What does it mean to live fully? To live a life with heart? The lesson from the power outage is still with me. Even as I go about living my ordinary, electrically illuminated, computer active life, I find myself remembering there can be a deeper quality to life. In the darkness and stillness, my sleep had a different quality, and so did my dreams. As I mentioned in this space before, I have embarked on a book project I am tentatively calling “How Jane Eyre Can Change Your Life,” so I read Jane Eyre by firelight and candlelight, noting with a new awareness the role that fires and candlelight played in this masterpiece. I went to sleep at night full of the insight that much of human life was—and still is, in much of the world—a struggle to survive in the most elemental sense —to build fires and have fresh, clean water and good food. And this elemental physical quest to get all the right elements in the right relation resonates with our quest for inner harmony—for expression, love, and connection in this world.
One night, buried under nine blankets and still cold, I dreamed I was wandering through a dark, northern place searching for shelter and food. This is possibly the influence of Jane Eyre, although it had a very ancient, Nordic feel about it—I was marching through snow afraid of a wolf-like creature that dragged off children, a creature which could change shape and become a raven or even a black insect that devoured from within (Creepy!). I woke up realizing that our bodies and minds carry the memory of being tiny, vulnerable things surrounded by unknown forces. And the unknown had teeth. A Christian missionary once asked some Viking thanes how they saw life. They told him (I paraphrase) that we are like birds that fly out of the darkness into the light and warmth of the meade hall. After a brief time we fly out into the unknown again. If we really knew that life is brief and our future uncertain, dependent on mysterious forces, how would we live?
I came out of my brief time in the dark and the cold realizing (along with so many others) that we really do need to shift to a different kind of economy, a sustainable economy. And this includes our inner economy. We need to learn to use all we are given—even the seemingly painful stuff. From my time reading by firelight, I began to appreciate that Jane Eyre can be read as quest to love and find love and more: she had to use her own light. As Jane is about to be shipped off to boarding school, her nurse Bessie calls her “a little roving, solitary thing” ….and tells her, “You should be bolder.”
“I don’t think I shall ever be afraid of you again, Bessie, because I have got used to you; and I shall soon have another set of people to dread.”
“If you dread, they’ll dislike you.”
In the course of this story Jane Eyre learns to go beyond bursts to rebellion and vengeance—to claim her own inner fire and use it meet the unknown (and not to give it away, but it is full of scary things). Before Rochester professes love for her, she expresses love—and not just for Rochester but for her own life, for what she is in essence.
“ Do you think because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! –I have as much soul as you—and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal—as we are!”
I wish to remember what I learned during the power outage about what it means to live a different, sustainable life, a life with heart.