Lighting a Candle for the Four Directions

Carol A. Hand

This morning when I awoke I was reflecting on my lack of hope and passion these days. It feels as though everything I love, everything that brings me joy and peace and hope is at risk. When did my hope and passion disappear? Was it because of the institutions where I worked that publicly espoused social justice missions but contradicted those values through the actions of the majority? Was it because of the neighbors or ex-spouses who only appeared to be concerned with their own comfort and their own pursuit of happiness? Was it because of the zeitgeist of the times summarized by the observation of my newest neighbor when speaking of a child with serious mental health issues, “I’m in this alone”? This feeling of being alone, when internalized, is a destroyer of hope and collective action and it seems to be a major obstacle for joining together to address the serious threats of these times.

As I look back, I realize this feeling has been an undercurrent in the past. Every intervention I have worked on hit this stumbling block sooner or later despite my best efforts. Like my neighbor, ultimately I felt alone in my past efforts because I was never able to inspire or cultivate enough hope for a critical mass of others who were willing to put aside immediate personal comfort to carry the responsibility for working toward a greater good. It was not for lack of trying. Yesterday, as I was contemplating clearing away some of the gifts, papers, and books I’ve accumulated over the years that fill files, shelves, walls and cupboards, I noticed the white candle that sits atop my most important bookshelf – the one that holds irreplaceable books I used to write my dissertation. Of course, like all my mementos, the candle has a story.

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Photo Credit: Duluth December 13, 2014

I was working as the deputy director of health and human services for an inter-tribal agency. It was not an easy job for many reasons, primarily because of the enduring legacy of colonialism that continued to impose dominant cultural paradigms on tribal communities and use divide and conquer tactics to foment conflicts between “traditional” and “progressive” tribal factions. Resolving conflict was a central part of my job, and it often put me in the middle of powerful competing interests. At a particularly challenging time, I needed to travel with one of my staff to a conference on worldwide healing for Indigenous people held in Edmonton, Alberta. The conference helped me realize I was not alone. Rediscovering the candle on my bookcase reminded me of the conference’s closing ceremony.

More than one thousand of us, representing many cultures and nations, stood in a circle within a large auditorium holding hands. Then, one elder walked to the center. She explained that the closing ceremony was intended to remind us that we were not alone. Because we were in a government building, we couldn’t use candles (fire ordinances prevented it), so flashlights would have to do. And then, the lights in the room went out as her flashlight went on in the center of the circle. She signaled to the four directions, highlighting one person from each of the four directions to walk to the center – first the east, then the south, the west, and the north. The representatives were all given a flashlight. As they touched their darkened lights to the elders “candle,” their flashlights were turned on. They were instructed to carry their light to the four directions and light other candles in their part of the circle. The elder explained that it would not be easy to keep the candle fires burning, but if the light went out, people could always return to the center to light them once again.

This morning, I realize I need to take the time to finally light the candle on my book case. It’s not the same white candle I used for a similar ceremony years later for the 40 staff who worked for the Honoring Our Children Project that included nine tribal communities. Building and maintaining multicultural, interdisciplinary teams within and across different tribal cultures was not an easy task. Providing a center they could return to in challenging times was important. But it is the same candle I used in a farewell ceremony with the graduate students I mentored during our final class together. They would all be graduating and scattering to the four directions.

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Photo Credit: Sending Light to the Four Directions from Duluth, MN – December 13, 2014

As I lit the candle this morning, I thought of the inter-tribal staff who did astounding work, and the creative and inquisitive students I worked with over the years. I thought about my blogging friends around the world who help me realize that each of is sharing our light. And I thought about the many other people who carry light yet feel alone. May we learn to share our light and stand together for the sake of all we love.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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43 thoughts on “Lighting a Candle for the Four Directions”

  1. Maybe by facing our feelings of aloneness, we can find our universal connection. This post was beautifully introspective and honest. We are all connected in one wonderful spirit. You are never truly alone. ❤ ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  2. At this dreary time of year…I find that the Light within grows dimmer in direct proportion to the light without.. And I find myself in deep depression during a time in which others are singing and dancing and so I bake.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear ShirleyAnn, I appreciate your comments. It is hard during this dreary weather, but I look forward to tasting your baked delights at our tea on Wednesday. I’m not up for dancing, but we could share stories, and even sing 🙂

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  3. Thank you for your inspiring words Carol…it is easy to feel alone when the struggle is so daunting, but you remind us how each carry a light and, most importantly, how to go back to the centre to rekindle the fire…you are a candle in the dark.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, dear Sylvia. Our conversations during the past week inspired me to think more deeply about the “predicament” we are living. The work you do and the questions you raise are so important and inspiring. ❤

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  4. My enduring gratitude for having your light in Duluth where I once lived. I shine mine so you can see it here in western Massachusetts. We are not alone, Carol. We have each other.

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  5. Wow! This piece really hit home for me. I always tell myself (and others) that I cannot correct all of what is wrong with the world but if I can make a difference in my own little corner maybe it will influence the overall scheme of things. I thought it was working but now I am sure because now I know that it was always the faint glow of your candle that I am seeing all the way down here in Mpls my friend…and now you know that mine is also lit. 🙂

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  6. Thank you for this post, Carol. The imagery of light from a center out to the four directions is so very powerful. We are never alone. The perfect universe is self-correcting and we are in the midst of it all. I feel deeply grateful to be connected via the blogosphere to like minds and hearts, of which I regard you as one. Thank you for being the center light this day. We are in the circle together. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Love this, Carol. It appears that sometimes a candle sparks something in us without being lit, as evidenced by the memories you went back to upon finding this one on your shelf. Thank you for all your insights that magically make the “light” go on for me. ❤

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  8. I am so far behind on reading blogs lately + just wandered to yours + a few others last night:-)…..I always want to take more time for yours since you are so wise:-) It takes a bit more to focus and I have family here right now + just busy with the season…so glad when the commercial side of all this is over…and January means we are closer to getting outside!!!
    I agree with many of the comments above…
    there was a song we sang in sunday school as small children + I taught it to my small children–
    This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
    This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
    This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
    Let it shine, all the time, let it shine.
    All around the neighborhood, I’m going to let it shine.
    All around the neighborhood, I’m going to let it shine.
    All around the neighborhood, I’m going to let it shine.
    Let it shine, all the time, let it shine.
    Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m going to let it shine.
    Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m going to let it shine.
    Hide it under a bushel? No! I’m going to let it shine.
    Let it shine, all the time, let it shin….
    The kids loved the song for we used hand movements when we taught it:-)
    it is often used in the Christian church to teach small children…but it could be
    for all people…..don’t let your light burn out for we all know the strength of the light— but may call it by different names….

    you are an amazing person that I doubt will ever let your light blow out for it shines too brightly to ever be dim:-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s always a gift to hear from you, Robbie, and especially now given the busyness of this holiday season 🙂

      Thank you for sharing this lovely children’s song. Honestly, I am finding that I prefer the simplicity of children’s stories and songs more than academic works or witty social critiques these days. And as always, your kind and thoughtful words mean a great deal to me. Thank you ❤

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  9. Hello Carol. As these warm and generous comments show, we all need this sense of connection that you have created with your delightful and honest piece of writing and with the powerful metaphor of candlelight. I was sitting here trying to plan the year ahead when I saw you had been over to my blog, and so I thought I would come over to yours. I’m glad I did – I will carry on planning now with a sense of the unifying and supportive nature of blogging/writing, and of the importance it has in our lives, connecting so many lights across the world, like chains of bonfires on top of cliffs and hills. Thanks.

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