Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sunflowers & Souls: From Mind the Light

(from Mind the Light)

Light: Without it we die. Physically.Spiritually.

Our very lives depend on light for photosynthesis—energy from sunlight that converts into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the fuel used by all living things. That’s why sunflowers track the sun across the sky, sea otters bask while floating in the ocean, and I look for an excuse to go to Florida in January. All God’s creatures move toward the light—flowers, trees, people. Light is constant and ever present. At least that’s what we assume. Then the power goes out or a month of clouds rolls in. We grumble and moan and whine until the light comes back.

But even more than physically, we respond to illumination emotionally and spiritually. Light—depending on its strength, tone, slant—changes how we perceive the world and people. Light sets a Midwestern sunset apart from a Western desert sunset, a Goya portrait from a John Singer Sargent portrait, and a joyful spirit apart from a mournful one. Yet even though light is all around us, we often don’t notice it and the difference it can make in our souls. That’s where an old Quaker saying—“Mind the Light”—offers help. “Mind” in this case means many things—including heed, tend, notice, observe, and obey. Minding the Light is a way of deep seeing.

I need help seeing. I’ve been nearsighted since high school and joined the bifocaled folks when I turned forty. I’m also diabetic. That means I go to my optometrist annually and have my eyes thoroughly checked. At a recent examination, Dr. Groninger talked me into trying contact lenses.

I liked the immediate results. I looked days younger with them—so much younger I considered getting a toupee and dyeing my beard. But I had trouble reading. I saw faraway stuff. But not near. The first day I went out to lunch with people from the office and picked up the check. That’s about all I did, because I couldn’t read it. I had to trust a coworker to fill in the amount for the tip.

So I went back to the doctor. She made an adjustment. Much better. I could read. But then I started driving. My distance was blurrier. Another week and I was back. “What do you think?” Dr. Groninger asked. “Well, I like not messing with glasses. I like the freedom. But I’m still having trouble— now it’s distance.” “Let’s try modified monovision.” She explained that she was going to power up my left eye for reading and my right eye for distance. “Oh, we’re going to trick my brain, huh?”

“Not really,” she said. Then she explained that sight already tricks our brains. We favor one eye over the other all the time, based on what our needs are. If we’re in a concert and someone with a big hat sits in front of us, the eye that can see the show tells the brain, “Hey, pay attention here and forget that hat.” And we do. So now I’m learning to see in a new way and tell my brain what to pay attention to.

The poet Tess Gallagher writes:

My father loved first light.
He would sit alone
at the yellow formica table
in the kitchen with his coffee cup
and sip and look out . . .

My father picks up his
cup. Light is sifting in
like a gloam of certainty
over the water. He knows
something there in the half light
he can’t know any other way.

That’s what Mind the Light is about: A way to learn things in the light, whether at Formica tables with coffee cups or quietly reading a spiritual memoir or in the middle of our workaday world. Minding the Light adds a further dimension to eyes and brain: our souls. It helps us pay attention to God’s Light around us and in us. How we see our lives changes as this illumination leads us to a deep appreciation of the soulful things of life. Minding the Light is an invitation to experience a new way of seeing that shows our brains and souls what to pay attention to. It’s a way of seeing our inner and outer lives with spiritual eyes and discovering the connectedness between inner and outer sight.

Throughout Mind the Light you’ll encounter boxed text labeled “Illuminating Moments.” These are meant as brief exercises in Minding the Light. Illuminating Moments are based on the Quaker practice of asking Queries. The Religious Society of Friends (as Quakers are officially known) have used Queries for almost 350 years as a way to examine our souls, seek clarity, and gain spiritual insight. Queries are a practice that can be used by anyone looking for God’s Light in life. The Illuminating Moments in this book are not about mystical experiences of God, though they may occur. As you read the Illuminating Moments, let your mind and soul fill with words, ideas, or images. Using the Light of God inside and outside you, look deeply into the Holy.

Learning to Mind the Light is CPR for the soul. It’s an encounter that will save your light. 

the above is an excerpt from Mind the Light: Learning to See with Spiritual Eyes which is now available for $2.99 on Kindle.   You can download a free sample chapter!

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