At a certain point, the summer of our innocence passes. The bright hope that spiritual practice might be a way for us to bypass suffering vanishes. The bliss we might have felt at the beginning gives way to the realization that the more we practice, the more we feel not just joy but also the 10,000 sorrows. The practice begins to feel a bit like Halloween.
Halloween is typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-an or sow-in), celebrating the end of the lighter half of the year and the beginning of the darker half. The ancient Celts believed this to be a thin time, a time when the border between this world and unknown worlds became porous, allowing the passage between worlds and levels to be much easier than it ordinarily is.
The slow work of waking up, of opening our attention, makes us thinner. I am missing a huge marketing opportunity here, but I must tell the truth and add that becoming thin means becoming porous. The boundaries between the separate kingdoms of our head, heart, and body begin to dissolve. We start to feel more, and this can be very painful. We may wonder if a life of delusion wouldn’t be a better option.
According to legend, one rite of Samhain in ancient Scotland was the dowsing of household fires. People would allow themselves to experience the darkness, lighting a new fire from a common bonfire. As we begin to understand that everyone suffers, everyone without exception, we begin to experience that common fire. We begin to be able to look at ourselves and others with kind attention. Our hearts begin to open to others and to ourselves, in all our guises and manifestations, even the most frightening.
Moment by moment, we begin to realize that waking up involves waking up to the truth of who we are, and that means the whole truth. A new kind of warmth and vibrancy and ease comes into our lives at moments (and let me stress again that this is a work of moments). We feel just as much as before. But there is also light and warmth, and the understanding that we are not alone in the dark.