine is precious at this time of year. Sunrises this week have held extra significance. When we ordered Chinese takeout Thursday evening, my fortune cookie message read, “You will always see light after darkness.” How perfect.
Sunrise during Solstice week
Today is finally Winter Solstice, the turning point at which the light begins to grow in the Northern Hemisphere and the days become longer again. It is the point at which we cease traveling further into darkness – for we have reached the darkest point – and turn around and take a first step closer to the light. This week, I have been contemplating how to bring light into the dark places, particularly given that three people close to me are navigating the greatest challenges of their lives. I look to the sun at the beginning of each day to draw strength and light and to give thanks for all of the sources of light and inspiration in my life. But I am also listening to the voices arising from the darkness and silence of this time of year – the voices that have been ignored and need to be heard, for they show me where healing is needed and assure me that, in the end, all of our challenges are gifts. The question is: What will we do with these dark gifts we are given? How will we shine light on our challenges and through the alchemy of love turn them into blessings, wisdom, art?
Last week, I came across a video that was like the light of a hundred suns during this dark season. It is a TEDx talk given by Anita Moorjani, a woman who was dying from end-stage lymphoma nearly eight years ago. Her organs were shutting down, and doctors told her family that she had only a few more hours left to live. In the video, she describes what happened to her that day and what she learned. She is still alive today and was cancer-free within five weeks of the day on which she was supposed to die. But that’s not the part that spoke to me the most. The most amazing part is what she learned that day and how it has changed her life.
Email followers: Click HERE to watch video. Note: She begins by describing in detail her deteriorated physical condition until 2:40, when she begins talking about her near-death experience.
Anita Moorjani’s message resonates deeply with me. I was moved to tears by her metaphor of an enormous, dark warehouse in which we flash our tiny beam of light and see only what our light falls on, and what we are looking for. Our understanding and perception of life are extremely limited. There is so much more beyond what our little flashlight reveals to us. We have no idea how powerful our mind is in terms of both limiting us and liberating us from the prison we (with some help from those close to us and society) have created for ourselves based on what we believe to be true about the universe – which is based on our very limited experience of it.
I have been feeling this so strongly lately. There is more. So much more. I want to align my intention with spirit and experiment with the laws of the universe. Many spiritual teachers whom I respect talk about this, and I know in my heart that what they are describing is true. I have had enough experiences myself that cannot be attributed to mere coincidence to know that there is so much more than ordinary consciousness leads us to believe. I have received so many “signs” – uncanny, unexplainable events – that I envision a small group of angels shaking their heads in somewhat amused exasperation, wondering why I still don’t get it enough to risk stepping out of my comfort zone and dreaming outside of the box. (Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I haven’t done it before. I have experience with facing my fears, taking one step at a time in faith, and eventually experiencing the thrill and fulfillment of attaining my goal. But it’s time to fashion new goals.)
Why is it so difficult to live according to those higher laws? What is holding me back? I see the image of a wall. A wall of fear. A wall built from my own limited understanding of the world. I know in every cell of my being that infinite possibilities exist on the other side of this wall. Why, then, do I confine myself to this small prison, thinking it’s the best I can do? It makes no sense.
I want to break through the barrier of fear and allow love to pilot my life. I want to live a fearless, authentic life. I want to like I’ve never wanted to before!
And this is where the self-love that Anita Moorjani spoke of enters in. Not the narcissistic kind that bolsters the ego, but the kind of love that supports the fullest expression of the higher Self, which is interconnected with all life. Loving oneself enough to follow our innermost joy and experience the fullness of a fearless life – to find out what is on the other side of fear. Loving oneself enough to step outside of our personal prisons. This message is really taking root in my heart, and I’ve been reflecting on what self-love means to me. It might mean something different to you, but here are some ideas I have come up with:
Self-love is spending as much time as possible in an environment(s) that values and accepts the gifts you have to offer. Self-love is surrounding yourself with people who make you laugh and feel good. Self-love is limiting as much as possible the time you spend with people who bring you down or judge you based on criteria that is completely meaningless to you. Self-love is making time for activities and relationships that bring you joy. Self-love is asking for help when you need it.
Self-love is getting enough rest, exercise, and good nutrition. Self-love is caring enough not to consume the thing that is unhealthy for you. Self-love is forgiving your weaknesses BUT not employing forgiveness as a means to excuse or continue to indulge them. Self-love is being impeccably honest with yourself and taking responsibility (without blaming or beating yourself up) for your life and happiness. Self-love is knowing where to let go with love and allow others to take responsibility for their own life and happiness.
At the core, I believe we are all made of love and light, and our mission is to manifest these qualities in this world of shadows and help our planet evolve.
In a Facebook post, Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote,
“A half-lived life, as Herman Melville describes it, is one in which we do not get to that inner place of peace and joy. Perhaps the most devastating scenario imaginable is to face death knowing that because of some imagined fear, you have always chosen a half-lived life in which you avoided doing the things your heart beckoned you to do. I urge you to change the scenario now. Start living your life with the courage to follow your heart.”
I hold these words in front of my little beam of light as I form an intention on this Solstice day and feel the truth of Anita Moorjani’s words: “In the end, you will always find that your challenges are a gift.”
It is now 12:11 p.m., the moment of solstice, as I hit the “publish” button. Happy Solstice!
The photographs in this blog and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.