Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Properties of Light

Photos by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

Winter Solstice, when the Northern Hemisphere experiences the shortest amount of daylight, is upon us in two days. Oregon will get about 8.5-9 hours of daylight–and it is all because the Earth spins on a tilted axis.(The Southern Hemisphere will enjoy the longest day of their year.) It is an event that means a great deal to some. For me it signals the first day of winter; it is then we experience peak darkness, as well. This has triggered more thoughts on light and dark and what they mean to me. I consider natural factors that can  or do generate a greater synthesis and balance of all life. As the shortest day comes into the fore and rain has begun to be a constant soundtrack in life here, the matter of light seems all the more magnetic.

Properties of light draw my mind and spirit as well as my eyes. I have an animal and aesthetic sense that my vision readily notes. All creatures are responsive to light’s many effects. Panoramas as well as details pique my interest–and my human eyes, of course, require a greater degree of light to better observe. (Though a sighted person I am a bit familiar with less sight via myopia; I wear contacts or glasses.) A propensity for types of light aids me as a creative person. I sense and watch life unfold early morning until night (with/without camera) and muse over its command, its variability. If I awaken at odd times at night I consider the possibility of light, then remove sleeping mask so consciousness awakens more. I wear the mask because light is so far reaching and vigorous it is as if its vibratory energy charges me–then I stay awake. I have a warm spot for darkness, as well–another aspect of the world of light, since it is absence of light to one degree or another. However, on earth we are unlikely to experience it in totality. At least, physically.

How does a supremacy of light alter thinking and deeper being? The physics of light relate to mental and spiritual well being. We all know someone who experiences Seasonal Affective Disorder, for example, and seek help via artificial light that mimics what is natural. Or know how hanging out in shadowy space a long while can motivate a move into natural light to perk up, feel clearer. Or when people who’ve suffered and felt lost and then undergone a serious change of direction–and share how they’ve exited darkness and emerged into light. We equate clarified understanding with light, as well as improved general wellness: we “feel clear headed, feel lighter.” Those who literally live in deep darkness long periods have negative effects like blindness and bone and muscle weakness. They don’t fare well emotionally, especially if alone. Humans are built to experience and utilize light.

If I was a scientist, I could explain with confidence exactly what/how/why the eye sees, but at best I can refer to what is generally noted. It all is connected to the properties of light. The primary ones include speed (at 300,000 kilometers per second; it holds the universal title for prowess). There is reflection, which photons provide while bouncing off mass/other particles. The color property…rudimentarily, it appears the more light, the more color–or at least, better perception of it. Visible wavelengths of light vary; we view different colors due to this. And surfaces make a difference; some absorb more light than others. Consider the smooth surfaces of quiet water, or shiny metals or glass. One may be momentarily blinded, or taken aback by an often lovely phenomenon. When it is due to the sun’s shining upon all, it seems a true magic act.

I could keep on in this vein, as the natural realms are so interesting. Such as regarding the several sorts of light–nature’s scattered or focused light, unnatural kinds such as ambient or spotlight or mood lighting. Nature provides us with abundance of light properties even via its creatures. Bio-luminescence: the light of fireflies, jellyfish and more fishes, and some fungi to name a few.

In Michigan, one of the great delights was watching lively fireflies woo potential mates with light (a chemical reaction in lower abdomen) from June through August. I sat there for hours when not chasing them with my Mason jar, trying to briefly capture one or two. In Mendocino, California, my sister and I once strolled along a beach admiring the night skies when along water’s edge the sand glowed in blues and greens. My feet sank into the glowing sand and I was left agape. It felt it another sure sign of a Divinity that created this planet. The awe of sharing a realm with  bio-luminescent phytoplankton stayed with me. I thought what we have in common, plankton and humans: each is full of complex energy of light, reflective of Divine illumination, contributors to the earth’s grand diversity.

And we can see light moving and beaming in people–especially when they are happy or living in their potential, as though brain and soul maximize those qualities.  We see see it gleam in the wise or those who greatly love. We are drawn closer.

And think how gifted humans are –we have part of God operating within our cellular structure since we are made of the same as stars (which ultimately emit starlight fro far away). We can aspire to remarkable things thanks to a well of inspiration we each possess if we are attentive. We have developed expansive knowledge each century; we can reach for past wisdom to gain more revelation. We have within our innermost selves tools to rebuild what is in disrepair, to create out of what has been diminished. Beauty and strength reawaken from devastation due to our inclination, our vision, our efforts.

