It’s the winter solstice, the time of the nadir. It’s a time, when, if you dare, you can mine the depths of your soul for the numinous vein that runs so deep under only the bravest hearts risk the bottomless depths to take this divine treasure home.
I’m no stranger to depth mining precipitous dark chaos. My father died one New Year’s Eve from a catastrophic stroke while I was hosting a party. I got the death phone call, and in valiant hostess fashion, continued to entertain my guests. Only when the last person had left, did I collapse into my bed in a sobbing heap.
Last year, the winter solstice heralded another blow.
My children’s father, my former husband of 17 years, collapsed in a Starbucks and then descended into a coma. He’d thought he’d had the flu after a return trip from Africa. Turned out he had a severe case of cerebral malaria, replete with complete kidney failure. He was expected to never wake up and on the cusp of New Years the family decided to remove life support.
Miraculously, the morning after that decision, he opened his eyes just long enough to convince doctors to reverse the “comfort care” order and try aggressively to bring him back from the underworld prison of a deep coma. He would not open his eyes again for another seven weeks.
Maybe because I’ve navigated a mine-field of shock loss, with crisis detonations in the winters of my life, I’ve been strangely drawn to the glittering truths found in the loam of this seasonal dark night.
There is something potent and promising about the shortest day of the year, the day where darkness takes center stage and light hides back stage for six months. Rumi’s spin on the darkness is illuminating: “What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle.”
So today, this shortest day of the year, I bring you seven shining soul lessons learned in the darkness, Perhaps some of the glitter I’ve mined from deep under will light your way.
1. Life is always comforting you, especially in hard times. You just have to notice.
I first learned this soul lesson when my healthy and fit 66-year-old mother was struck by a truck and killed. At 39, I was a shattered mess of shock-loss and gut-wrenching grief. But in those first days, I saw life’s sweet embrace showing up in so many synchronistic miracles, I knew I was being loved by a friendly universe—even in middle of my mess.
My favorite love-up?
Three days after she was killed, my sisters and I scoured my mom’s house for hours looking for the will we knew she’d tucked away somewhere. We were about to give up when I said aloud, “Mom, if you are able to hear us, please show us where the damn will is hidden?”
Within five minutes of this petition, my sisters came stampeding into the living room from upstairs. The electric baseboard heater in one of the bedrooms was suddenly blasting out heat—even though the wall thermostat was set to off.
I knew immediately it was my mom answering us because as children she used to guide us to find our Easter chocolate hidden around the house using the you are “hot” or “cold” prompts. We found the will in that inferno of a bedroom. And then, just as mysteriously as the heat came on, it went off,
2. Life is not an ordeal. It is a game.
What kind of game you ask? One where you make up the rules as you go along; where you are the game board and the all the players on it; where you are meant to be creative and daring and most certainly playful in your game playing.
If this sounds a bit like non-dual spiritual philosophy, let me tell you just one of my my crazy good Game of Life stories, a sweet and simple tale from the “Ask and ye shall receive” game. (There are many games, but this is one of my favorites.)
When I was ten years old my grade five teacher, Mr. Pratt, was a man with deep faith in God. He had all the earmarks of a preacher and I wouldn’t be surprised if later in life he became one. But back then he was an enthusiastic and fresh faced 20-something in his first year teaching and I was lucky enough to find myself in his class.
These stories sparked my imagination and fuelled a Zen-like beginner’s-mind—after all, if my teacher tells me miracles can happen, they must.While he taught me math and grammar as well as about cows and barns (on field trips to his grandparent’s farm) what I have carried with me these forty years later is one teaching that changed the trajectory of my life. He taught me miracles are possible and in so doing awakened the mystic in me.
He did this by sharing biblical stories of the magical nature of God, from the Old Testament parting of Red Sea to New Testament tales of walking on water and raising the dead. His story telling was sprinkled with his own conviction miracles were readily available with a measure of faith. Perhaps because I was raised in a religious void, these stories sparked my imagination and fueled a Zen-like beginner’s-mind—after all, if my teacher tells me miracles can happen, they must.
It was the end of my year with Mr. Pratt, the last month of school, when I experienced my first miracle (which I now label from a Jungian angle, synchronicity, or from a quantum framework, entanglement.). Mr. Pratt had planned a field trip to a nearby wildlife zoo. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks, and yet the day of the trip I woke up to torrential June rains. That morning in class, he said, “If this rain doesn’t let up, I’m afraid I’ll have to cancel our outing.”
