This is a particularly good time to view patterns of light and dark. At this time of year nature’s palette becomes very limited, and shadows stand out in stark relief against a pale backdrop. Similarly in black and white photography, the lack of diversity of color brings a sharper focus to the patterns and textures that are there all along, but camouflaged by a variety of bright diversions. Since winter is traditionally known as a time for introspection and reflection, it seems appropriate to consider the patterns—those in the world around us and those within our minds.
The shapes created by trees as they stretch their bony fingers across the winter sky have always fascinated me. In fact this is true in every season—the feathery tips of spring, the rich density and herringbones of summer, and the ever-sparser shapes as leaves whirl away in the fall. In each of these instances, the additional essential element of the pattern is the light beyond—the backdrop of either a gray, or blue, or sparkling sky against which these shapes can display their character. In order to see the full beauty of the pattern, one’s focus can neither be on the nearer branch, nor on the light behind, but on the two in their interactions with each other.
This same idea can be applied to the understanding of our life experiences. Whatever is happening now, whatever memories we carry, or whatever paradigms we hold through which we view our world, each can only begin to have meaningful form or pattern when viewed against the backdrop of spiritual insight. When seen in this light, patterns emerge which yield meaning and healing; the luminosity of understanding and compassion become an intrinsic part of the pattern.
In his translation and exposition of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (The Science of Yoga), Taimni refers to the essential yogic technique of quieting the vrittis of our minds. He explains this Sanskrit term as referring to the functions or modifications of the mind. Although this technical term in yoga may seem far afield from our current discussion, it is not. Our individual minds habitually function along pathways that form a prison house around our consciousness. The Yoga Sutras tell us that those prison bars are structured by the way we think and act in response to life’s predicaments. We are formed by the patterns we create and maintain through our attitudes, decisions, and actions. We may think the world is doing “it” to us, but in fact we are doing “it” to ourselves. We are forming the prison that conforms us.
Several of the Christian traditions use the term “formation” to describe their indoctrination classes for new members, in recognition of the need to re-form attitudes and outlook on life. The classes teach neophytes how to view life “in terms of God’s laws so that they can learn to live a new life in Christ.” The same principle applies here. One needs to be able to apply the light of spiritual understanding in order to be able to see the overall pattern, and seeing the greater pattern, attune one’s life to be in closer harmony with it. Each action thus adjusted provides further clarity for more effective understanding and more harmonious living. And so the virtuous circle continues, until we begin to see that universal light shining through our thoughts and motives, adding beauty to even the most difficult and shadowy parts of our existence.
It takes both. Without the light that spiritual consciousness radiates, our lives become dark recesses of despair, but without the adversities and trials of this physical world to provide the counterpoint, spirit cannot experience the joys of victory and growing self-knowledge. Yet viewed together they form beautiful patterns that give rich meaning to the tapestry of life.
Next time you are outside, look up into the heavens, knowing that whatever patterns you see are visible only because of the light source beyond. Take a few extra moments to appreciate the intricacies that our senses allow us to experience. And then think of your life, and know that all aspects of it can be transformed daily through allowing an awareness of the universal light of consciousness. This light, which permeates all of creation, is so imbued with wholeness of being, fullness of consciousness, and joyfulness of existence (Sat, Chit, and Ananda are the Sanskrit terms) that its presence transforms the patterns of our lives.
The light is always there. We just have to change our focus so that we can be open to the larger perspective of spirit. May the awareness of this light create beautiful patterns of hope and meaning in our lives through the dark of winter ahead and throughout the coming year.