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First Friday Night Special #14: “What’s at the Edge of Your Light?” (a “missing” post practice post) December 6, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“Happy Chanukah!” for those who are celebrating. May everyone’s light shine long after the holiday.

This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #14 from December 3rd. This Chanukah-inspired practice featured a YIN Yoga sequence focusing on the Urinary Bladder and Kidney meridians.

You can request an audio recording of Friday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]

“We have arranged and furnished the different spaces in our Cove to reflect the brain’s movement between the two poles of creativity and efficiency, as well as the fact that spaces strongly affect our perceptions while we are occupying them. For instance, dimmer light increases creativity, whereas brighter light improves analytical thinking. Ceiling height improves abstract and relational thinking, and lower ceilings do the opposite. A view of generative landscapes improves generativity, whereas mild exertion temporarily improves memory and attention.”

– quoted from “Chapter 9. Celebrate Doubt” in Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently by Beau Lotto 

An asana (“seat”) practice involves moving the body around, positioning the body in different ways to generate different effects – in much the same way one might shift around their living/working space. Of course, people have different needs and different understandings of the needs. Not to mention the fact that different configurations can produce similar effects.  So, it’s no wonder that there are a lot of different ways to physically practice yoga.

The different styles and traditions of the physical practice of yoga range in intensity and quantity of movement. There are very active, solar, yang-like practices on one end of the spectrum. These are practices like Ashtanga, Power Yoga, and other forms of vinyasa (as well as Hot Yoga) that tap into the sympathetic nervous system and involve a lot of doing. Then there are very passive, lunar, yin-like practices on the other end of the spectrum. These practices stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and are all about resting, digesting, and creating. These practices can feel the most like seated meditation and, therefore, are great for contemplation.

For the most part, these physical practices of yoga – along with their sister science, Ayurveda (as they come to us from India) – are based on the energetic mapping system consisting of nadis, marmani, and chakras. YIN Yoga, on the other hand, is based on the energetic system found in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which consists of meridians (and points along those meridians). According to each system, the vitality of the mind-body (and the mind-body’s organs) can be accessed in very specific ways. On the outside, YIN Yoga can look like Restorative Yoga; however, the intention and execution of the practices is very different. Ultimately, the effects of the practices are also very different. 

Urinary bladder and kidney meridians are associated with water, the emotion of fear (which, in Eastern philosophies, is often considered the opposite of wisdom), and winter. The pair are also associated with the month of December and 12 AM, which are considered the most YIN time(s) of the year/day. From the perspective of Nature, these are times of stillness… and darkness. These are times to turn inward.

“I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence but it comes from within. It is there all the time.”

 
 

– Anna Freud, psychoanalyst and teacher

Many people might think of Anna Freud (born December 3, 1895) as living in her father’s shadow. Really, as the youngest of six, some might think that she lived in her whole family’s shadow. It’s possible that being in everyone’s shadow gave her the perspective needed to see possibilities for other children. Either way, she didn’t stay in the shadows for long. She made a name for herself – first as a primary (or elementary) school teacher and then as a psychoanalyst. Her work as a psychoanalyst was slightly different from that of her illustrious father. She focused on the functions and benefits of a healthy ego and was able to parlay her experience in as an educator to become one of the pioneers of child psychology.

In her late twenties, Anna Freud presented a paper to the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society and then became a member. Within a year of joining the society, she was serving as its chairperson and had established her own practice (for children). In 1925, she started teaching her techniques and approach at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute. In 1927, she published her system. She spent nine years as the Secretary of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Training Institute and then, ten years after she started teaching, she became the institute’s director. A year later, in 1936, she published her groundbreaking study, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence, which postulated the ways by which humans protect themselves. Her ideas around these methods – including repression (which she said develop naturally and unconsciously in children); projection (of one’s own feelings onto another); directing aggressive behavior towards one’s self; identification with an overpowering aggressor; and divorcing ideas from feelings – became one of the cornerstones of adolescent psychology.

After the Nazi’s annexed Austria in March of 1938, Anna Freud was interrogated by the Gestapo. Being a Jewish woman and an intellectual, she had good reason to fear the worst and was prepared to protect herself using one of the same methods she had described in her work. She was eventually allowed to return home and, when her father was offered a way out of Vienna, she organized the Freud family’s immigration to London. In England, she not only continued her work, she broadened it. First she focused on the effects of war on children and their development. Later, after she had spent some time traveling and lecturing in the United States, she broadened her horizons and began studying the effects of being emotionally and/or social deprived and/or disadvantaged. She also did some work around how crime affected children’s development and published her collaborations with regard to laws and policies that could help children thrive.

