I have been thinking about this phrase lately: it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. It shows up in slightly different forms. It’s been attributed to Gandhi, Lao Tse and even “anonymous.”
The traditional understanding is that when the going gets rough – when you’re in a place of darkness – then you should “light a candle” rather than complain. That is, taking action to solve a problem is better than complaining about the problem.
This can be slightly tricky for students of A Course in Miracles for whom activity – whether we cast it as good or bad – is generally abjured in favor of doing nothing, or undoing. The course text points out frequently that forgiveness, which is the means of the atonement
. . . is still, and quietly does nothing. If offends no aspect of reality, nor seeks to twist it to appearances it likes. It merely looks, and waits, and judges not (W-pII.1.4:1-3).
It’s hard to argue with the whole light a candle idea. It seems so fundamentally positive, in significant part because it is empowering. It suggests that we are not at the mercy of an unforgiving and cruel universe, but actors capable of achieving some degree of peace and harmony. That’s a good thing!
But one of the tenets of ACIM is that the world is not real. It is an illusion, a projection of a mind that believes it is separated from God. Indeed, the world “was made as an attack on God” (W-pII.3.2:1). It is not possible for us to improve the world or our lives inside of it – that’s just one more part of the dream. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about world peace or ripped abs. Activity undertaken to improve or alter the dream is as illusory as the dream is.
On some level, that can seem impossible and even unbearable. If it doesn’t matter what we do, why do anything? Yet we are repeatedly reminded that our call is to forgive – not in the traditional sense of the word, but in the specific ACIM-sense which is to choose to perceive differently – and even sometimes simply to be willing to choose to perceive differently.
Forgiveness is not an activity in the traditional sense. It is a way of experiencing the dream world that does not fight its illusory nature. It offers no resistance. It is willing to experience Truth without first deciding what Truth is and what it means and thus what the experience of it going to be like. We – as we presently experience ourselves – don’t know. Sometimes that’s the best thing we can say, the best we can do.
And, of course, while we’re here, we have to live. We have to feed ourselves, stay out of snow storms (unless we’re walking the dog), play D&D with the kids, play music with friends, snuggle with loved ones, eat popcorn, try new restaurants. These things aren’t evil. They’re neutral. The trick is to perceive all of these “activities” as simply more forgiveness opportunities. That is what they are for.
Slowly, we begin to experience what we think of as our lives as having no more meaning or tangible reality than a movie. I’m not saying it happens quickly or all at once – although it might – but that there is a slow transition, a slow transformation. Waking up is not optional – only the time we take to do it is.
Thus, lighting a candle is not really the opposite of cursing the darkness. Both are activities. Both can be undertaken in a spirit of ACIM-minded forgivness, which is to say that we can simply observe them. We can see the anger and fear inherent in kvetching about hard times. We can see the futility of struggling to achieve good times. Both are simply conditions of our separation from God. And both can be healed by the undoing that is the essential nature of forgiveness.