I am not a real gardener but I can see a metaphor for my life as I consider our African violet plant. It sits on our coffee table, generally. It began to fade although I was watering it, tending to it carefully, picking off parts that looked unhealthy. Leaves began to wilt and decay, as if I had fussed over it too much, so I backed off watering and didn’t often touch. That helped but then I got busy with other things and the dirt got overly dry, even cracked, and tiny blossoms withered before opening in full. I moved it to a windowsill as sunshine grew warmer and away when it was cooled by lowering temperatures or gray skies. I wanted so much to keep this plant healthy. My husband cared, too, as it reminded him of his beloved grandmother who kept them in a bay window. I loved her, as well, and understood.

The one thing that is clear was that the entire plant has reached in earnest for any light. No big surprise, you think; that is its nature. Still, to see that. It was like looking at a lovely ballerina stretch, point her fingertips to sky. However, it soon appeared lopsided as delicate stems and leaves lifted and leaned toward the wide window–straining for ever more sunshine as summer ended. or so I thought, so I kept moving it here and there to see what was useful. I suggested to it that it hang in there, be its beautiful self despite my ignorance. It remained lopsided now despite changing its position. But blossoms bloomed, each a velvety rich purple. It gives us a small happiness. I am more at ease about its care now. This plant and I are learning how things work together, it seems. I give it the benefit of the doubt, let it grow its own way; I will not neglect it or push it too hard again.

The African violet challenge reminds me of how my spiritual life continues to grow and change. I have to be careful but not too careful that growth is squelched by my circumventing, over-attentive intensity. I need to better allow God to nudge and direct me, internally and externally, as I live day into night. And let others in my life give me more clues. I do trust that despite my anxieties and failures and wounds, there remains the ubiquitous constancy of God. That is, Divinity, Divine Love, Creator, Maker of All, Healer, Great Spirit, Perfect Mind. Yes–here it is–the Everlasting Light.

The more I learn about nature and basic physics, the more I realize God’s presence. I tend to experience little separation between Divinity and life in the here or beyond. As above, so below, as the old maxim goes. That is, unless I put a division between us like a fortress wall. Which I have done–due to weariness or cynicism bought on by heartbreak or substance abuse or assortments of pain that took me to a hard limit. This impulse to turn away from Light has occurred despite never disbelieving in an essential holiness of life and wholeness. I cover my mind and spirit with perseveration or distractions of no merit and the light cannot easily get in. I can become petty and sour, critical of small things and angry over others of negligible value in the big picture. And I too often defend and justify and rationalize my character weaknesses. This, rather than face myself in the revealing truth, the certain cure of facing the light.

The increased lack of natural illumination as night falls has its layers of meaning, its wonders. An urban lifestyle makes moonlight and starlight far less easy to access. I value the darkness I experience, though, and shadows that transform all with gradations of light until the curtain of darkness sweeps across my view. They each inform and comfort me, and if I had my way I’d stay awake more of the night. But the animal I am has a need of rest and so I turn out my bedside lamp and close the shutters and put on my sleep mask to finally slumber. Often at dawn I awaken despite desire to sleep more. There comes fresh light slinking and glinting, delving past eyelids. I lean toward the window at last without the eye covering and behold the day breaking open. I am thrilled that I be able to awaken, get up to stand firm, to begin play and work.

As Christmas nears, I meditate more profoundly on the Light that Jesus talked about: the warmth of a burning, shining light of Love. An embracing, unconditional love to claim, to grant ourselves as well as to others. To receive from and return to God who made us via miracles of science and metaphysical genius. This is the true Light I seek each day– as long as I am willing to be more like an African violet, free to accept the power it gives, to benefit from yet give something back, to allow any inherent splendor to come to fruition. Transformation happens one we say yes. We are made to be charitable, intelligent creators and givers; we have the power to effect change that helps rather than hinders. Let’s not mistake glitter of this season nor glossy affectations or promises of temporary gain as signs of a loving kindness that sticks. It’s not what we need here and now, and not for the wailing bowl of this scooped out, injured earth. We each can do better by taking a risk to reveal who we are, and be open to little miracles. To see what might happen that can work better–work well.

As the darkness takes its turn in lieu of sunlight, as shadow slips over hands and face, I ask myself again: how much better can love be reflected towards those I know, and those whom I know little, and those whom I have not yet met? What generous properties of light can I somehow put into practice? That is my renewed task and privilege, a labor of care, working with manifestations that share one potent design.

Step forward into the light. Bring to each other your gifts. Let charity flow.



Readers and fellow bloggers,

I thank you for showing up to read my writing and to share thoughts at times. I’m grateful to be writing WordPress posts since December 2010! That is 681 prose posts. And that does not include the now-closed Poetry for the Living and Visionary Views blogs I posted for over a few years, as well. It has been great fun, and excellent for honing skills, as well. It’s always surprising to me when I note that I have well over 15,000 followers, and I am deeply appreciative.