“When she was eighty-five, a depressed young man sent her a lament about the chaotic state of the world, and she sent him a succinct statement of her credo: ‘I agree with you wholeheartedly that things are not as we would like them to be. However, my feeling is that there is only one way to deal with it, namely to try and be all right oneself, and to create around one at least a small circle where matters are arranged as one wants them to be.’

 

– quoted from “Preface to the First Edition” of Anna Freud: A Biography (second edition) by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl

This week’s practices were inspired by Chanukah, the Jewish festival of light, and a series of light-related question:

1. Monday: When do you shine the brightest? 

2. Tuesday: Why so much focus on light?

3. Wednesday: How do you shine (brighter)?

With the exception of question number 2 (on Tuesday), I provided some information related to the questions, but no real answers – because (spoiler alert) the questions are not for me to answer. What I mean is that they are not for me to answer on your behalf. The questions (even Tuesday’s) are for you to contemplate, meditate, live and breathe. They are a form of practice.

Just to be clear, all of these light-related questions are connected to each of our “fields of possibilities” and are an opportunity to consider how you might arrange that “small circle” that Anna Freud referenced. 

Friday’s question, like Monday’s question, can be taken in more than one way. It could be asking you to consider what you can see sitting right on the edge of your light, just before there is darkness. In other words, what is an obvious possibility for you? What aren’t you doing right in this moment, but you could be doing in the next few (metaphorical) moments?

If, on the other hand, you think of the edge of light as twilight (like dusk or dawn), then the question becomes about those little whispers of possibility in the back of your mind or heart, that you’re not necessarily working towards… but in a direction that you could start working. Of course, in this case, you could also start working in a different direction.

Or, the question could be asking you to consider what you can’t (yet) see, because it is sitting on the dark, just beyond the light. This might be something that someone else might be able to see you doing –  because they have a different picture of you – but you have to move (i.e., change your perspective) and/or “shine a little brighter” in order for that possibility to come into the light. 

Finally, it could be asking all of the above. 

“Darkness. Few things frighten us more. The fear it creates is a constant in our existence: The living darkness of our bedrooms after our parents turn out the lights. The pregnant darkness beyond the glow of the bonfire as we listen to ‘spooky’ stories. The ancient darkness of the forest as we walk past deep shadows between trees. The shivering darkness of our own home when we step inside wondering if we’re alone.

Darkness is a fundamental, existential fear because it contains all the fears that we carry with us in our brains – fears both real and imagined, engendered from living life and from the life lived in stories, from culture, from fairytales.”

– quoted from “Chapter 9. Celebrate Doubt” in Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently by Beau Lotto 

Of course, as you consider your light – and what it symbolizes – you must also consider the dark. After all, we don’t really appreciate the light, until we contrast it with the dark. During Friday’s class I shared a little fear I experienced driving my old truck in the city (where there were so many bright lights that I couldn’t see my own headlights) and how that fear was, ironically, alleviated, when I was driving in the country where there were less cars and street lights. It’s a weird scenario, I know; but in the latter case I had a better understanding of my reference points, a better (and more consistent) understanding of where the light ended and the darkness began. You can think of it as a better understanding of the safety of what is known/seen versus the danger of what is unknown/unseen.

This holds true with all the different paradigms: good and evil, life and death, love and hate, knowledge and ignorance, kindness and anger/frustration, hope and despair, wisdom and fear; etc. We appreciate what we have more when there is the possibility of not having it. However, we can’t truly appreciate what we don’t have (or can’t see ourselves having).

Another way to look at this idea is vis-à-vis proprioception. Remember, when the “brain finds the body in space” and realizes it has more room, it stretches out. When the mind-body bumps into an obstacle, it pulls back. In was very similar to the defense mechanisms described by Anna Freud, when we faced with the danger that we perceive as failure (or other people’s judgements), we pull back.

The Chanukah story (and the miracles within the story) highlight how all of the things that can be symbolized by darkness are overcome by the things that are symbolized by light. The story is very different if people – specifically Matīṯyāhū, his sons, and the people that follow them – don’t let their lights shine (metaphorically speaking). If we think of fate as history and destiny as their future, the story is really different if they don’t know (and believe) the stories of their ancestors. The story is very different if they cannot see beyond the darkness. 

