I fly from the frigid city of Minneapolis, Minn., to Presque Isle, Maine. The January cold has frozen my brain into a quiet daze. Oblivious to the signs that something is a bit “off,” I ignore the empty flight, desolate airport, and being the one and only rental car customer. The fluffy snow crunches under my tires as I travel along the white-covered street and spot my hotel. The buildings are strung together by the glow from the lights that illuminate the sidewalks and floating snow. I’m swept into a magical stillness only seen in movies.
The front desk attendant’s collar peeks out from under a big, bulky hand-knit sweater; a hat tightly hugs her head; mittens lay around a coffee mug; and space heaters claim the floor like puppies at her feet. This is the moment I awake from my semiconscious state, and enter into the plain reality that the only two visitors that have rolled into town are myself and a brutal arctic vortex.
The heating system can’t keep up with the plummeting temperatures so I shiver my way into my room and prepare to sleep in an icebox. Gloved, my fingers grip the zipper, pull like pliers, slowly prying my suitcase open. I fish through my clothes, one after another, layer up, and crawl under a mound of blankets, an attempt to escape the frosty air. Bundled, I sleep.
The next morning, I swap layers, greet the locals who are entering the chilly hotel conference room, stomping the snow from their boots. They remove their wet coats, hats, and gloves to burrito inside hotel blankets; the coats heap across the back tables. Bundled, we gather.
Slowly the continuous streams of hot air puffing from the vents and our collective body heat unthaw the room. The snow that once covered the thin carpet is now melting into dark puddles that squish under our feet. A friendly chatter emerges as the group’s chill begins to soften, the blankets come off, draping over the backs of the chairs. The group unbundles.
It’s an unveiling of sorts. I hear about a beloved grandmother’s Icelandic sweater now comforting a loved one, a puffy vest snatched from the husband’s side of the closet, a turtleneck sporting a snag from a run-in with a metal shelf, and a winter wrap once wrapped under a Christmas tree. Stories are woven with threads of emotions and memories. In the warmth and comfort of gathering together, the outer layers peel off and we settle into something deeper. It’s the spark of Light Within that I’m seeking inside others and myself.
The environments we inhabit, harsh at times, require us to wear protective shells for survival. Other creatures have them built in like the armor of the armadillo, quills of the porcupine, feathers of a bird, scales of a fish, and fluffy fur of the polar bear. Humans, with our bare and vulnerable skin, need an artificial outer layer. And yet there’s a versatility to our epidermis that allows us to glide through water, endure a torrential downpour, withstand scorching desert heat, and carry on through an arctic freeze.
Years later, in waiting worship, the silence speaks. The memory of the layering and delayering surfaces: I remember the collective warmth of my companions, recall a gentle introspection of my own vulnerability, and loving wisdom appears. It’s a space like no other. In this space, I unbundle; I unsnap from identity, detach from ego, and shed layers of emotion, of anger, of irritation, of worry. I unbundle and meet the Light Within, the Light inside all.
We all have our unique experience in waiting worship, and for me it varies. Slipping into silence hasn’t always been an oasis of peace. When I first started attending meeting for worship, I would arrive after a vigorous workout so my tired body would rest and I’d be able to turn my attention to taming my inner critic. Being tormented, beaten, interrogated for the hour of meeting leaves wounds from the venomous bites of the abuser who resides inside my head. These are the times I find myself taking a break from group worship and attempting short meditation on my own. (The inner critic, it turns out, can’t be tamed but rather politely acknowledged as unhelpful and then ignored.) Somehow I always find my way back to the warmth of the collective light of my Quaker community.
In our community, some enter meeting for worship with a list of gratitudes; others journal or focus on breathwork to help quiet the mind and open themselves up to Spirit. I keep trying out different ways to center down.
Recently, it’s a before bedtime visualization I acquired from a teacher who shared this exercise: one by one, remove the things that prevent you from finding Spirit by stating “I am not” that item. I’ve come up with my own mental imagery of peeling back each layer in search of the Light at the core of my being. Here is my attempt. I focus on each one fully and take a cleansing breath before moving on the next:
I am not my identity.
I am not my ego.
I am not my things.
I am not my house.
I am not my emotions.
I am not my anger.
I am not my frustration.
I am not my fear.
I am not my worry.
I am not my thoughts.
I am not my body.
I am not my profession.
I am not my mind.
I am not my relationships.
I am compassion.
I am Light. I am inside.
What are you attempting to find in the Light that shines deep within you?