At lunch hour, I walked home in the downpour thinking to myself, why don’t I just ask God for a favor? So while my mother made me a sandwich in the kitchen, I self-consciously snuck off to the living room, got down on my knees, pressed my palms into a prayer and closed my eyes. “Dear God,” I whispered. “Please stop the rain and make it a sunny day.”
When I walked into the kitchen afterward, my mother was at the sink, looking out the window. “I think it’s going to clear up,” she said. “I just saw a flash of blue sky through the clouds.”
You know the punch line already. It turned into into a 90 degree day and the sun was out in full bloom. I remember my ice cream cone dripping in the heat as I walked from one animal pen to the next. And from then on, I had no doubt that miracles can happen when we ask earnestly for them with a measure of faith.
The Game of Ask and Receive is a game anyone can play, even in times of turmoil. Well, especially in time of turmoil.
3. You are not in this game of life, alone. You have celestial assistance.
My mother was radically into angels but I thought it was a new age craze that had no legs. Angels to me were creations of wishful feel-good thinking and an ornament you stuck on top of your Christmas tree.
Then, I met my first bonafide angel in a dream.
It was a luminous tall white-robed being that sat beside me on a bench. It was pouring rain in the dream and I was wet and cold. The angel took my hand and said gently: “Don’t try to banish the rain. Instead, remember the sun.”
When I followed the instruction by remembering what it felt like to be sitting in the sun, the rain immediately stopped and a glorious sun bathed me in warmth.
Shortly after this dream, my nine-year old son was hit by a car while riding his bike—without a helmet. Witnesses say his body was flung twenty feet, before landing on pavement like a rag doll. I was summoned by a neighbour’s call to the scene just as the ambulance doors had closed and my unconscious child was raced to a waiting helicopter destined for the nearest shock trauma unit.
My husband followed the ambulance while I went home to pray and be with my weeks old daughter. I remembered the dream and I knew the message meant for me to focus on the “sun” or the most positive possible outcome. I saw my son coming home and being whole.
Four hours and ample tests later, the emergency doctors declared him a miracle—bruises, and cuts, but no broken bones, skull fractures or bleeding brain.
From that day on, I knew that there are angels watching over me. They are watching over you too.
4. Life is a gift. Celebrate it.
Like it or not, you chose this thing called embodied existence. Maybe you are the kind of soul that loves a challenge or prefers exploration and risk over sipping tea on the other side of the pearly gates. Whatever reason you chose to be incarnate versus disembodied it was most certainly a divine one.
One of the lessons I am still learning is to cherish the aliveness independent of the happenings. My mind (even after an overnight awakening in 2011) can still play the something-is-wrong-with-what-is trick on me. For a little a bit, anyway.
But one of the fastest counter measures is gratitude for the juicy life you have been given. Just breathing is glorious. Tasting, touching, smelling, hearing….it’s all a huge precious divine experiment that you decided to be a part of.
Next time you feel like arguing with reality, love it instead.
5. You are not who or what you think you are.
This is a big one. It’s possibly THE BIG ONE. Once you get this baby, you never look back.
If you are like me, you spent a whole life doing a Meryl Streep quality performance, not only earnestly playing the role of “me” but believing it so deeply you forgot you were even role playing.
But you are not a “me” or even a “you” …You are Glory in Motion. You are the Infinite Vastness, You are Boundless Love. And just as your body is unique as your fingerprint, so is your soul expression of this Source beyond space and time from which The All arises.
And these words are just pointers.
If I could leave you with a way to experience one glimpse of who you really are, it’s this. Find the thing or person you hate the most, or that displeases you greatly.
Then say this prayer: Show me the truth so that I may love this…person/thing/situation.
If you mean it, grace will swoop in and nothing—and I mean nothing—will ever be the same. Because you will not be the you, that you spent a lifetime believing you are.
And that my dear is the ultimate Get Out of Jail Free Card in the game of life.
Awareness is here, on the solstice, from Maui, Hawaii, USA…
Featured Image: The Chief, by soul sister Ysabel Lemay, who gifted me a print of this gorgeous painting.