“‘Destiny. My destiny! Droll thing life is – that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself – that comes too late – a crop of inextinguishable regrets. I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine. It takes place in an impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid scepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary. If such is the form of ultimate wisdom, then life is a greater riddle than some of us think it to be.'”

 

– the character Charles Marlow speaking of Kurtz’s death in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in Berdychiv, Russian Empire (in what is now Ukraine, but was originally part of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland) in 1857, Joseph Conrad was known as “Konrad” by his Polish family. If you look at his family history, you might think that he was fated (or destined) to be a writer. Given the cultural interactions and socio-political clashes that he experienced growing up, perhaps he was even destined to write the dark plots and twisted characters that are found in his novellas. Dark plots and twisted characters that are often the subject of criticism and debate and sometimes analyzed through a (Sigmund) Freudian lens. Personally, I wonder what Anna Freud might have said about how his experiences informed his topics; but she was only three when the Heart of Darkness was serialized in Blackwood’s Magazine (February, March, and April of 1899) and only five when the last portion of Lord Jim appeared in the same magazine. 

When Anna Freud said, “Creative minds have always been known to survive any kind of bad training,she could have easily been talking about the “Prince of Darkness,” John Michael “Ozzy” Osbourne. Born in November 3, 1948, the lead singer of Black Sabbath has a reading disorder, was abused as a child, dropped out of school at 15, spent some prison (as a young man), and discovered late in life that he was suffering from an undiagnosed central nervous system disorder. He worked at a variety of trades, but was inspired to be a singer at a very young age. Despite (or maybe because of) his childhood trauma, he persevered. But, there was a cost and a toll and a lot of darkness that played out in the music and on the stage. That cost, toll, and darkness have included years of substance abuse, mixed in with periods of sobriety, and criticism about how his music and behavior have (negatively) impacted young people. That criticism has included him being banned from certain cities and several lawsuits surround death and violence that people have attributed to his music.

“People look to me and say
Is the end near, when is the final day?
What’s the future of mankind?
How do I know, I got left behind

Everyone goes through changes
Looking to find the truth
Don’t look at me for answers
Don’t ask me, I don’t know”

– quoted from the song “I Don’t Know” by Ozzy Osbourne

For some, there is only one answer to all the mysteries, coincidence, and miracles that occur within the Chanukah story: that answer is God. For others, however, the answer is like the that song and lyric by Ozzy Osbourne: “I don’t know.”

“I don’t know,” is also one of the the reason I don’t answer all the questions I ask in class. Or, at least, one of the reasons I don’t answer them for you. At the end of the day, each of us to focus on our own inner light; figure out how we show up shine in the world; notice the situations that enable us to shine our brightest; and also notices “what’s at the edge of [our] light.” There’s a few more questions in this rubric, but consider how the answers start pointing you in certain directions. Notice how the questions and their answers can start opening up your field of possibilities.

Sometimes it may seem like you are wearing a head lamp (or heart lamp) and you’re moving in a way that changes your field of awareness. And that’s fine, that happens – it’s part of life and part of the practice. But, sometimes, we experience a brightening and a widening of our field. Sometimes we find that what we couldn’t imagine was actually just outside our field of vision: It was always there, waiting for us.

Yes, eventually, what is waiting for us all is Death. But, prior to that, there is an opportunity, “one tiny moment in time / For life to shine to shine / Burn away the darkness /”

“An old woman living in a nightmare, an old woman who has fought a thousand battles with death and always won. Now she’s faced with a grim decision—whether or not to open a door. And in some strange and frightening way she knows that this seemingly ordinary door leads to the Twilight Zone.”

“There was an old woman who lived in a room. And, like all of us, was frightened of the dark. But who discovered in a minute last fragment of her life that there was nothing in the dark that wasn’t there when the lights were on. Object lesson for the more frightened amongst us in, or out of, the Twilight Zone.”

– “Opening” and “Closing” narration, quoted from “Episode 81 (3.16) – ‘Nothing in the Dark'” of The Twilight Zone (premiered January 5, 1962)

Friday’s music is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Chanukah (Eve/Day 6) for 12032021”]

Note: The YouTube and Spotify playlists are slightly different. Track 12 on YouTube is Track 1 on Spotify (and can be used interchangeably).

