The Cold Light of Illumination

Clear, deep blue sky with bright sun shining long rays over a frozen lake surrounded by a forest.

The polar vortex is a demanding oppressor.

Coldness creates contraction — in cells, in molecules. The same goes for life. It becomes frigidly contracted, small, hunkered down. The plague that is cabin fever sets in quickly and spreads rapidly because it’s too cold to walk or run outside for more than a few minutes. Of course, there are the die-hard folks who suit up with layer upon layer of what I can only believe is ultra-high grade space fabric (possibly not even made here on planet Earth at all), and continue on in true Canadian fashion.

The rest of us scurry from homes to cars, from cars into work, school, or coffee shops. But scurry we do. Staying contracted for too long creates a buzzing agitation, even for the the hardiest of introverts. We need movement in our lives, we need space, we need interaction. As much as I love the thought of curling up on the couch with tea and Netflix, sans all other people in the world, I couldn’t stand the thought of trying to get work done all day today at home or in the office. Cabin fever demanded a change of pace to confront the cold. I needed to move.

So here I am at one of my favourite cafes in Edmonton, people watching. I do wonder if other folks can ever tell I’m watching them? And if so, what they might be thinking about what to do with a bookish creeper. I’m not so much observing folks to guess at who they might be; rather, it’s simply nice to witness movements like my own — slightly stilted in the cold, shrunken in, scurried, and layered up with five forms of tops, three sets of pants, toques, mittens, scarves, and, in one instance, protective goggles. I felt deep compassion for the young mother trying to dress her preschool-aged son in all that mess of layers only to be told, of course, that he had to pee after all the clothes were on. It’s a continuing rite of passage between parents and children who live in winter countries: the bladder only triggers the brain to speaks after it would take too long to undress to make it to the toilet in time.

In February, the clear days are most often the coldest. The blue of the sky retains a depthlessness that is rare to find throughout the rest of the year. Especially when there are no clouds to be seen, I could easily get lost in the blue. That is, if I could stand still long enough in the cold to look up. Most days, condensation has frozen on my eyelashes in sparkly, icy balls making vision treacherous. I’m often grateful I actually end up where I’m supposed to be going, knowing the door I’m walking into could easily be the old lady’s house down the street.

However, unlike December and January when the days are shorter and the nights come earlier, February begins to illuminate the world. If I stand just so in the path of direct sunlight, I can feel the air warm up a few degrees. The power is returning, the warmth is hinting that it’s still alive. There’s more tangible hope that spring will return.

How like illumination — that process of being exposed to new realities and truths. It can find me in the deepest cold, often seeming unfeeling itself, and yet provides that small bit of warmth with its truth. It’s not a living light unto itself. Not for humans anyway. If I stay here, I’ll die just as I would in the cold. Illumination needs love for me, as a human, to be fully alive within me just as I need the warmth of somewhere indoors for me to appreciate the cold light outside.

There must be movement between both divine aspects — illumination and love. If I remain in the coldness of illumination, I can understand a new reality but quickly freeze into place. I become brittle and hard, fixed, and arrogant in my rigidity. Any realisation of awareness stays put and it dies.

If I stay hunkered down inside, trying to stay warm at all costs, thinking that this is what I need, I become apathetic and lethargic. Love becomes practiced shadows, moving in habitual rhythms only because it believes it is supposed to. But it does so without understanding or insight. It ceases to be love.

Not only do I need both, but I need to move in between both. It’s the movement that generates the life. That’s Spirit. That’s God. The triune relationship of truth, love, and movement reflects the kind of mysterious God who calls me good through the voices of Creator, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I need illumination to be cold because the new realities and the new truths are often harsh and unrelenting. Adding heated emotion, other than my own, would make the light intolerable. I need space where truth can simply settle on me as truth without trying to interpret my response. As a new dawn breaks over my consciousness, my being responds with delight and wonder all its own.

I need love to be warm because I can’t absorb the cold of such raw, powerful truth. Love is what massages my muscles to embrace the light; love is what counters my nasty reactions with broader thinking and deeper feeling; love is what breaks the frozen-thawed binary into nuance, scope, and perspective. Love generates the heat to put illumination into enlightened practice.

Love and illumination need to be as they are because their natures compliment one another’s core existences. And they come to life the most when I move in between the two. As I finish my tea, and begin the arduous process of re-donning my entire winter wardrobe before entering the deep cold once more, I’m warmed at the thought that such cold light exists for such rich, quiet depth.

Maybe just one more cup of tea.

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