The Thread of Light

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
–William Stafford

One of my Lorian colleagues introduced me to this poem earlier this year. For him it serves as a reminder that his life has a unique and specific purpose; and holding on to that “thread” allows him to express and explore that inner mission while also living in the here and now.

Though I appreciate the “thread” motif above, for me life feels more like a pilgrimage. As I consider the imagery that tethers me to my own life design, most of the time it’s the tree of life or a winding pathway through the wilderness. Sometimes I sense a flowing magical river….

But while working with yesterday’s exercise, another image emerged. A little while ago another friend introduced me to a song by Cliff Eberhardt (with Richie Havens): “The Long Road.” (It’s an oldie, though brand new to me.)

There are the ones you call friends 
There are the ones you call late at night 
There are the ones who sweep away your past 
With one wave of the hand 
There are the ones you call family 
There are the ones you hold close to your heart 
There are the ones who see danger in you 
And won't understand 

I can hear your voice in the wind 
Are you calling to me? Down the long road
Do you really think that there's an end 
I have followed my dreams, down the long road 

You are the one that I met long ago 
You are the one who saw my dream 
You are the one who took me from my home 
And left me off somewhere 
Somehow I feel you are here 
You are waiting in that dream 
Somewhere down this road we will awake 
And be at the start again 

I can hear your voice in the wind 
Are you calling to me? Down the long road
Do you really think that there's an end? 
I have lived my whole life, down the long road 
I've got to find you tonight 
Are you waiting for me? 
I have followed my dream 
I have lived my whole life 
Are you waiting for me? 

I can hear your voice in the wind 
Are you calling to me? Down the long road 
Do you really think that there's an end 
I have followed my dream, down the long road 

I can hear your voice in the wind 
Are you calling to me? Down the long road 
Do you really think that there's an end 
I will live my whole life, down the long road

I can hear your voice in the wind 
Are you calling to me? Down the long road
Do you really think that there's an end 
I have followed my dreams, down the long road

Music is often a portal for me. And this particular song took me down the road of my own life while offering me a glimpse of that inner light traveling within me all along.

Especially right now “the long road” feels especially poignant. There are times when the life journey gets complicated. As William says, “People wonder about what you are pursuing/You have to explain about the thread/ But it is hard for others to see.” And as Cliff sings, ” There are the ones who see danger in you and won’t understand…I have followed my dream down the long road.”

In some ways the thread and the dream are the same theme. Some believe that self-light summons the dream and tethers the thread to our souls. Self light as expression of purpose.

I tend to think of self light as comparable with Star-glass, the Phial of Light that Galadriel (from Lord of the Rings) gifted to Frodo, saying, “May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

Sometimes the road of life feels dark and painful. It’s comforting to realize that an inner light journeys within us, reminding us not only of our origins and our purpose, but also our potentiality.


Inner Light Meditation (an adaptation of Self-Light Exercise)


Note: As with all exercises and meditations,  it is important to proceed with a clear sense of your own inner knowing and grounding. Feel free to adapt imagery and open to the experience you are being inwardly drawn to. If, at any time, you feel uncomfortable, stop and reassess. Perhaps try again at a later time or, if it doesn’t feel right, do not continue at all. As David says, exercises and meditations are made for us, not the other way around.

This Inner Light Meditation is adapted from David Spangler’s Expanded Self-Light Exercise.

Take a moment to center yourself: breathe deeply and allow the details of the day, hour, moment to fade into the background. Settle into yourself.

Call to mind an image of God/Source/Spirit…when you imagine Divinity,  what do you see? A motherly presence? A great-grandfather with white beard and kindly face? An angelic being? Do you see a great burst of light and energy, spanning across eons, timeless and spacious? Or the eternal tree of life with its roots stretching downward to infinity and its limbs branching upwards into myriad worlds? Do you see an infant, quiet and humble? However God comes, attune to this Presence. Honor this Presence.

Now call to mind an image of yourself when you have felt the most yourself– full, vibrant, fulfilled, sparkling. Where were you? What were you doing? Were you a child in a school play? On a road trip the summer after graduation with your closest friends? The day you married your best friend? Every day you wake up to teach children, your life’s dream?  Swimming in the ocean? Quilting? Running? Learning to play the guitar in the corner of your bedroom? Singing karaoke for the first time at 34? Or do you feel the most yourself when you care for others? Allow yourself to feel into these moments in your life, whatever they happen to be. Allow them to echo within you…remind you of the essence of life, which is love.

Yes, you are the result of such love! You are alive! You are bright and full of self-hood! You have consciousness! You have a body!  You are present! You are here, now!

Focus upon the sense of fullness and brightness generated by knowing that you are alive. Imagine yourself surrounded by brightness, by light.