“‘Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, some vision – he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath:

“‘” The horror! The horror!’

“I blew the candle out and left the cabin….”

 

– the character Charles Marlow describing Kurtz’s death in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

### “…take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually. Outside the dividing curtain of the testimony in the Tent of Meeting, Aaron shall set it up before the Lord from evening to morning continually. [This shall be] an eternal statute for your generations.” (V-L 24:2-3)

When Do You Shine Brightest? (a Monday post practice post) November 30, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Men, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Chanukah!” to all who are celebrating.

This is the post for Monday, November 29th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

*

– quoted from the speech “Is Theology Poetry” as printed in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses by C. S. Lewis

Yes, it is strange (and some might even say disrespectful) to start off a class about Chanukah with a quote from C. S. Lewis. In my defense, the first day and second night of Chanukah this year coincide with the anniversary of the birth of the author (born Clive Staples Lewis, November 29, 1898) and, as I’ve mentioned before, his faith and career as a Christian apologetic have roots in some of the same elements we find in the story of Chanukah: Judaism, Torah study, and Greek philosophical discourse. But, more to the point, this particular quote, from a speech “Jack” presented to the to the Oxford University Socratic Club (November 6, 1944), speaks to the connection between light, faith, and how we see the world based on the light of faith. In turn, it also highlights how our beliefs shape our behavior – and these are all, very much, themes related to Chanukah.

Light and the symbolic meanings of light have been celebrated since the beginning of time and by every culture on the planet. During the darkest times of the year, people celebrate light as well as the symbolic meaning of light overcoming darkness. In the Northern Hemisphere, we have a whole long list of winter celebrations that start around Halloween and will continue into the beginning of the new secular year. This year’s celebrations started with Samhain (October 31-November 1); which was followed by Diwali, the 5-day Indian festival of lights, (November 2-6); and now Chanukah, the 8-day Jewish festival of lights, which started at sunset on Sunday. The highlight, some might even say the culmination, of the Chanukah story is “the miracle of the oil,” the miracle of light. However, the fact that there were eight nights and eight days of light when there was only enough oil for one day is just one of many miracles in the story – and one could argue that it’s not even the final miracle.

“(1) Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] would say: Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind.

Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major one, for you do not know the rewards of the mitzvot. Consider the cost of a mitzvah against its rewards, and the rewards of a transgression against its cost….

*

(3) Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress.”

*

– quoted from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) (2:1 & 2:3)

More often than not, I question where to begin this story. For some, it makes sense to start with Matīṯyāhū and his sons, the ones who would become known as the Maccabees, and how they defied the orders of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes. But, I like to put certain actions in context – which means going back over two hundred years to the rule of Alexander the Great who, in the 4th century BCE, conquered Persia and expanded the Greek empire – an expansion that included the Jewish people.

Alexander’s attitude towards the Jews and their faith is sometimes described as “tolerant.” He didn’t really care what they did or what they believed, because he didn’t see them as a threat. Life was hard if you were a Jew under the reign of Alexander the Great, and even under the rule of many of the Greek kings that came after him. It was hard to make a living and you would face harassment and bullying, but you could do you (as we say these days).

Of course, some people wanted an easier life. Known as Hellenic Jews, these people changed the way they dressed and wore their hair; the things they ate; how they talked; and what they talked about. They even changed the way they practiced their faith. They stopped observing the Sabbath and (publicly) studying Torah. They stopped circumcising their male children or devised ways to hide the circumcision. This last part was necessary, because of there were many aspects of Greek life that required men to be nude. However, by the 2nd century BCE it wasn’t enough to hide who you were. King Antiochus made it illegal, under penalty of death, to be Jewish or to practice the faith. He also created situations, like appointing High Priests and building a gymnasium outside of the temple, that made it harder for people to hide.

It’s one thing to keep the faith when doing so just makes things a little uncomfortable. It’s another thing altogether to keep the faith when doing so could result in your death. Yes, I know; throughout the history of religion there has been religious persecution and there have been people who kept the faith despite that persecution. But, whenever it happens, I think it’s a bit of a miracle.

To understand why people keep the faith, sometimes it’s helpful to understand what the believe. Definitely, in this case, to really understand the Maccabees and the gravity of what they did, we have to understand what they believed – which means getting into a bit of Torah… and, eventually, going back to the beginning of time.

“And God said, ‘Light will be,’ and light was.”

