Life is difficult. Everyone suffers. This has been true in all times. Always. We tend not to allow for this because we compare our insides with other peoples’ outsides, and people can be very good at hiding their personal suffering–or fighting it or fleeing it or distracting themselves from it. Until they can’t. But there is a way to be with suffering so that it doesn’t hurt quite so much. We can take inspiration from the ancient celebration of Halloween.
Some of us associate spiritual practice with peaceful settings, with being above the fray. But we really can practice when our ghosts waft up from the depths. Stillness doesn’t mean perfect silence inside or outside but being with what is happening without resistance or grasping. Often I call it softening or opening to what is, just that. Equanimity in the Buddhist tradition means to look over, to be open to the big picture of our experience, including out little eddies of fear and anxiety and shame or some unnamable mix of difficult feelings. This simple willingness to soften can return us to the sanctuary of presence.
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.
We also assume imposing or fearsome postures to protect the borders of our self identity, especially at thin times. But what if we patrolled our borders with kindness and self-compassion? What if we practiced trusting–just for a moment–that there is a loving presence in us that can meet what comes?
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.