By Geoffrey Nimmer, December, 2018
I got to spend Thanksgiving with my goddaughter, her husband and their 3-month old baby. At the end of the weekend, they were talking about how excited they were to go Christmas tree shopping. A huge part of their excitement was recognizing how mesmerized the baby was going to be by the tree and its lights. While I think both of them are brilliant, this wasn’t exactly a brilliant observation. The kid is mesmerized by absolutely everything, truly the beginner’s mind.
This made me think about our own fascination with light. Every spiritual practice refers to light, to seeing the light, to becoming enlightened. As we approach the Winter Solstice, the darkest longest days, celebrations of light and the return of the sun abound in every culture. From the ancient Romans to Japanese, Chinese, and Middle Eastern cultures, fires are lit to ward off the darkness and to celebrate the return of the sun, the return of longer days, the return of light.
I like this quote from James Turell, “In a way, light unites the spiritual world and the ephemeral, physical world. People frequently talk about spiritual experiences using the vocabulary of light: Saul on the road to Damascus, near-death experiences, Samadhi or the light-filled void of Buddhist enlightenment.
Our physical yoga practice offers us the opportunity to recognize the return of the sun on a daily basis. We practice Surya Namaskar, literally saluting the sun. This is more than just a warm up, although it does bring heat and light into the body, it is a way for us to recognize that we are connected to and a part of the Universe and all its machinations.
Our asana practice can offer another way to connect to light as well. As a teacher, I see it all the time when a student learns something new or is able to do something they hadn’t been able to do before. Using their own body as a tool and their practice, I watch the light bulb turn on, they “see the light.” While this is a somewhat superficial interpretation, it is a step on the path to awareness, to illumination and is an example of how light unites the spiritual and physical worlds.
Years ago, I was stepping out of my apartment building on a rainy morning along with my neighbor. As we both opened our umbrellas he said, “Ah, the rain falls on the just and the unjust.” I loved it and took it to mean that, when it comes down to it, we are all in the same boat. The same is true for the light. It is the same light here as it is there. If we can tap into our own beginner’s mind, we can see that the light unites us all. We are all the same.