The dark season is here in the Northern Hemisphere. And maybe it is dark for you inside as well as outside. You may feel lonely or in pain. You may fear the future. It can be a great comfort to remember that all beings, including the Buddha, faced the darkness of the unknown. He left family and home, teachers and friends, all that was familiar to sit in the forest in the dark. Waiting. Watching his mind states come and go. Not knowing what would come.
In the Christian calendar, this time is called Advent. Advent comes from the Latin word “adventus,” which means “coming.” It is a time of opening to the darkness of the unknown, which in many traditions including Buddhism, is the very definition of faith. Real faith, it turns out, is a willingness to be present to what is instead of clinging to a story with a fixed conclusion. What will come? We don't know! But what if we faced the unknown surrounded by noble friends? Not just real friends who share your wish for a greater wholeness and awakening (the words don't really matter--we wish for a presence beyond words). What if we allow ourselves to call on great and good beings to accompany us? This can be great beings known or unknown, human or nonhuman -- Buddha, Jesus, Tara, Totoro, a wonderful redwood tree.
Don't be shy. Allow yourself to picture sitting under that wonderful tree -- or climbing up into the lap of the Buddha. Let yourself pray for help from Tara or Mary, and imagine how it feels to be held in great love. In the midst of allowing ourselves to feel nurtured and accompanied in this way, it might occur to us that reality is vast and full of intelligent forces. It might occur to us that we spend most of our time imagining that we are all alone...or worse, all alone surrounded with destructive forces. But what if we let in the reality that there are also benevolent forces And what if marvelous unexpected things were coming for us, beyond our wildest dreams.
There are many ways to practice cracking open the door to this possibility. Smile a little bit, no matter how you feel. Or try this, an experiment from Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard: "Every hour spend ten seconds wishing someone happiness. It’s transformative."
But do try calling on your noble allies--living friends and beloved teachers and also great beings. It is so much easier to face the darkness when you remember that you are not alone. And remember that great transformation may be in store for you. Really.
Here is C.S. Lewis: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”