A few days before the winter solstice, I took the children to the local Waldorf school's celebration of the Winter Spiral. The tradition, observed during the darkest time of the year, involves a spiral created with pine boughs, the center at which a candle burns. Children and adults of all ages take turns carrying a single unlit candle to the center flame, lighting it, and placing it along the spiral. Onlookers sit in silence or sing quietly as the scene before them gradually fills with light.
This is our first winter spiral and we don’t know a soul here. To start with, we are expecting it to be outside, and so we come all bundled up only to find it being held inside a classroom. The girls are eager to participate, but going alone seems too daunting. Hoping it won’t be too disruptive, when it is our turn I stand up with the baby in the sling and the girls on either side of me. We approach the ‘angel guide’ and she graciously asks in a whisper if we would like to go as a family. ‘Yes,’ I whisper back, and she hands Samaya an apple with a beeswax candle inserted into it. I know (of course I know) that Violet wants a candle of her own, but when none is offered I can't bring myself to disrupt the sacred flow of the ceremony. We step carefully to the center candle, Samaya lights her own, chooses a spot along the spiral to place it, and then we continue along the path that leads to the opposite side of the room.
Now in different seats, Violet immediately pseudo-whispers that she wants to carry a candle too, but I whisper to her that our turn is finished—that Samaya carried the candle for our family. Now Violet, who is a little girl with big feelings, and who periodically struggles to keep her big feelings in check, and who has been experiencing one of these periods as of late, was not at all pleased with this information. After a couple of failed attempts to quiet her, I lead my less-than-peaceful little people out of the room, at which point Violet now feels at ease to turn up the volume a bit. It is certainly not what she is capable of, but it is enough for me to feel quite embarrassed. I tell her as much, and hurry to stuff them into their coats and (superfluous) winter gear, which of course Violet is not having. I am on the verge of blowing my peaceful mama cover. It is then that another teacher comes out into the hall and very lovingly invites us into her own classroom. I tell her thank you, but we are leaving, offering as clarification that Violet is very sad that she did not also get to carry a candle.
“I understand,” she says directly into Violet’s eyes. And I can see that she does. More importantly, Violet can see it—her own feelings validated and reflected back to her. A brief moment, and then, ‘I have a very special candle you may have. Would you like to see it?’ Violet blinks and then nods, and we all follow her into her classroom. She cradles a tea light mounted on a watercolor star. ‘It smells like bees,’ she tells Violet. ‘Because it is made of beeswax.’ Violet takes it, her only outward reaction an easing of her facial muscles. I thank her in Violet’s place, and we walk quietly to the car. She is taking this small act of kindness in, turning it over and around in her mind. I am taking it in too, grateful for the mothering I myself have just received. This woman has just ever so gently, without threatening my own motherhood for a moment, reminded me to ‘understand’ my child, however seemingly trivial or inappropriate or embarrassing. Violet doesn't need to know that her mother is embarrassed or angry. She just needs to see her own feelings handed back to her. And then, once we're both looking at what is, we can navigate a way to what could be.
I need to be her mirror; to reflect HER truth. Not mine.
The next day, I hear this story from Tom Price:
During World War II, there was a nun who worked in an orphanage in France. Children were being orphaned at an astonishing rate—higher than at any other time in human history. When the children were told what had happened to their parents and that they would be living at the orphanage indefinitely, they would often be traumatized, sometimes permanently. The nun realized that if she told the children a story about other children with the same information and the same details, the children would invariably come to the end of it and say, ‘Oh, is that what happened to me?’ And because the nun had provided them with a mirror in which they could see truth isolated from themselves and approach it on their own terms, in their own time, with their own understanding, they were far better equipped to process the information.
Tom Price used this method with his own children, telling bedtime stories about little turtles whose lives bore striking resemblance to his own children’s lives. One time, he came home from work to find his daughter crying hysterically. When he asked her what had happened, she refused to answer. He later found out that she had dumped all of the yogurt from the yogurt maker into the bathtub and had proceeded to take a yogurt bath. Her mother was not at all happy. That night, when Tom came into his daughter’s bedroom to tuck her in, she said, ‘Tell me the story about the turtle who took a yogurt bath.’ She wanted to process what had happened, but from a safe, non-threatening distance.
I only heard this story because a friend referenced it in her own recounting of the stories she tells to her daughter. Stories about a little brown fox whose life bears striking resemblance to her own daughter's life. Stories that began around the time that her marriage was ending. She knew that to an almost three-year-old, the splitting up of her parents could potentially feel like trauma, and so the little brown fox and her mother told their story, night after night. While the real girl and her mother looked on from the safety of each other's arms.
Mirrors reflect. In nature, reflection occurs when light (or any other wave) bounces off a surface, allowing it to be seen.
Abdu’l-Baha said that, "If we wish to understand what the spiritual life is, we must look to the material world, which is an outward figure or symbol of the inward spiritual reality.” So this entire world of existence—everything from the sun to the soil—is one giant mirror. Science isn't in conflict with religion; science is religion’s reflection.
Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha constantly use analogies from nature:
- “The world of humanity has two wings—one is woman and the other man."
- “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth."
- “Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value."
- “Flowers may be variegated in colors, but they are all flowers of one garden..."
Nature is infinitely complex. No matter how many times we look in its mirror, we will always see something new. Something beautiful.
When asked one time why everyone who entered his presence left with such a shining countenance, he replied that he saw his Father’s face in everyone he met. I want to see that. I want to notice the candle they hold in their hearts. And reflect it back to them.