Sense the light surrounding you flowing from within your Self. It is not borrowed light. It is the light gifted to you, a gift of love, because you are alive. You are courageous, a pioneering spirit.

Yet even the best planned lives sometimes go awry. Sometimes things don’t turn out the way we hoped. Sometimes we love and we lose. Sometimes we love and we win, and yet other precious things get lost in the exchange. Sometimes we disappoint ourselves and others. Or others disappoint us. Sometimes we change. Even when we know better, we sometimes make foolish choices…. Allow yourself to feel the fullness of what it means to be alive–the pain, the frustration, the craziness. At the same time cradle this darkness in the light of life, the light of Your Life. These dark, painful moments do not dim our inner lights.

You see, it takes incredible courage to be born. To take on a body. To choose parents, a culture and point in history to be born into. To risk this dream called life. Why are you alive now and not a hundred years ago? What uniqueness lies within you that has come so far to express itself? Recognize and honor your bravery and the inner light inherited by saying yes to this life dream.

Self light is the light within you because you are alive.  Allow this light to spread through you, surrounding your physical body. Re-member this light in memories of yourself. It is present within you in your greatest moments. It is present in spite of your greatest disappointments. It is the light within all of you. It holds everything.

Return to your image of God, surrounded by Divine Light. From this inner place full of self light, again honor this Divine Presence. Then, gently, allow this God-image to fade away, realizing that the light within you remains. Your self-light is an echo of Divine Light combined with the Light generated by being born on Earth. It is the Presence of the Sacred within–as well as the sacred intent of your own Soul which you are an expression of.

When you are ready, gently bring this meditation to a close. Return to your day and your life knowing that you are a child of Sacredness, a being of light in your own right.

The Story of Light

David Spangler’s childhood vision “on the road to Damascus” introduced him to the Source of Light and laid the foundation for his eventual understanding of the process of incarnation. Ten years later a second vision changed the course of David’s life and shaped the structure of what ultimately came to be known as Incarnational Spirituality.

David writes in Apprenticed to Spirit: The Education of a Soul:

There were no bells or whistles. There was no out-of-body flight or any sensations of entering an altered state of consciousness. There was nothing as dramatic as what had happened when I was seven. I only saw a human figure in front of me.

This was not a specific person but a generic individual, almost like a department store mannequin. It was not a being of Light as I was used to seeing, but seemed sculpted from light that glowed from within itself. It definitely appeared solid and physical, even though radiant with light.

It seemed bursting with meaning; so much so that if information were heat and light, it would seem that this individual was standing in front of a furnace. I felt overwhelmed by the insights this figure contained, and could not grasp them all. Almost fifty years later, I am still unpacking the information it had to offer.

But one thing stood out. This figure represented an incarnate person in physical embodiment. It was neither a spiritual nor a non-physical being. It was not an image of what a person might become if he or she left the physical plane or became some kind of ascended master. It was an image of the spiritual Light contained within and radiating from the act of individuation and personhood. It was the light of being a person.

As I watched, the figure changed into a chalice and then became a figure again. It did this three times altogether, as if emphasizing that this person also represented a quality of holding. Afterward, I thought of this figure as “the person who is also a chalice.”

At the same time this vision unfolded in front of me, I sensed the presence of a group of inner beings in the background, one of whom came to stand behind me. He said quite distinctly, “There is a new spirituality emerging, a spirituality of personhood and incarnation. It will represent a new way of being in the world.” And then he said, “Your work is to help this emergence.”

Then the vision faded.


My main purpose in sharing these visions is to establish this most basic framework, without which any study of Incarnational Spirituality may be largely incomplete or impeded; from the perspective of this emerging spirituality, the origin of the human being is an Order of Light.

Having said that, I don’t think that the old stories of creation need to be forgotten, ignored or even directly challenged. They are part of our cultural inheritances, our ways of coming to terms with living in the world, and need to be honored as such.

Yet I fully admit that it may take a great deal of courage for some of us to believe that human beings can be inherently more than weak, frail, fragile and sinful.  Or that our egos deserve the same place of distinction that our souls possess.

But at the beginning of my own personal exploration of Incarnational Spirituality, I felt this story of light needed to be shared.  Like the woman at the airport suggested, it’s part of a larger understanding of spirituality that could change everything!

Inner Light, Beginning Light: David Spangler’s “Awakening on the Road to Casablanca”


There’s a Catholic hymn I remember singing as a child during Mass, entitled “We Are The Light Of The World.” The song was essentially the Beatitudes set to music, but the refrain in particular stands out in my memory:

“We are the light of the world
May our light shine before all
That they may come to worship with us
And give glory to God.”

