“Be the light you want to see in the world”
– (probably misquoted from) Gandhi.
Some vintage good advice there. Right? Maybe. The way I originally encountered this saying was in fact;
‘Be the change you want to see in the world’.
Therein lies the massive difference.
First of all what is ‘light’?
When chronically confronted with ‘darkness’ and difficulty, as were are in the media, in society and in our personal lives, a sink or swim response is triggered. We feel we are confronted with an ‘either/or’ choice. We can ‘hold light’ as it were, be a bright beaming ray of positivity in a world gone mad, or a situation that is devastating, or we can ‘succumb’ to the perceived negativity and difficulty.
Within the ‘awakening’ or ‘conscious’ community there’s a heavy focus on being ‘positive’ and keeping a ‘positive’ mindframe. Keeping the frequency up and being able to worm through any issue into a positive spin on behalf of others. There’s nothing innately wrong with this ‘brightside’ attitude. It’s often comforting to be in the company of someone who can shift your perspective to a positive, to help you focus on the best ‘possible’ outcome and encourage you to go on in the face of adversity. Yet this is a focus on an outcome, rather than a process. A delayed gratification of living.
This attitude to me is akin to the archetypal role of the lighthouse keeper. The people who are holding this light are standing dutifully by the rocks guiding us away from danger, beaming through the night, aloof and distant, always willing to provide a smile. Yet the existence of the lighthouse keeper is one of the stranger, of the unknowable light. Living alone as a beacon, guiding, giving hope and illumination, but never truly encountering those they guide.
When imbalanced the light is a mirage to bypass the connection of the darkness. We grow in the dark just as much as we do in the light, and in the dark we grow together. Think of a time in your life when a connection was forged that was profoundly deep. Was it forged through silver linings or muddy trenches? Think of community responses to crisis. Even the bonds of non-familial brotherhood and sisterhood that emerges in combat and conflict. The connection we make with others who are grieving, others who are struggling with parenthood, others who are struggling with getting up in the morning.
Yet in order to forge these bonds we need three essential steps, the first is to acknowledge our pain, the second is to accept that it makes us feel vulnerable or powerless and the third is to seek relief through connection; to ask for a witness. Lighthouse Keepers as archetypical people have a hard time allowing themselves be loved. They are always in the active role of the lightbringer. The giver, the doer, the space holder. This anxious role is a subtle way to maintain distance and self/image-control. This is so as not to be seen as vulnerable, not acknowledge pain and most fundamentally to bypass the connection one acquires through trusting an other to empathise, accept and witness.
Lighthouse Keepers are the strong ones, who secretly feel that what they struggle with is ‘too much’ for an ‘other’ to hold. This feeling of ‘too much’ relates to the sense of inadequacy that can come from being shamed for being emotional in public as a child, or from an incident of broken trust, wherein the occasions on which they reached out for help, acceptance or witnessing the child, teen or adult was dismissed. They then vow never to be the ones who need but instead engage by being the ones who are needed.
The immense responsibility of this role comes at the cost of healthily diffused intimacy, or in other words having closeness with different people. The Lighthouse Keeper may have one tight bond, or none at all. They may need to spend vast stretches of time alone in order to prepare themselves for the role of lightbringer, to keep their sunny demeanour and be positive with a controlled presence. This again negates their ability to nurture budding connections as they retreat at the threshold of mutual recognition to gather strength so they can maintain their vantage above the riptides.
As an archetype it is fitting that Lighthouse Keepers were often unmarried, lonely, and that in modernity they have been replaced by robots. Without connection through vulnerability we can become a collection of fun memories and some inspirational quotes, little more than a social media presence or a happy go lucky public persona.
To return to our opening gambit, the oft misquoted piece ‘Be the light you want to see in the world’ versus, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’. Let’s look again at light. Light is duality, it comes in conflict with dark, comes to dominate the dark. To avoid the growing pains of self and other, to say a new day is right around the corner and automatically beams out positivity without responsive action.
Change is a condition of flowing acceptance, the space of dawn to midday, dusk to twilight. One that acknowledges the nuance of life and that all states are valuable to all people. Many birds sing at dawn, many sing at dusk, others sing at night, swans sing at the point of death. Our most passionate and beautiful moments don’t always come in the light of day. Change is responsiveness to self and other, seeing all states as valid and impermanent. Change comes with the awareness that ‘this too shall pass’ therefore there is no ‘better’ way to be, as who we are right now can either be acceptable or unacceptable, but it will persist in being.
It seems that often what we seek when we are drawn to the Lighthouse is not a stoic beam but something as subject to the thundering sea as we are. Often when we are drawn to the Lighthouse we are looking for reassurance that it’s ok that we are lost. When we are greeted with fervent nudge back en route in the ‘right direction’ we also feel cheated of the connection. We are fooled to believe that the lighthouse keeper is a fellow mariner who can nod and give us the acknowledgement of someone who knows these oceans and sees what they can do, knows the way forward. We feel cheated until we see that often they are there because they became shipwrecked themselves and decided to stay so they could keep others away from the jagged shoreline and the shallow berths.
I have been a Lighthouse Keeper in an attempt to escape the relentless depth of the sea. In that time I found that storms are best traversed in company rather than weathered individually. Without hesitation I am grateful the Lighthouses that have guided me. Still I would rather see them shining from a safe harbour than an abandoned beach.
I urge those of you who resonate with this article to step from your post toward someone who you sense might know your journey. Learn that to acknowledge your pain is not a spread of negativity but a hand outstretched to another who may be suffering. Recognise that real power comes through sharing your vulnerability to emancipate others from shame in their suffering. You will find, even if there are knocks, stumbles, tumbles and falls that allowing ourselves to be witnessed and accepted by those who love us as we love them can part the sea and lead us to our home shores.