Life is difficult. This is true for everyone. Always. Beautiful people who appear to have the easiest of lives suffer inner torments. We tend not to see this because we tend to compare our insides with other peoples’ outsides. But every so often a story breaks that makes us glimpse the truth that suffering is universal. And yet this is a dark time. We may be living through a collective Halloween.
On Sunday night, a group of us mediated just upstairs from the Annual Village of Tarrytown Halloween Parade. I didn’t know this was going to be happening but it proved to be a wonderful opportunity to practice coming home to our present moment experience while Monster Mash boomed out in the street below. We practiced letting sound pass through us like wind in the trees, experiencing the music as vibration in the body, not pushing it away or clinging to the words of that graveyard smash.
We associate spiritual practice with peaceful settings, above the fray. But we really can practice while an enormous skeleton with glowing eyes dances below us in the dark. Stillness doesn’t mean perfect silence but what is happening to happen without resistance or attachment. Equanimity in this tradition means to look over, to be open to the big picture, the way we were literally over the parade, on the second floor, listening to it flow past without being swept away, returning again and again to the sanctuary of present moment attention to body, heart, and mind.
This skill is especially important now because we are living through a dark season. The summer of our youthful innocence is past. Halloween is typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-an orsow-in), celebrating the end of the lighter half of the year and the beginning of the darker half. This is the thin time. The ancient Celts believe that the border between this world and unknown worlds became very thin at this time of year, allowing presences from other levels and worlds to pass through. In ancient Scotland, they patrolled the borders. Spirits of ancestors were honored and invited home while harmful spirits were warded off. Some people put on fearsome costumes and masks, seeking to frighten what they feared away.
What if we thought of this as thin time? Dark spirits of hatred and fear are wafting up from the unconscious and roaming the land but so are our beloved ancestors. In spite of all our conditioning and no matter who think we are, deep down we have indigenous hearts and good animal bodies, longing for connection with the whole of life. A beautiful rite of Samhain in ancient Scotland was the dowsing of household fires, and the lighting them from a common bonfire. Imagine that warm blaze and a whole community of people dipping torches in to carry a shared light back to their dark homes. Imagine if we sit down together like those long-ago people, reconnecting with our common human warmth, our wish to belong and be safe. Imagine taking that home to meet our darkest fears and hates. Remember that love can be a fierce protector and a light that vanquishes darkness.