Light, such an empowering spiritual image. And there it is, buried in the middle of a song about being meek, humble, persecuted, poor in spirit.

“We are the light of the world.”

(Yet another reflection of “the inner light of sacred remembrance” that lies behind our stories of creation and also, paradoxically, redemption?)

Well, as a child I didn’t particularly feel full of light. If anything the complexities of duality were already swinging my existence from heights to depths. My personal path to an understanding of inner light took me down a rather long and somewhat strange road, all things considered.

This was not true for David Spangler. Not that his life wasn’t full of its own particular challenges, but even as a small child, David had already unlocked an inheritance of open-hearted sight into and clear engagement with the world that lies beyond this one. One of these engagements served as David’s awakening to the light within himself as an incarnated being.

In the following passage from David’s memoir Apprenticed To Spirit: The Education of a Soul, David shares this life-altering experience:

It was 1952, when I was seven, about a year after we had moved to Morocco. In the spring of that year, we moved to what became our permanent residence in a house on the Strategic Air Command air base of Nouasseur, about eighteen miles south of Casablanca. . .

One morning we were driving into Casablanca. I was in the tiny backseat of our car watching the scenery go by. Passing a tiny stream that flowed alongside the road in what was little more than a deep ditch at the foot of a small bluff, we saw a group of Arab women standing in the water, washing their clothes the way they had done since the days of Abraham by beating them against the rocks. As I watched them, I noticed a large billboard set into the bluff overhead and looked out the back window to see what it said. Is showed a glamorous blond woman’s smiling face next to a large bottle of Nehi, a popular orange soda.

For reasons I no longer remember, I had been thinking about the riddles of existence. Why was I here? Where did I come from? Who was I? As I looked up at the Nehi sign with the Arab women working below, I remember asking myself, “Who was I before I was David Spangler? Who am I who is looking at this sign?”

As if this question had been a key, I suddenly felt something open inside me. I felt myself swelling, as if I were a balloon and someone were pumping air into me. And I found myself floating like a balloon above our family car, looking down. Through the roof of the car I could see my parents in the front seat and my own body sitting in the back.

Then I was immersed in light, as if I had entered an illuminated cloud. I seemed to expand, taking more and more of this light into myself. I moved through layers that alternated between sensation and light. I would have moments of seeing: sometimes landscapes, sometimes just patterns of color or energy, to reenter a region of only light, which in turn gave way to different perspectives. As I went through these layers, I had an experience of expanding awareness and knowledge.

At one point I came out of the light to a place in which I was surrounded by a circle of figures, all of which were familiar to me as parts of myself. I had the impression I was seeing past and future lives. At that moment, I knew who I was as a soul and consciousness that existed before my life as David. I was filled with a sense of awakening and remembrance. I remember thinking, This is what an amnesiac experiences when he remembers who he is. This was accompanied by an intense feeling of relief and joy.

The movement returned to a layer of pure light. It felt as if I were rushing outward into an ever-larger space until the light parted, and I found myself looking out on the universe with a great spiral galaxy directly before me, pulsing with a gold light and vibrating with life and power. I felt I was not looking at stars but at a living organism, a cosmic body–a body of which I was a part. At that moment my sense of being a separate, human individual faded to a feeling of union with universal Presence.

The light closed in around me again, and I was aware of a reverse movement, of contracting and consolidating. I felt myself going through stages of becoming a particular individual again. I felt something calling me but not from somewhere outside of myself. It was coming from within me as a will and a desire that was focused upon the earth.

Again I burst out of the light and found myself looking down upon the earth from space as if from near orbit. It looked exactly as it does in pictures the astronauts have taken, all blue and white and exquisitely beautiful. I felt an outpouring of love for this planet and a sense of joy that I could become part of it. I felt a strong desire to dive into the world, as if being part of it was the most wonderful and exciting thing imaginable.

I heard someone call my name. “David Spangler!” I was filled with a will to be this unique, specific person, and in a burst of joy I leaped toward the world and found myself back in my body, looking out the rear window of our car at the billboard of the blond woman selling Nehi orange drink. In my body’s time, I had been “gone” for only a few seconds.

In some ways this was a classical mystical experience of unity with a larger state of being and an awakening to one’s eternal Self, the “I” that is within each of us. I felt I had returned to a place I had come from and then traced the process by which I came to be who I am as a physical individuality. Years later, the memory and details of this experience became the starting point from which I shaped my understanding of the process of Incarnation, an understanding that is at the heart of much of my current work.

David’s “awakening on the road to Casablanca” was the first of two significant visions that helped lay the foundation for the story of inner light that imbues Incarnational Spirituality.