Before dawn this morning, I woke up. Going into the kitchen to start the tea kettle, I reached for the light switch, and stopped short of turning it on. Instead, I lit a candle. The act of lighting a candle in the early morning darkness, filled my kitchen with a soft, radiant glow. I carried the candle back into my room and sat down to write in the calming, peaceful light of the candlelight.
What came to mind in that split second before I decided not to turn on the lights, was a spiritual practice introduced to me years ago by a former student. Katherine, a young single mother who had struggled with depression brought on by loss and grief over her husband’s suicide, had been seeking ways to deepen her sense of inner peace and spirituality. She came into my office one day and we talked about ways she might start creating habits and practices to develop a more peaceful, less hurried way of life. Shortly after our conversation, she told me she had decided to start and end her day more peacefully. Instead of jumping out of bed and turning all the lights on, she had started using candlelight in the mornings. And in the evenings, she muted lights or used candlelight in the period just before going to sleep.
Beginning and ending the day more in tune with the natural light cycles, helps us live in deeper harmony. When I was first on my own, I learned how to follow my own sleep rhythms, never using an alarm clock. I couldn’t tell you how that happened, but it has always been easy for me to set my own internal clock to wake up when I need to, or to sleep according to my needs. While working for myself usually does not require me to be on a tight schedule, I nevertheless have a pretty regular pattern of sleep. Being a night owl, I tend to go to sleep late, and wake up around the same time each morning; 7-8 hours after I put my head on my pillow. In the summer, the light pours in my windows creating a natural wake up call, and as we move deeper into Autumn, my own body clock seems to awaken me. Once in a while, I’m awoken by a rousing thunderbolt that sounds like it has landed outside my bedroom, or the blast of a ship’s whistle on a foggy morning. Sometimes it’s the dog’s bark or the deep soul calling of some nightmare dream or early morning wake up call from the Divine intruder. Most mornings,it’s quiet and calm where I live.
Over the last hour, sunlight has taken the place of candlelight, and the light reveals the day awakening. Two people are taking a morning run across the trestle on the river walk. The ducks and geese on the river are beginning their morning conversations, and birds have taken flight all up and down the river. Haven’t heard or seen the crows yet; they usually fly here to the riverside where they spend their day hunting, strutting, and chattering on wires, roof and tree tops, and hunting through the grass in between times they are chasing the larger birds of prey, hoping to get the eagles or hawks to drop their catch of the day. Crows are some of my favorite birds. Everywhere I have lived, I have found the local crows. Recently, I was in the forest where I did not see a crow for three weeks, and I realized how much I missed them. Something practical and regal about a crow. Seeking a larger place in life than they might deserve; seeking the highest branch or treetop while keeping track of all that goes on in the world below them.
Sounds of the morning, bird calls, muted sounds of neighbors quietly starting their days, and the rattling and shaking of the local bus as it makes its first round of the day, picking up passengers who are heading into the day’s activities.
Today, it’s quiet. No wind nor rain beating against the windows or echoing down the heater vents. A high bank of gray covers the Wallapa Mountains, the open river, and all of us who live along her shores. Clouds, like a soft blanket, muting all noises except an occasional bird call, a few cars passing, or voices greeting one another on a morning walk. No dogs yet have sounded warnings or begun their morning chases and outings. Cats quietly make their rounds, silently darting across streets, up alley ways, and onto back porches seeking a place to curl up after early morning hunts and meals.
A large ship laden down with cargo, its red line deep in the water, barely visible, silently and swiftly makes its way to the bar where it will enter the open sea and start its ocean voyage. Other ships, wait, still and calm, anchored in place in mid-channel, waiting to sail upriver.
Tide is high, and the water ripples in toward shore as it continues to rise. More people out and about. Birds have left their nests for the day’s activities. A last quick look around tells me that a few more leaves must fall from the old plum tree outside, before it can be in its full, stark glory, bare and naked for its journey into darkness. Light has returned for the day, and darkness will take her place, earlier and earlier as we move deeper into Autumn. Life has returned in the muted, morning light.
And this evening, once the day’s busiest times end, and before I put my head down for the night, I will dim the lights, light a candle, and sink deeper into the stillness and calm of the night. I will sit in meditation, spend some time in prayer, and begin wrapping up the promises I made myself today, setting them aside to find a place of peace, within. Lists may be made, of gratitude and ‘need-tos’, of what to plan and what to check off, and all to assure myself that in this sweet moment, the light we have is enough. The darkness is enough, for we move into and out of light in the rhythm of the turning of the planet, and in the journey of life that leads us on. Waking tomorrow, we will make other choices. For now, this is enough.