November and December can be difficult months. From Remembrance Day, through Diwali and the anticipation of Holiday festivities, these celebrations of memory and light can bring with them a sadness, a sense of loss for loved ones who are no longer with us. It is a time of year when the dark and light can appear to compete, where we feel pulled in many directions, with unexpected sombre emotions surfacing during otherwise joyful events.
Diwali Light. Photo: Sabari Girisan M (CC-BY-SA-3.0)
Why is it we can feel overwhelmed by our emotions at this particular time of year? Is our fascination with illumination purely a practical response to the shorter daylight hours or is there something more spiritual, more profound at play? How can we all shine a little brighter this year as the Holiday season approaches?
Jeffrey Armstrong in his class on Diwali: Festival of Lights, Vedic Celebrations Illuminated reminds us that the ritual of “relighting the lamp when it starts to get dark is a metaphor for the relighting of ourselves, for the trimming of the wick inside of us”. Our spiritual bodies may be self-luminous, he says, but our bodies here on earth are often covered in matter, in shadows, in “gu” (hence a “guru” being someone who has the power to disperse darkness). Jeffrey also suggests that a part of eastern wisdom that has been lost in western civilization can explain why it is that around this time of year our thoughts turn to gathering together with family: “now and further on as this darkness increases people will cluster together inside of an environment, and so on another level what’s happening is your ancestors are available and in that darkness those who are stuck within matter also come out”.
Our heightened emotions at this time of year, then, can be seen as our own “ghosts and goblins” and also the ghosts of our departed ancestors who aren’t at rest: “their spirits are moving and the spirits of our ancestors are real because their souls are eternal, but sometimes your ancestors are stuck in the gu because of things they did. You’re their only hope because your body is the result of what they did so your dream code is the radio they know how to broadcast on because your ancestors had similar radios.”
The relighting of a candle for Diwali or the gathering together of loved ones for Holiday celebrations are important rituals. Coming together helps us remember how alike we all are, how connected we are, how “covered in gu” we are, and when we recognize these truths, forgiveness naturally follows, for ourselves and for others – in all their forms. Simply bringing awareness to our true needs to forgive and gather together at this time of year (as opposed to the “wants” of the material world) can help our own light to shine and the gu to dissipate. In this way, we are tending our own wicks. As the poet Richard Howard says, “the corridor leading into the conscious life seems to me the right tunnel to find light at the end of.”(1)
However you interpret the emotions that surface over the coming weeks, taking time to accept them can be an important part of your personal journey. To help with this, you could try lighting a candle for 5 minutes every day, sitting silently with the flame, inviting the contrasting emotions in and watching them as they drift away, focusing on what is truly needed in your life, and creating more space within yourself and the world for light, warmth and joy.