Having blown out the only candle
In the unlit room, we still thought
We could see through the dark a string
Of smoke rising from the snuffed wick.

The raccoon, fascinated by reflection,
Is unable to light his den
With his gathered bits of metal,
His scraps of foiled glass.

Standing under the yellow poplar at noon,
She cares nothing for the tree,
Being interested only in the way light
Moves across its turning leaves.

If we study a mirror in a black cave
Long enough, the absence of light
Will be made clearly visible
Sitting on a high branch in the cloudy night,
Can the raccoon see what expectations
Light has led him to understand?
When the last leaf of the yellow poplar
Has been blown away,
Will the eye of the girl remembering,
Be the only body left there for light? –Pattiann Rogers, The Expectations of Light, 1981

I have a friend who recently told me that he absolutely despises Christmas and everything it represents. He hates the tacky decorations and the mindless greed and compulsion that keep people supporting the systems that would lead us all to financial ruin. He hates Christmas trees, with their gaudy, colored lights and tinsel. He hates the day itself, and the family systems it purposes to support, and the endless round of meaningless customs and the empty sentiment that surrounds the whole phony thing.

Well now.

When he told me this–with some degree of anger–I was speechless at first, but I am never speechless long, and I have been thinking about how it is that I have made my peace with all he mentions above, despite the fact that it is all absolutely true, and does often seem to bring out the worst in people.


What occurred to me when I considered all this was that moment when I realized what the winter holidays are all about. It was at a high mass in a Catholic Church, a midnight Christmas mass, as I recall, wherein I was transported into the reality of the Cosmic Mass that celebrates itself endlessly in the heavens, resounding its music, its eternal light always amidst the darkness, available to all who have ears to hear and eyes to see. I was quite young, and this was one of the first times I had the realization that this was an option, this willingness to go beyond the apparent and attune to the higher reality. I am grateful to my teacher, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, for teaching me how to do this, for I really think it has saved me, one of those of us who does not manage these gross, lower realms of the earth plane very easily.

Since that time, I have come to realize that these holidays that we celebrate in our culture are celebrations of light, the fulfillment of light more and less perceived by creatures starving for light. That’s what it really is, of course: beyond all the razzle dazzle and fakery is this hunger, this nostalgia for our origins, for the worlds we have emerged from and are returning to, for some reason making a stop here where light is at a premium, but can be found and must be found if we are to survive. The thing is, we are all different in our ability to remember, and for some of us, our efforts are fairly material ones, while others can indeed partake of the Cosmic Mass.

It’s a longing for that plane from which the original Being emerges, descending through the planes of Splendor and the planes of Light, the pristine condition of being a soul without experience, unsullied by the sight of darkness and the experience of personal limitation, personal pain. I always think of the Fool in the Tarot deck, his eyes turned upward, stepping heedlessly off the precipice of time into experience. But experience teaches us caution, and for most of us our caution has become such that we forget to turn our eyes upward, to remember ourselves as beings of glory, light beyond light.

Throughout the eons of time, matter has awakened through awakened consciousness, consciousness has awakened through matter. –Inayat Khan

I remember another experience when this was brought home to me. I was on a long, personal retreat in a forest, in a little hut that had a glass door in front, so that I could sit inside where it was warm–it was winter–and look out into the forest, the forest primeval as all forests are on some level, and as it was in the early stages of the retreat, I was mired in the “dark night of the soul,” the letting go of my own perspective on things, in order to make room for a more profound and less personal perspective. All morning, the rain poured down as I struggled with my ego, listening to Gregorian chant as I repeated dhikr, trying to rise out of my own personal darkness into the stage of glorification often called the immaculate state. Noon came, and I was truly desolate, sure there was no hope for me, but I forged on anyway, and the next time I opened my eyes–I was dimly aware that there was no longer the sound of rain beating on the leaves–the rain had changed to snow, and was rapidly filling the forest, and all that had been dark was being pelted with the dry, white flakes, and then I was able to rise, and through the magic of the natural world, I was able to realize my own essential purity…and all that emerges from That.


Mithra emerged from Mitra, a Vedic god, and the worship of Mithra migrated to Rome through Asia minor. Mithraism was the official religion of the Roman Empire by 307 A.D., but that changed with the Emporer Constantine’s conversion to Christianity by 312 A.D. –A historic tidbit from my resident theologian, David

I really think this expectation of light is what this Christmas thing is to people: a celebration, a remembrance of light. We tend towards a state of famine, in which we cannot let ourselves know who we really are, and cannot bear the grief of knowing where we come from and our seeming inability to get back there… and from the first Pagan celebrations of Mythra, right around the time we celebrate Christmas, and a guise then for the celebration of the winter solstice, the renewal of light that was being replaced by the “new God,” the Christ. In this largely Christian culture, we see Him as the representative of light, the immaculate state incarnate, and although our limitation leads us to an incorrrect apprehension, the hunger, the famine, still exists, and within our capabilities we keep trying to find our way home.

I decorate a Christmas tree very year, and I hang no colored lights on it, but the tiny, clear, twinkling ones that remind me of home, and when I walk down a crowded avenue at the mall, aglow with those same tiny, starlike lights, I am reminded to look up. Giving to others is an expression of the bounty I am coming to know more and more as I learn to allow myself to, as Murshid says, “give all that [I] can and take all that is offered to [me].” I find it possible to be tolerant of those who do not see things as I do, because they are a part of me, and without my kinship with that part, I cannot rise any higher than any other branch on the tree or star in the sky. Amidst the seeming greed, the avarice, the drunkenness, the selfishness, the lies we tell ourselves, I see this famine and the reaching out for the fattening of our light bodies in any way we know how.

So somehow light is associated with a smile. It’s a Sufi tradition, the smiling forehead. And as I said . . . it is very difficult to smile when people are so mean and life is so hard but still, that’s a saving grace. And as I say, one can suffer terribly, in agony, and at the same time smile. And you smile for the sake of people. You know, there’s a famous Chinese saying, “Cry and you cry alone. Laugh and the world laughs with you.” So even though your heart is bleeding, you smile for the sake of the people whom you are communicating with.And otherwise, one is wallowing in self pity. And self pity will encapsulate you in that slither of your being which is . . . self image. And this is exactly what we are trying to overcome in meditation. That’s what meditation’s about. So now we are dealing with the real issue. So that meditation is really an authentic experience that involves your whole being instead of wishful thinking.The secret is love. I know it sounds like preaching, I know. . . . Pir Murshid Inayat Khan said “We are tested in our love.” That is the way we are tested. Not in our mind. . . . We are our realization. … We are our degree of love.Of course unconditional love… If you say to a child, if you are naughty, I won’t love you, that’s not unconditional love. It’s a ploy. Say, I love you even though you are naughty.So I don’t know whether this is going too far when I say that the secret of being luminous [of realizing ourselves as beings of light] is being in love. And when I say that I’m not talking about being in love with a person, I’m talking about being in love with love. — Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, paraphrased from a lecture.

We have so few opportunities to play with the children of the world. Why not? As my husband quoted after he read this, “Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus.”

2 thoughts on “Illumination

  1. Pingback: Best Books of the 20th Century: Non-Fiction » Blog Archive » Illumination

  2. Great to see emphasis on illumination and the light we carry and recognize – inside and out. Good also to see the energy of Pir Vilayat in this post. I believe that all the enlightened souls, here now and in the past, and perhaps of the future also, are using everything they can to communicate to us and through us – helping to keep us aligned with these lights that you have shared in this blog post! (And what a great thing it is to have that connection and be able to communicate it!) Thank you,

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