I am writing on the eve of the third day of Chanukah, the Jewish festival that celebrates the victory of light over darkness. According to the story, more than twenty-one centuries ago, Israel was ruled by the Syrian-Greeks, who sought to forcefully convert the people of Israel. However, a small group of Jews defeated the mighty army, drove the Greeks out of the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the Jews’ worship of God. When they went to light the Temple’s menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum), they found only a single jug of oil. A miracle happened that one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under proper conditions.
To commemorate the miracle, we light one candle each night, gradually increasing that by one each night until all eight candles are lit on day 8. Other Chanukah customs include eating foods fried in oil –latkes(potato pancakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts); playing with the dreidl (a spinning top on which are inscribed the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei and shin, an acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, “a great miracle happened there”); and the giving ofChanukah Gelt, gifts of money to children.
I used to light Chanukah candles with my family at home. Then when I moved out west my ex-boyfriend and I would light them. He bought me a beautiful ceramic menora in the early 90’s that was hand-painted with a row of colourfully-dressed little girls on the side.We split up over 9 years ago, but I still have it. Every year I take it out and light the candles by myself. And I like that. It is a small ritual I carry forward from my youth. I especially love the blessings that are sung when we light the candles. I have always loved to sing in Hebrew, ever since I started to learn the language in grade one.The blessings are short, their melodies full of memories from my childhood growing up in Hebrew school in the Jewish community of Montreal.
As I light the candles I am aware of how much light there is in my life right now. I realized the other day that during the 8 days of Chanukah this year I will have two CD launches, one on the 4th day on Salt Spring and one in Vancouver on the 8th day. Quite auspicious.And for me too it is a victory of light over darkness. In several ways:
I listen to the poems on my CD and so many of them speak about the journey from darkness to light that I have personally been on during the last 20 years as I have been learning to shift my experience from that of abuse, pain and trauma to forgiveness, joy and love.This very process of launching my CD is an integral part of that journey.
You see when I self-published my first poetry book 12 years ago this month, I still harboured much shame and fear about the reception I would get for the poems I was sharing. Even though I received a tremendous amount of support from friends, family and partner, I was caught in my mind’s relentless self-criticism and doubt. However this year there is less of that than there has ever been. Sure there is fear, hesitation and vulnerability. But I have the skills and understanding now to be compassionate toward myself as I feel them, and to not take any of it personally, to not cling to any of these feelings.
“I am loved. I let love in.” Those words come from a prayer flag that landed in my lap to read a few weeks ago at a friend’s house-warming party. We passed the whole flag around and each one of us at the table spoke the words on one of the panels of the flag. That’s what mine said, and it couldn’t have been more appropriate. I had forgotten the words until yesterday when I was at another friend’s house and we were meditating together in her office/sunroom . I noticed the same prayer flag on her wall and reread the words.
For over 20 years, I have been learning to love myself and to open myself to receive love from others. I have written poem after poem in service to this learning. Poems in which I wrote of the awful things I was going through, and I had been through. Poems that gave me a new perspective on those experiences, helped me to gain some distance, to forgive, to understand my experience within a larger cultural and socical context. Then I taught others to love themselves and others, facilitating workshops in middle school and high school classrooms for 10 years as a violence prevention educator.
However, even as I taught them to consider their attitudes and behaviours toward themselves and their friends, families, intimate partners, I struggled with shame and feeling not good enough. My “inner tyrant” as my Buddhist friend and mentor Christine Mauro calls it, was alive and well and living inside this otherwise professional educator. So I went back to school and wrote more poems about the journey of loving: especially of finding relief and compassion for the imperfect, highly self-critical part of myself. As I did so, I learned to have compassion for others: my students, my colleagues, my lover, and the natural world, all beings.
Now I am teaching others again, through online courses and local workshops. I am collaborating with sister poets, storytellers, and friends on several creative learning projects. I now call my work Loving Inquiry, which is the name I created for the methodology I developed through my PhD. I have also founded the Centre for Loving Inquiry. I now make this the work of my life, that of Love, of Loving, of continuing to transform the fear and pain and confusion into healing, acceptance, kindness. I continue to spend as much time focused on my own practice of loving as I do supporting others’ practice.
As I prepare to launch my CD tomorrow evening and next week in Vancouver, I know that no matter how many people show up, or how many I sell, what matters is that I am there to share my words and the healing they have brought me. May they bring that to others too!