For many, the holidays are times of gathering in celebration. While this may be true, as someone who deeply values the inner world, at least as much as the outer, I believe that holidays can equally serve as opportunities for healing solitude and retreat.
Last Chanukah, my therapist instructed me to go out and buy one of those cheap, disposable hanukkiotmade out of tin. Each night, she instructed me to light a candle and ask for something I wanted. “And don’t skip any days,” she said. She told me that if I had a candle-lighting with friends or family, I should come home and light them again so that I could still follow her instructions. It sounded a little childish and artificial to me at the time, but in the end, I got pretty into it.
After my session, I took the light rail into the market and stopped at a little home supplies shop burrowed in the Jerusalem stone. There, I found plenty of hanukkiotand Chanukah candles nestled beside assorted shampoos and cleaning supplies for the killer price of ten shekels.
The one I chose had a photo of a rabbi lighting candles in celebration of Chanukah (photoshopped sparkles included) pasted onto the flimsy piece of aluminum.
When I got home, I found some acrylic paints — seaweed green and white — and painted over the gaudy image with splashes of dark green, white and everything in between. The hanukkiot plus several rocks from the Mediterranean Sea sitting latently in a woven basket on my dresser became part of the windowsill display.
There it was, my little private ocean of lights.
Each night, I lit another candle and added another item to my secret wish list. My favorite part of the whole ordeal was sitting on the couch and staring at the burning flames in the darkness late at night until they went up in smoke.
I found it all too appropriate to light Chanukah candles on the darkest days of the year as a form of quality time with myself. In Chinese Medicine, the night is associated with yinenergy, which is about depth, obscurity and the inward flow of energy. Fire, on the other hand, is not only a symbol of joy and aliveness, but also a purifying force. In nature, fire is a form of fertilizer for the soil, cleansing it and giving it nutrients so new life can grow.
Recently, I read somewhere that, “only when it’s darkest can you see the stars.” As I come to know the healing power of fire, that is a message I would like to incorporate each year as part of the annual Festival of Lights.