Even Atheists Believe In Rainbows

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I have always loved rainbows. I can recall staring out of a car window at a massive rainbow painting itself on the landscape during a long family drive through the countryside. As a youngster, rainbows completely amazed me (as is likely true for all kids). I always wanted to get closer to them. I wanted to touch them. I wanted the colours to spread themselves across my skin. This was before I knew about so-called Leprechauns (as far as I can recall). I didn’t care about any pot of gold, or any supposed prize at either end of the rainbow. I just wanted to touch it, to hold it, to know it.

My fascination may have faded as I grew older, but it never died, and any time a rainbow spread itself across the sky, it reignited the wonder of my childhood, awakening my innate sense of awe. I can’t imagine anyone growing tired of rainbows. I love to see adults regard them with the same child-like glimmer in their eye that they so often used to see the world through. It’s as if a rainbow can cleanse and renew us, freeing our sight, allowing us to look at life through a more magical lens. It doesn’t mean that we should curb our curiosity and instinct to understand, but perhaps we could leave enough room to absorb a rainbow’s unspoken majesty before digesting it into blocks of knowledge, distinct units of colour and symbols or stories. Look at the blurred lines binding the colours together and see how fluid they all are. Try to suspend your storytelling and analyzing for a moment and just be bowled over by its incomprehensible beauty.

Aside from their grace and charm, rainbows can bring people together. Taking in a shared rainbow can strengthen bonds between people, adding a hint of mystery to the moment. On the day of the mighty rainbow in Istanbul (which I mentioned in last week’s post), I saw countless people stopping and staring together, smiling and commenting to those around them, making momentary companions of previously complete strangers. For days after the rainbow it was a topic of conversation, people sharing their excitement and experiences of it. I met a number of people in book shops and cafes still talking about it throughout the week. And as much of a shared experience as a rainbow can be, it is also perfectly personal.

Nobody looks at the same rainbow. It is a matter of perspective. Moving either to the left or the right changes the rainbow. Every set of eyes gazing up in wonder at these astounding displays of light and colour is observing their very own rainbow. I began considering this interesting quality of light as I was traveling through Italy. As I watched the sun setting over Lago di Garda (just west of Verona) I marvelled at the movement of the light, playing on waves, rolling itself out to me, inviting me, as I sauntered along the shore. I realized that everybody looking at this sunset had their own direct slice of light unfolding across the water, dancing, shimmering and playing on the subtle waves. Its never-ending nature humbled me. It just kept on pouring over us, feeding us its abundant energy. I couldn’t help but be grateful. I felt as though the light were speaking to the light within me, warming, softening and nudging me toward further growth. I sat on a bench and pulled out my journal to scribble a bit of verse, or whatever else might come through me in the moment.

The light slips through cracks in our consciousness. Conspiring to gather again, to mingle among itself. To grow and spread. Some allow its flow constantly, others grab and grasp, but just fall short of holding on. We cannot contain or frame. Even as the blood flows through our veins. Our vines. Forever moving. In the mind, knives align, design and slice. But boxing up in sizes can never hold for ever and all, nor water in blocks of ice.

I rambled on even less coherently after that, but had approached an interesting pivot point – the paradoxical notion of light’s fleeting and endless flow. It is both ephemeral and constant. I loved it. A couple of weeks later in the south of Italy, I was moved by the subtle wisp of a rainbow hinted in the mist of the sea spraying up from the rocks along the shore. The light played upon the tiny droplets of water, and I sensed a kinship. With each wave rolling in and crashing upon the rocks, a new rainbow would emerge in the mist, whispering itself to my heart and fading away. I suddenly loved that a rainbow could never be proven. I no longer wanted to capture it, but just wanted to admire it for as long as it would let me.

That evening I met a Polish physicist and we got talking at length about light and energy, and the wonder of rainbows. We spoke also of faith and how so many scientific minds require hard evidence before permitting belief in anything. While I could understand this, I also felt that there was something inside me, inside all of us, that could not be proven – something before knowledge. The rainbow and its endless source of light seemed an apt analogy. A phrase was born in my mind; ‘Even atheists believe in rainbows’. It seemed to say that even apparent disbelievers are capable of belief. As I saw it, even expectation of the sunrise is taken on faith. Probability does not guarantee it, despite its strong likelihood based on past experience.

