Shedding light on our darkness

Shedding light on our darkness

Om asatoma sat gamaya |
Tamasoma jyotir gamaya |
Mrtyor mamritam gamaya ||

Lead us from untruth to truth (from the unreal to the real),
from the darkness of ignorance to the light of awareness,
from a fear of death to the knowledge of our immortality

~ Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1.3.28)

In India, Wednesday’s new moon is celebrated as Diwali, a festival of lights that celebrates the victory of light over darkness (known in the South as Deepavali, in Bengal as Kali Puja, and observed by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains alike). It always takes place at the new moon in the month known as Kartik in the Indian lunar calendar, named after the warlord Kartikeya, the great protector who defeats all human ills, especially those arising from the ego. At this time of year the new moon (amavasya, or no-moon, in Sanskrit) is the darkest of all dark moons, and as such is considered to be a powerfully transformative energy. People light fires, oil or ghee lamps, or candles at this time to symbolise the light of consciousness that counteracts the darkness of ignorance.

This year Diwali coincides with the November 11th remembrance of the countless lives lost in battle (Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, Veterans’ Day, etc.), a tradition begun after the “war-to-end-all-wars”, the First World War. Nearly a century on, and wars continue to rage around the world while the majority of people want peace.

In his younger years, especially during what the Vietnamese call “the American Aggression” of the 1960s and ’70s, Thich Nhat Hanh refused to walk in anti-war protests, but would happily walk in peace rallies. He understood the profoundly counter-productive effects of opposing, denying and resisting what is, and the power of focusing on what we strive for.

We each contain the potential for the entire spectrum of human qualities, thoughts and emotions, from hatred and loathing through to love and compassion. The shadow, or unconscious mind, is what explains how we can claim to want peace, yet generate hostility – even if “only” in our hearts and minds, and rarely shown outwardly – through our day-to-day attitudes to people and events around us (or around the world). Our shadow side is that part of ourselves which has been disowned, denied, rejected or suppressed – we naïvely like to think that if we pretend we are not a certain way, we simply aren’t, and therefore imagine that only “others” behave badly! Yet the truth of what lies in our unconscious emerges when we’re challenged, stressed or acting out of habit, without awareness, and we begin to see that what irritates and offends us in another is really what we don’t like to acknowledge in ourselves.

At this low-energy time of the year, we may feel especially drained and frustrated. It’s not the best time to be outwardly busy, rather more a time to turn our attention to what needs changing from within. A heightened self-awareness allows us to become wholly integrated beings, and if we can recognise where the shadow plays a role in our life, we can do something constructive to shed light on it and make a change.

This new moon is conjunct the planet Mercury, called Budha in Sanskrit, which in astrology represents our intellect, intelligence and sense perceptions (not to be confused with the Buddha – meaning the one with the awakened mind!), so Mercury rules our mind and communication skills. This week is a good time to reflect on our future goals and aspirations, and how we can use our mind consciously for our highest aims. We would benefit now from digging down deep, and uprooting old issues, memories, grudges, emotions, people, possessions, opinions, beliefs… whatever needs to be thrown onto the compost heap of our minds so we can leave an open space – like a fallow field resting before a new planting season begins.

The shanti mantra (Vedic peace chant) shown above is recited at the end of my classes as a reminder of our intention to seek that which is True and Real, found only in the light of deeper understanding once the darkness of our ignorance is removed. It’s considered a peace mantra because once we deeply know the truth of our interconnected and inseparable nature, we realise that all violent thoughts, speech, and actions towards another are equally harmful to ourselves, and inner – and therefore outer – peace becomes the ultimate goal.

I wish you much love and light this week and always!