As our seasons continue to change, autumn slowly begins to welcome winter and our days get darker, my soul is reminded once again how much growth happens in the dark. Most of us know that dark times eventually bring growth, hope, and gratitude.
Usually, these lessons come when the light begins to shine on our dark days and joy comes back to us, but how do we find a bit of light in the midst of the darkest days?
For me, I have learned that without a regular practice, it is almost impossible to do. In the middle of my dark hours, days, or even months, nothing comes easily. Getting out of bed feels like climbing Mount Kilamgraro. Quieting the cruel voices in your head is more difficult than getting 58 kids to be quiet at the park. And any type of prayer or soul care seems fruitless. During dark days, we can really experience how beautifully we are connected- an emptiness in our soul can lead to our mind telling us old lies again and again and our body can feel the physical pain of our heart.
This is when my practice comes and saves me. If I am careful, during the sunny and warm months of life, I practice my practice. I read the wisdom of my teachers, I meditate, and I schedule purposeful rest. Now when life is easy and the days are light, my practice comes most easy. In fact, the hardest part of my practice is actually practicing it.
I read the wise words of one of my teachers, Thomas Merton, “There are days when I am convinced that Heaven starts already, now, in this ordinary life just as it is, in all its incompleteness, yet, this is where Heaven starts.. see within yourself, if you can find it. I walked through the field in front of the house, lots of swallows flying, everywhere! Some very near me..it was magical. “We are already one, yet we know it not.” During the lighter days, it is easy to find the magic of birds soaring in the breeze above me.
I schedule rest twice a week. I schedule one day that I can take a nap and one day that I don’t need to do anything. I can be active, but it is a day that doesn’t contain any “must dos”. You would think the full day of resting would be harder to schedule. It isn’t. The idea of taking an hour to rest- whether I fall asleep or not- is the harder of the two. It is so easy for me to convince myself I am needed to keep this big world spinning. If I somehow take an hour, things won’t get done and the world will come to a screeching halt. It never does. My weekly nap is a reminder that I am not as important as I think I am and I am important enough to get some rest in the middle of the week.
I practice Centering Prayer every day. I start my practice with the ringing of my singing bowl. As the bowl rings, my soul settles into silence. During the days that sun is shining and all my ducks are in a row, the twenty minutes of silencing my soul come easily. My thoughts don’t race, my body settles into easy breathing, and my heart quiets to an eternal peace.
However, when the days are dark my practices don’t feel like they give me life. In fact, they can feel painful. Merton’s words feel pithy and glub. Go outside and look at the birds? Take deep breathes? But, because it is my practice, I do go outside and breathe deeply and wait for a bird or two to fly overhead. Is there the same magic that I feel in the easy days? No, not at all. But there is a different magic. I am reminded of the magic, the hope, and they lightness that will come again.
My weekly nap no longer feels like a reprieve and rest- it feels lazy and reminds me of one of my favorite lies I tell myself, I am unnecessary and useless. It is almost painful to take that nap. Fighting for hope and peace in these dark days is work and my body deserves a nap more than ever.
And Centering Prayer? Almost impossible. My body can’t settle. My heart aches. My mind refuses to quiet. Instead of detaching from my thoughts, I hang onto every single one.
The one thing that keeps me going is that reminder of my singing bowl. As I ring that bowl, something deep within my soul awakes. It hears the ringing, and an eternal hope stirs. And while things aren’t suddenly better- all my practices can remain painful and harsh for days, weeks, and even months-there is something within me that remembers. There is something that stirs and gives me the smallest bit of peace or at least, a small taste of the forgotten peace I once swam in.
Practicing my practice in the summer and spring of life brings me magic, joy, and gratitude that helps me continue practicing my practice in the winter and fall. On the darker days, my practice may not bring magic to my moments or joy in my days, or gratitude for my life… but it gently reminds me of the magic and the days that I felt joy and that a gratitude for this darkness will come one day. And, just like the reminder of the singing bowl, my heart jumps with the hope of spring right there in the darkness of autumn.