*

– Transliteration of the Hebrew from Bereishit – Genesis (1:3), most commonly translated as “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.

So, in the beginning of the Abrahamic creation story, there was God, there was heaven and earth, there was water, and there was “the spirit on the water.” There was also emptiness and darkness. Then, depending on how you translate or interpret the text from the Hebrew Bible (which is also the Christian Old Testament), God either created light with a command or predicted the existence of light. Either way, in the original Hebrew, the twenty-fifth word is ohr (“light”) and Chanukah begins, every year, on the 25th of Kislev. (Similarly, Christmas occurs, every year, on the 25th of December, but that’s a another story.)

Matīṯyāhū and his sons believed this creation story, believed in God and the power of God, and lived their lives according to their faith. They were priests who studied the word and the laws of their people and, therefore, observed the commandments and the commanded holidays. Of course, if you look at VayikraLeviticus 23, where the appointed festivals and holy days are outlined, you won’t find any mention of a festival of light. Neither will you find mention of Chanukah in the similar list located in DevarimDeuteronomy 16. After all, the word chanukah means “dedication” and that doesn’t happen until later in the story.

What you will find instead, at the beginning of VayikraLeviticus 24, is a commandment to “take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually” and detailed instructions on how the menorah should be publicly displayed (24:1-3). You will also find, at the end of DevarimDeuteronomy 16 and the beginning of DevarimDeuteronomy 17, commandments on what not to do; instructions to investigate reports of transgressions; and instructions on punishments. Now, I am not going to support or condone the instructions on punishments. I am just pointing out that they are there and that Matīṯyāhū and his sons believed in these instructions.

When the father was told to make a sacrifice to the Greek gods, he refused. When a Hellenic Jew stepped up to perform the desecration in his place, Matīṯyāhū killed him. His actions meant that he and his family had to flee to the caves in the wilderness. Others followed them – and I don’t just mean physically. They also followed them spiritually. In the caves, the people studied Torah, observed the Sabbath, and kept the faith. They were a light in the wilderness.

“The world that we live in, so much cold and strife
One little light to warm another life
Fill the darkest night with the brightest light
Cause it’s time for you to shine
A little dedication, a small illumination
Just one person to change a whole nation
Let me see the light”

*

– quoted from the song “Shine” by the Maccabeats

At some point, someone suggested that this father and his sons, this band of brothers, should take on the Greek army. Now, keep two things in mind. First, Matīṯyāhū and his sons were Kohens, they were priests and scholars. They weren’t warriors or athletes, like the Greeks. In fact, one could say that they were the polar opposite. Second, the Greek army at this time was (reportedly) the biggest and best trained army in the world. Remember, they were the army of a people and a culture that prized physical prowess. So, it was kind of ludicrous to consider going up against them.

Yet, take them on they did… which brings us back to their beliefs and the power of their beliefs.

Remember, the earlier commandments on setting up temple, observing the Sabbath, and all the different ways of keeping the faith were codified within the context of God leading the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. Matīṯyāhū and his sons may not have been physically ready for the battle, but they were mentally and spiritually ready. They knew the wilderness and they knew the Torah. They knew that in ShemotExodus 15, their ancestors sang of the power of God. They knew that story included the words, “Who is like You among the powerful, O Lord? Who is like You, powerful in the holy place? Too awesome for praises, performing wonders!” (S-E 15:11) And that, at least that first part, became their battle cry.

They put the initials of the battle cry on their shields and banners. When Matīṯyāhū died, Judah, the son he left in charge, became known as Judah Maccabee (or Judas Maccabeus, in Greek). While there are several other explanations for the name and for the meaning behind the name, the one I learned first was that Maccabee (the acronym) sounded like the word for “hammer” and so the people in the revolt became known as God’s hammer. For seven years, the hammer came down on the mighty Greek army and eventually defeated them. This, depending on how you count, is the second or third miracle of the story: the light breaking through the darkness.

“But when they saw the army coming to meet them, they said to Judas: How shall we, being few, be able to fight against so great a multitude, and so strong, and we are ready to faint with fasting today?

*

And Judas said: It is an easy matter for many to be shut up in the hands of a few: and there is no difference in the sight of the God of heaven to deliver with a great multitude, or with a small company:

*

For the success of war is not in the multitude of the army, but strength cometh from heaven.”

