Yesterday I shared about the feeling of vulnerability I had as I practiced the ritual of lighting the Chanukah menorah in the window, where passers-by on the street could see it.
The experience was a potent reminder that visibility is intertwined with vulnerability. Being seen for who we are exposes us to the emotional and intellectual pain of being rejected and sometimes the physical pain of being attacked.
It turns out that the physical sensations that caused my sense of foreboding prescient: a couple of hours after I lit my candles, a man walked into a Chanukah party at a Rabbi’s house in Monsey, NY and went on a rampage, stabbing 5 people before fleeing.
Sometimes fear does portend a real threat. And yet that’s no reason to stay in hiding. The impact of our work becomes that much greater when we embrace our fears and stand in our light.
Tonight as I lit the candles the street was quiet as a steady rain fell. I just returned from a yin yoga class and my nervous system felt calm, or at least as calm as it ever feels in NYC.
As I finished lighting the final candle, I noticed that one of the other candles had burned out. Sometimes a wick gets caught in the hot wax and burns out before it gets going. It happens.
I patiently and gently coaxed the wick out of the candle’s melted wax until the it accepted the flame and stayed lit. Sometimes a candle just needs a little more love and attention, a little nurturing, to burn brightly. Don’t we all?
As I put the shamash — the helper candle — back in its place in the menorah, I looked up and saw a man across the street, watching me from under a big umbrella. He had 2 dogs with him.
I caught his gaze, and he gave me a thumbs up and a nod. He then continued on his way, dogs in tow.
A feeling of open-heartedness moved through me (and also, tbh, a slightly creeped-out feeling too. But mostly feeling open-hearted).
The Power of Visibility
As I watched the lights of the menorah dance, I wondered if he was giving me a thumbs up for lighting the menorah or for the way in which I coaxed the reluctant candle to light. It doesn’t really matter.
What does matter is that it resonated with him. My ritual caused him to stop, in the rain, and observe his own moment of stillness.
That pause in the midst of busyness is all it takes to light a spark that can shift our consciousness.
This is the power of standing in your light, of being visible in your rituals.
Our rituals reflect our values and show the world who we are. Through our rituals, we also shine a light of awareness for others to examine who they are and what creates meaning for them.
In a perfect world, we empower others to stand in their light. At a minimum, we compel others to stop and notice, to pause amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life.
We might coax a reluctant wick out of hot wax, enabling it to receive its light.
Creating an Upward Spiral
This is something I’ve experienced often, and not only with rituals connected to my religion.
One example that comes to mind is my meditation practice. I typically sit for my daily meditation practice in the stretching area of the gym, after my morning workout. It’s not a conventional place to sit for meditation: surrounded by people and loud noises, in an environment that is promoting activity.
One interesting side effect of this public practice is that it occasionally sparks curiosity and questions from strangers who ask me about my practice. Watching me pause before running to “get on with my day” gives them permission to do the same.
Even if they don’t start a meditation practice that day, watching my practice gives them a spark to consider it. That’s the first step.
Those conversations also serve me. They remind me that by sitting to practice in public I am doing a service to all who notice, by modeling what is possible. Knowing that I’ve impacted people by choosing to sit for meditation in public reinforces my behavior, keeping me in my practice.
Visibility may be uncomfortable at times, but it is necessary if we wish to amplify our light in the world and help others find their light.
Our actions speak louder than our words. If we want others to adopt a certain behavior, we must show them how it’s done.