Film directors and painters never tire of exploring the nuances of light and atmosphere. Some time ago, after having cataracts removed from my aging eyes, I resolved never again to take for granted the clarity, color and gradations of light. There is splendor in the whole of life; with the dimming of years I had gradually forgotten to notice.
In prayer one may expect a different, interior illumination. Light mysticism is universal and well worth exploring, though it can be a struggle. A friend related his experience with light meditation in a Yoga class. The leader expected participants to perceive and work with visionary light as instructed. Over time my friend continued to look with closed eyes and saw nothing in particular. This did not present problems as he had mostly signed up for the physical benefits of Yoga practice. But then one day it happened. Suddenly a cool, white intensity pulsed before his eyelids. Time came to open his eyes, and he suddenly deflated like a popped balloon; someone had flicked on the florescent lights in the usually dim room. “This ended,” he said, “my pursuit of enlightenment.”
Still, I think there is a rich and energizing range of inner experience open to almost everyone, which trumps our capacity for deception or credulity. There is a vast luminous world of fantasy, visual memory, imagination and dream-scape, and yes, for some, interior revelation. Working with the experience of interior light is positive and nourishing, even for people like me, who are naturally more auditory than visually perceptive. And so, for several months I have been exploring visual meditations grounded in scripture and moving toward bathing in peaceful, healing light. It all began with reflections on the star of Bethlehem, cool and distant, but drawing toward some unknown possibility. This sometimes started with Christmas card scenes in memory, with me joining the Magi on their journey; the period ended with resting in the radiance of the Eastern star. Then I began to work with the Transfiguration stories of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Since each is a bit different, I would note the difference intellectually, and then visualize that uniqueness before entering the scene with Peter, James and John to “behold the glory,” of Jesus on the mountaintop. The shining became so bright I could see only transfiguring light and rest there for a time. (As some may recall, Gregory Palamas centuries ago famously concluded it is possible for human beings to directly experience –not metaphorically, or “by faith”- the divine glory, a touch of heaven in this earthly life. He made an important distinction: though we can not experience God’s essence, the divine energies radiate all the way to those who seek with pure hearts. This doctrine was affirmed by several Eastern Church councils and is a basis for the Orthodox tradition of stillness meditation known as hesychasm.)
All the major world religions have traditional ways of practicing light meditation. The best practical advice I have been able to find is by an Australian from the school of Tibetan Buddhism, Dr. Ian Gawler. His book, “Meditation: An In-depth Guide” (Ian Gawler & Paul Bedson; Jeremy P. Tausher/Penguin, 2011, pp. 315-321.), offers a wonderful meditative scenario which I will summarize. Of course, the original version is somewhat fuller and assumes many elements of meditative technique as these authors expertly present them. He invites us to use it as we can; and so I did.
White Light Healing
1. Take time to relax physically in a quiet place, and in a meditative posture. Breathe deeply from the diaphragm and release tension.
2. Visualize the highest source of power you know…Use your imagination to come into the presence of this being. Converse or pray. Listen.
3. Imagine light coming from the very center of this figure: ”a beam of white light, like a searchlight…but this light also has liquid properties…a bit like a shower or waterfall…warm, liquid, white light…And as this warm light flows down toward you and reaches your head, it quite gently, slowly, softly flows not only over and around your body, but actually through it…a bit like water filtering down through dry sand, quite slowly…warm, liquid, white light, washing away anything that is old, worn or unwanted…and bringing with it a new sense of energy…healing…vitality.”
4. Take time to let the warm, liquid light flow through each part of your body…Notice the light becoming stronger. “It’s almost like turning up a dimmer switch…stronger, clearer, all through your body…radiant light… Let the light flow from your body into your mind…You can almost merge into that light uniting with it…” Just rest in the presence of that light for as long as you are comfortable.
5. “Remember you can come back to this experience at any time you like…and each time you do it will feel easier and more complete…You will be able to go with it more thoroughly and rest in the presence even more completely…Also remember you can have this energy, this presence with you all day…Even while you sleep…This is an infinite energy you are drawing upon…always there…limitless.”