*

– 1 Maccabees 3:17-19 (DRB)

The Maccabees returned to the temple and found it was completely wrecked. Everything forbidden had taken place. There were idols and evidence of sacrifice. The menorah was not lit and bottles of olive oil had been shattered and in other ways desecrated. Cleaning up the temple became the new battle. Rededicating the temple became the new mission. In the process of cleaning up and restoring the temple, they (miraculously) found one vial of oil that still had the seal of the High Priest. Who knows how old the vial was? Who know who found it? Doesn’t matter. It was another miracle.

It would take several days, over a week, to make the oil required to light the menorah as detailed in the Torah. Using the one vial of oil they found would be a symbolic gesture – one might even call it a sign of faith. But, it wouldn’t fulfill the commandment, because they wouldn’t be able to keep the candles “continually” lit. They had to make a choice: wait or do what they could do.

They decided to do what they could do. Miraculously, the candles stayed lit. As I point out each year, going into the first day and the second night – even the second day and the third night – people might have thrown the word “miracle” around lightly. After all, there was always the possibility that someone had measured the oil incorrectly and there was more than expected in the vial. (We won’t get into the odds of that happening or the odds of that particular bottle being the one that wasn’t violated.) However, as the nights and the days progressed, there was no denying that “a great miracle happened.”

Letters on dreidels (outside of Israel): nun (נ), gimel (ג), hei (ה), and shin (ש)

Letters on dreidels (in Israel): nun (נ), gimel (ג), hei (ה), and pei, (פ)

– Hebrew letters symbolizing the phrases (in Hebrew) “A great miracle happened there” and “A great miracle happened here”

Every year, people celebrate the miracle of the oil and commemorate the rededication of the temple. Part of that celebration is a game that involves spinning a four-sided top, a dreidel. Each side contains a Hebrew letter that represents a word. While many people only think of the dreidel in the context of modern celebrations, the practice of spinning the top actually dates back to the time of the Maccabees. It was a way for children (in particular) to study in secret.

Except in extenuating circumstances, when it is not safe to do so, people are instructed to place their hanukia (a special menorah for the occasion) next to their door or in a window that can be seen from the street – so that anyone walking past will be reminded of the miracle that started with faith. In some traditions, each person lights their own individual hanukia – again, in a place that is visible. Lighting the candles is a sign a faith, a sign that people are keeping the faith, and after all this time, that is itself a miracle.

Lighting the candles in as public of a way as is possible is a way to see someone’s faith and, also, a way by which the faithful “see everything else.” If you look at a hanukia you will notice that it is different from a regular menorah. The primary way it is different is that there are nine candles instead of seven. I know, if you are unaware of this, you’re thinking, “Wait. Aren’t there supposed to be eight candles?” One would think that, except for the fact that the eight candles (and lighting them) are part of a mitzvah (“commandment”). Therefore, they can’t do any other “work.”

The ninth candle, the one that is set apart – either out to the side or on a different plane than the others – is a worker, an attendant, a caretaker: the Shamash. It is the candle that lights all the other lights and, in Orthodox homes, it is the light by which people read the Torah and play the dreidel. It is the light by which people see.

Take a moment to notice, in this story and in all the other light related stories of this dark season (even the ones from faiths that don’t share roots), to notice there is always a worker, an attendant, a shamash or caretaker of the miracle. There is always someone who is the source of light. Whether that light is goodness, wisdom, love, kindness, compassion, equanimity, or joy there is always someone shining bright. And if we see that world in that light, by that light, we all end up living a better world.

Before I start the recording for the practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center, I always offer a prompt question (for anyone who chooses to answer). The loveliest thing about these prompts isn’t the question though; it’s the answers. This Monday the question was, “When do you shine brightest?” Part of me asked this question because light always seems brightest when surrounded by darkness. So, part of me wanted to know when people felt it was darkest and maybe even a little bit of information about how they shine.

But, I rarely explain how I think about the question, because if I did the answers might not be as lovely. This week, for instance, everyone who answered mentioned the means by which they shine brightest. There were great answers. All of them were great answers – and great reminders. As we head into the darkest part of the year, your answer is a reminder to consider what helps you shine. Then do what you need to do to shine brighter… because the world needs your light.

“The more they target our spirit, the brighter we let our souls shine.”

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– quoted from a Charlie Harary presentation about Chanukah and lessons he learned from his grandparents 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Meditation Center practice.

### YOU WILL BE LIGHT ###