I hope for your well being and for many moments of grace to manifest in your lives, however you celebrate these holidays. For peace and for kindness, first and last.

I have one more post this Friday–then I will join you all again in 2019 as we continue to create and share in this community of folks.

To those of Christian faith as well as you who like to  celebrate this time: from my home to yours–have a Merry Christmas!

Warm regards, Cynthia


“God did not create evil. Just as darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of God.” –Albert Einstein


 36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  (Holy Bible, Matthew 22:36-39)


Dreaming and Writing: Visiting the Invisible


It is probably after two in the morning and there are things here with which I am not always at ease, though I am light on my feet and moving fast, slip in and out of atmospheres without thinking. I know the places from before, steep coastal edges, towering crystalline mountains, long narrow streets that wrap around terrain in confounding whiplash routes that I often recall. Sometimes I am in a car or on a motorcycle and they crash and it needs fixing, but I am always on the move. (Last night it was a skateboard.) I pass, then enter vast buildings crammed with rooms that open to more rooms, as if a sprawling educational campus open to all. Everyone is busy; little makes much sense to me in a usual rational way–it is reasonable in that place, with those beings–and it doesn’t matter much. I know I am visiting and I know to pay atetntion.

People who seem flesh and blood yet are spectral, sharing the spaces but present for reasons I don’t always comprehend. We talk with spoken language, sometimes not with words but knowings and gestures that trail energy and clarify the truth. And there are animals that turn into other creatures as easily as if they are an essence of life, body-less and inhabitants of other zones. Harm comes to some of us; fun excitement arrives to others. I am in the midst of it and part of it, but often from a distance, watching all, hearing interesting ideas. Music is captured in passing. Colors constantly change. When someone puts their arms about me, though, there is immediate radiant warmth that aligns any disjointedness to a rhapsodic otherness. I believe in it. On the other hand, a sense of foreboding can foretell violence. I believe in that, too, and feel compelled to propel my self toward a chilled gasp for air beyond my blanket.

To wakefulness. Into one of those deepening night hours. To sitting position where I gather together sensory input and reassure myself I am back in my body. I rest–or seek something close to it– in the dark, cradled by its unique amorphous quality. Day and night are extensions of one another to me, gradations of the same thing, a configuration of time on earth. It is not the night that picks apart my personhood, the unseen seams that keep me one piece. What could undo me is dreaming, for it instigates in me a restlessness–often for better, but other times for worse.

In the mornings, I might feel close to engaging in a battle with dreaming. Well, not a full armored war, not the sort that makes me awaken to wander about, stumbling with a mind full of blather. Or at bedtime to shake off inklings of dread when pulling the pillow close. But I do want to shake off remnants, restore my balance further. Still, the second sentence above may be partly a defense to ward off the mere possibility of trying dreams. There have been times in my life when dreaming meant nightmares that would not leave me. They weighted me like a heavy cape, overshadowing each step. As I suppose it happens for all of us at one time or another.

Sleep has become relegated to a secondary priority in the last decade. I am given less of it naturally; if I want more I ingest melatonin for aid. But I am at heart a night person who also enjoys being engaged in daylight hours–hard to get both fulfilled well lately. If I could function well with no sleep I would prefer that. For decades I ran my days and evenings on perhaps five hours sleep and felt alert and energized until I hit the bed, falling asleep in increments. When I was drinking one reason I feared being sober was that I would not sleep at all and my detoxed mind would crank to a halt. But not so. I slept more to my surprise and it even continued. Full rest! And I had discovered a bonanza of peace textured with rich dreaming that I finally, again, could recall. I jumped out of bed early in the morning with all systems done with sleep mode and switched on high once more. I had five spirited children and a husband, a life to be taken in and lived on Go. Dreaming as I had understood it was what I did when I created a half hour to close the bedroom door and plaster a sign on it: Writing! Do no Disturb Unless Truly Desperate! How lovely that I could bring forth both old and new dreams, awake or asleep.

But now there is more waking, with life’s various doings and states of being and there is a slim interlude, a few multi-strands of sleeping. It seems almost all the same to me. Not that when my eyes are open I am entertained by fantastical creatures and go to fabulous but invisible places. Well, that is, unless I am immersed in the process of writing or other creative work. But I do wonder if I write to assemble an orderliness of night journeys. The material is profuse, feels random and appears peculiar–i.e., fertile ground. Of course, it is said we dream to process our wakeful hours and that without it we cannot function effectively–it would be input overload. I can attest to that as well as any person.

