We western enculturated types tend to think of enlightenment as a mental or psychological or spiritual event because we always tend to separate body and mind, body and heart, spirit and flesh. That separation doesn’t serve us well, but it is virtually hard-wired into us, so we live as if we are two (or more) different beings inhabiting a single manifest entity. This is confusing at best and downright crazy-making at worst.
In the process, we miss the opportunity to receive the gift of (en)lightenment as a blessed release from burdens that are not ours to carry. Which, judging by the world I see around me, is something 99.44% of us need desperately. Hold that thought.
Today, January 6, the western Christian world celebrates Epiphany — the Feast of (En)Light(ment), a time of revelation. The story in the Bible recounts wise folk – astronomers, scholars, astrologers, philosophers – from the east following a star to Palestine to find one who was born to a great destiny. Epiphany marks the day Christians remember that one being found, recognized and acclaimed.
Whether you are Christian or not, Epiphany provides the opportunity to name the moments of wisdom or destiny that you notice in your own life – whether they pertain to you or to someone around you. It is a day to pay attention to both the revelations you have sought for a long time (using the wise ones as a metaphor for your search across vast swathes of inner or outer landscape), and the ones that have come to you suddenly, in a flash of inspiration or a change of perspective.
So I invite you to join me today – in fact, you can make a season of light and do this weekly or daily from now until February 10 (Ash Wednesday) – in beginning to gather and reflect on the epiphanies of the last year. As we enter a new calendar year, these questions may give you a springboard into deeper awareness of the always on-going process of enlightenment in your heart-mind-body-spirit:
* What hope (vision, inspiration) nudged me to appreciate an aspect of my personality that I had not noticed in the past? Did I develop a new perspective on one of my personal traits?
* Who mentored me toward greater wisdom? What wisdom is now drawing me forward?
* What new ideas did I consider in the past twelve-month? Which ones have become part of my inner geography and which did I discard?
* What has my body been teaching me about who I am and how I can/want to be in the world? [Aging can make us aware of diminishment and it can also inspire us to more attentive care of our physical vessel. For some people, aging is the permission to try skills they were afraid or embarrassed to try in younger years – what if I look silly or ‘fail’?]
And then I invite you to consider (gather, reflect on) the other aspect of (en)lightenment which walks right alongside the newly-noticed wisdom: the opportunity to discard burdens (which may include prejudices or cultural expectations) that are not yours to carry. I could write about this for pages and pages…instead, I am going to try to cut to the chase and assume that you have read those pages and pages already in self-help books or articles. I would merely observe that most of us have the tendency to pick up other people’s burdens because that distracts us from the fact that we are often not picking up some of our own. Carrying the weight of our own burdens might actually goad us into change for which we are not quite sure we are ready. Emotionally, it is easier(?) for me to carry your burden instead because that gives me the chance to bitch and moan about how unappreciated I am by you. (Am I unique in this pattern of denial-projection-deflection…or does someone out there recognize this?)
Caveat: We need to be a little tender as we work on this because our closest and most precious relationships are the ones in which this tends to happen most often. So, it is good to remember that ‘releasing a burden’ should not be confused with ‘throwing down a gauntlet’. We can stop carrying a beloved spouse-partner’s/child’s/parent’s/friend’s under-functioning, denial, addiction, practiced incompetence, prejudice, obsession, unhealth without forcing them to pick it up this very instant. (My guess is that this beloved spouse-partner/child/parent/friend may be carrying some burden of yours. Humility and humor can keep us from being insufferable about this fact.)
We can begin by simply listing the burdens of which we are aware. Next, sort them from most oppressive (weighty) to least oppressive. Then, gently (gently!) begin to ask whether each one is really ours to carry. Really. Not which ones we are carrying because it is easier than saying, No. Which ones are ours, really ours. A child with a chronic medical condition may be ours to supervise (and get to doctors and change diets around); an adult spouse-partner with a chronic medical condition she/he does not choose to exercise control over is probably not.
I would also observe that shouldering a burden that is someone else’s, and helping or encouraging or giving respite to someone who is carrying a heavy burden are two different things.
Once we have begun to identify which burdens are ours and which aren’t, it is time to lay aside those that are not. This may (okay – probably will) result in some pushback – especially if we have been carrying something for a long time (a partner’s addiction, an adult child’s fear, a parent’s denial). We all like our comfort and our extra guestroom is a very comfortable home for the 35-year-old child who doesn’t want to live with roommates in a less-salubrious part of town and pay his/her own bills.
Here is the blessing that awaits us: Once we have (en)lightened up from what isn’t ours, we will have the space in which to see what tasks are awaiting our attention, what tasks will not and cannot be done by anyone else. We will have the breathing room in which to see the work we need to be doing in order to grow and blossom more fully. Some of that work may be hard to acknowledge, but once we do acknowledge it, it stops being the monster in the closet and becomes simply an opportunity for wisdom, joy, and (eventually) inner peace.
Personally, I would rather spend 2016 on those growth-tasks than on the dead-end ones over which I have no control because they actually belong to someone else. And so a prayer for both of us:
May we be enfolded in the radiance
of Perfect (En)Lightenment:
the resilience of hope,
the levity of humor,
the vitality of play,
the buoyancy of possibility,
the clarity of wisdom,
the vigor of truth,
the optimism of joy,
the peace of honesty,
the exuberance of generosity –
nine blessings to uphold
and encourage us
this day and forever.
Text © 2016, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2015, 2014 Immram Chara, LLC
NOTE 1: I am in the process of creating seven 8″ x 10″ chakra pieces, using the colors of the seven energy nodes for focus. Those nodes are: root, belly, solar plexus, heart, throat, third eye, and crown.) If you would like to commission one as a meditation piece for 2016, you can place a custom order in my Etsy shop (click on the ‘Custom Order’ button on the left side of the page). The pieces will range in price from $40 – $50 depending on the detailing.
NOTE 2: I am still posting almost daily on my Facebook page (Immram Chara). I would love to have you check out that page and like it.