February 1st is halfway between the first day of winter and the first day of spring.
In November and December we celebrated holidays that summoned the return of the sun. During Diwali, Hanukah, Winter Solstice, and Christmas we beckoned and prayed for the sun to return and brighten our lives. Many folks lit candles and decorated their homes elaborately with electric lights. Now in February we’ll be rewarded with longer days and we’re certain the promise of spring is around the corner.
To the Celts, February 1st is called Imbolc and is celebrated as the quickening of the year. As such, light returns at a noticeable pace, lengthening each day. We awaken each morning to less darkness than a month earlier and each evening it stays light longer.
“Give me love, Give me peace on earth
Give me light, Give me life
Keep me free from birth, Give me hope
Help me cope, with this heavy load
Trying to touch and reach you with heart and soul
Give Me Love, (Give Me Peace On Earth), George Harrison
Light from the sun: we all need it. We crave it. We thrive on it. We love bright rainbows after a storm and light shining through crystals or stained-glass windows. We refer to famous people as “stars” and travel to warmer climes to turn our faces to the sun. We write stories with characters desperate for it (“Give me light!” demands the king in Hamlet) and characters who are sad sing about it (“The sun’ll come out tomorrow,” from Annie). But these are all metaphors for the deep human condition of trying to return to our origin, our birthright, the place that we can truly call home, the Light Within.
“People are like stained-glass windows.
They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in,
Their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”
Years ago my stepmother was thought to have died when she flat-lined during surgery. But she regained full consciousness and said that, for those moments, she was summoned to walk toward the Light at the top of a staircase. There was no face giving instructions, just a very bright light and the understanding that she should move toward it. There are many references to this light in yoga literature, where it is known as the Light of Consciousness.
The Vedas, and the Upanishads contained within them, bring us mantras and other reminders of Inner Light. A well-known verse from the Rig-Veda is the Gayatri Mantra. It inspires meditation on inner illumination and purification. It imparts knowledge of the sun that dwells within. The Katha Upanishad teaches that the sun shines on us all, providing life-giving energy, warmth and light to everyone equally.
The Pavamana Mantra is a well-known affirmation from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The middle stanza reminds the seeker to remain steadfast in the pursuit of the Light of knowledge, despite a busy, disturbed mind that creates a veil of darkness:
“Lead me from the untruth to truth.
Lead me from darkness to light.
Lead me from death to everlasting life.”
Centuries later, Buddha declared a similar sentiment when telling the seeker to “Light thy own lamp.” Grace dawns only after we do the hard work of a spiritual aspirant.
“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light,
but by making the darkness conscious.”
The Bhagavad Gita teaches that darkness is the path of selfishness and suffering. These are brought on by ignorance and attachment to the things of the external world. A yogi is one with self-control. She follows the path of light, faithfully devoting her life to gain control over the senses and the mind.
There are also bringers of light, torchbearers to help dispel the darkness of ignorance. Yoga tradition tells us we need a Guru, one who can selflessly bring us to see our own inner Light.
“For a beginner on the spiritual path, a Guru is necessary.
To light a candle, you need a burning candle.
An illumined soul alone can enlighten another soul.”
Ayurveda has an important precept that the microcosm is reflected in the macrocosm, and vice versa. Everything in the outer world exists in the inner world. Similarly, in hatha yoga we salute the sun as it is reflected in our hearts when practicing the twelve positions called Soorya Namaskar or the Sun Salutation. This invigorating sequence clears glands, loosens joints and increases warmth all over the body.
Just as the sun moves across the sky casting light and shadows at different angles, changing the look of the landscape every few seconds, our minds are ever-changing. We see the world in a different light from one day to the next, even from moment to moment. It requires fortitude and courage to keep the darkness at bay and focus on the inner Light. Clouds may cover the sun, but we need not let that mantle reflect poorly on our inner world. The Yoga Sutras tell us when we meditate on the heart long enough grace will join us there in that Light.
The darkest season of the year is over. A greater amount of daylight has returned, and if we turn our gaze inward, we can see the Light there, too, in the heart. It won’t be long before the buds on some trees begin to drop their coverings and shoots pop out of the ground next to the groundhog!