But what truly divides the sleeping world from the waking? How much of it is the body recharging so it can carry us around and how much the spirit recharging so it can live in this vehicle of a body? Alright, so the mind busily sorts and tosses and files so we can continue to learn and operate nicely. My eyes close, I float, move to an internal space that allows all this to happen. Or I am removed from here and placed elsewhere, enter one universe or another, this or that dimension.

We experience in a multiplicity of ways and live to tell the story. Or at least ponder it.

So, too, when I write. Who beckons those characters, who dresses them, who directs them through a grimy city street or a watery tunnel or a marshland where the birds are rising and swooping all at once? Who tells them: you have one day to find your long lost brother and share it all in detail and well. I am typing but where is this material coming from, how does it get leaked into this consciousness?

I think those who dabble in abstract realms and invent from them live within fluid states of being, but I don’t believe we are so unique. Perhaps some children just never lose their belief in the invisible made visible, while others want or need to, for whatever reason. Imagination is admired as long as it creates something deemed “worthy” or isn’t confused with culturally proscribed parameters of reality. But what if imagination and the three dimensions are meant to overlap, that is, what if they are just a little more one thing or another, in a state of flux, ever shifting and combining? We imagine (hypothesize) solutions to difficult problems; we also dream answers, awakening with a start as the light bulb comes on. I write this way, too. What manifests is a combination of my thought, the Muse and the ether at large. (Perhaps, yes, Spirit. (And guardian angels? They may have a motive, after all, that I may never know about.) Language so often tells me what I need to know, even before I realize it. It has, like all creative mediums, a potential for intense energy–to evoke and also invoke, to name and alter, empower or silence. I respect the gift of language–human or not–for this.

This is why I asked my clients in mental health and addictions treatment to write down one object they recalled as a child; what they lost and wish they had now; what they see when they close their eyes at night; what they fear most about staying clean and sober; who keeps visiting their dreams. They were asked to write a small poem, sparely,to get to the heart of it. Or to keep a daily journal where they could write non stop without censoring themselves. Or to let one word come forward the moment they emerged from sleep. They were asked to let their selves move from the shadows–as addicts, as those with emotional illness–into illuminating light.

Many of these clients had no faith in the process. Did not like to read or had failed English so were afraid. But they took the pencils and paper and began letting their minds roam. The insights they had were life changing. The poems they wrote moved both listeners and themselves. The stories they told came from haunted and healing dreams, from a landscape of pain and the journey of survival. They found that language gave them power and stories shared gave them comfort and encouragement. To speak and be heard was a miracle of sorts.

One of the best parts of my career was when a group of Native American women trusted me enough to tell their stories. They shared them in English, in poems and in song, then some did so in their own, old languages. Their bodies were loosened, their ghost-filled eyes came alive, their tears fell in riverlets. They spoke quietly, then were louder and freer. For these women, dream, myth, spirituality and common reality fed one another and were each a part of the other: they made the whole of being and doing. I witnessed slow healing with their offerings of words, the rich silences that lulled in between. What they needed most found them as language rose up from what was once unnameable suffering. They gained bravery–to write and say things in any way that came to them. And learned and accepted that their truths were even larger multifaceted experiences than they had first thought. We felt transfixed by so much naming, saying and letting go.

So what of dreaming, what of writing? Do I choose my dreams and my writing–or do I only need to be willing to be open? Or determined to be closed? And meanwhile the darkness and light, all those gradations therein harbor me as I move among the moments.

The opalescent light of a Northwest afternoon is dimming within this room but out there, on Mt. Hood perhaps, it would yield a different quality against the snow or between fir trees. The night will be lighter here in the city than in the wilderness, I am certain. And I remember how as a kid I would climb the trusty maple tree in our backyard, settle in a sturdy crook and watch the sun slip through tree branches, a flaming orb that seemed more friendly, a shining orange ball disguised as a heavenly body. It took with it that brightness of day. The leave taking allowed me to consider it as a giant ship sailing below the perimeter of a horizon and I wondered what other countries, what other children, it was sailing toward. The light turned dusky, then a transparent bluish, then purplish charcoal. Distant trees were black outlines against the radiance of early evening, a chiaroscuro picture like an old-fashioned greeting card. But it was real, so real that I felt my heart grow bigger, my skin tingle, my mid expand. The sky changed itself into an endless satiny swath of black; inside it were stars like bright portholes to other places. It beckoned. Can I come there? I whispered. Can I sail the skies to another place? A small thing took wing inside me and gave me an urge to rise with it but the tree held me, strong and steady. My mother appeared in the bright kitchen window, laughing and cooking and my father’s viola was a crescendo of delights. The permeable sky opened and sang. The hush inside it and me was immense. It was all a dream and I was dreaming within it and all was well. Or would be well.