As I was leaving the seaside town of Salerno, I caught a subtle sense of the spectrum of colour glimmering in a dark grey cloud. It was just about to rain, and as the heavy, grey cloud approached, I could see the whole rainbow hiding inside of it (though only ever in my peripheral vision). It stirred up even more wonder in me. How incredible, that even in darkness light and life is all-pervasive, that rich colours can dance in the most dense and dark clouds. I was positively buoyant as I left Salerno.

I don’t know that there is any clear point to this rambling, but maybe it can serve to remind us of the miracle of life that is always all around us. It can remind us to look up into the sky once in a while without a feeling of ‘knowing’ what everything is, and just allowing ourselves to wonder. We need not be dragged into seeing life through a mundane lens. Just look at a cloud and see if you can watch it without reinforcing your regular ‘cloud-related’ concepts. Watch sunlight cut through clouds and splay itself out in all directions, as though the rays of light had found a new source to broadcast their pure energy from.

Maybe we can be such vessels, emptying ourselves of clutter and allowing light to move through us toward others. Every rainbow is a reminder that life and light are free and ever-available – never departing and never arriving, just enjoying the journey. It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s OK to be stunned and catch ourselves without answers once in a while. After all, there’s no need to know how. We can only ever know now.

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By the way, perhaps it’s time to listen to Rainbow Connection again.  🙂

Thanks for reading!  Tune in again next week for something a little bit less hippie-dippy, I think.

Rainbows Saved My Life

I don’t know if many people have made major life decisions based on rainbows, but whoever these people are, I am glad to be among them.

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Rainbows had already been an important part of my life, in some sense, on the day I saw the broadest and brightest rainbow of my life. It was the morning of November 22, 2012, and I had just arrived in Istanbul. I thought I was on my way to India. Little did I know then that the power of light would reach inside of me and send me home.

I had spent the night on the floor of a gas station just across the Bulgarian/Turkish border. The trucker who had taken me that far ended up blowing by me on the other side of the border. I had walked across alone beneath a blanket of stars, enjoying the clean, crisp air. Life was smiling on me. I slipped through the border swiftly, effortlessly, and when I watched ‘my’ truck breeze by an hour or so later, I smiled back. My peace couldn’t be shaken. I pulled out my guitar, made some friends (who fed me), and then I slept. I caught an easy series of rides the next morning and found myself suddenly wrapped up in the old arms of a rugged and restless city. But what beauty and charm lay hidden within it. I was truly moved. The rainbow which welcomed me to the centre of the world – the bridge between Europe and Asia – whispered itself in rock-solid silence, shaking me to the core.

I feel I captured the general sentiment fairly well as I touched upon it in my first letter following my great adventure:

My journey brought me home in a hurry. I didn’t see it coming. I was bound for India, where I had planned to find the answers. I only made it as far as Istanbul – where East meets West – the curves of the murky, Turkish strait connecting continents, bridging worlds. A great rainbow embraced me upon arrival and tears welled in my eyes. I had hitch-hiked through the cold, harsh Bulgarian night, sleeping in a gas station just over the border, where I played a few tunes for some food. I rose early – if not rested, at least at peace – and thumbed a couple of trucks into the massive metropolis. As the soft but sturdy light of this broad, benevolent rainbow reached into me, I felt a change. In that moment, I knew something I could not yet see. My perspective was fuzzy, and yet, through and through, I knew. Something. Even now, it grows in clarity, gently, its pace dictated from beyond. The very nature of light is such that this rainbow, every rainbow, and indeed every shard of light passing through our lives, is at once entirely personal and universal. We are the bridge. That rainbow spoke to my heart, and I know it had the same power to speak to the twenty million other souls moving about the city on that day.

I spent the week reeling. I was trying to make sense of what had happened. I almost couldn’t believe it. It all fit so perfectly. This rainbow was a culmination. It was a major turning point in my journey and in my life. I could not have scripted it better myself. I had been on the road for nearly two years, living and writing a book about traveling light, and suddenly I was stopped dead in my tracks by just that – traveling light. The dense and gentle rainbow brought about a subtle inner shift, and I was only shown bit by bit its true impact. On some level, I am still coming to terms with its implications, carrying on in complete faith and gratitude.

I met up with local friends that night and found even more signs confirming the ‘centre’ I had just stumbled upon. As the week went on dominoes continued falling and affirming this new-found balance. It popped up everywhere. I was baffled. Tears of laughter stripped me of all my former certainties. I found myself stunned, thoroughly humbled by wonder. Before the week was out, after busking for an hour or more on a broad pedestrian walkway, unfolding my soul, I discovered that this ‘dynamic centre’ had always been my home. I had never been anywhere else. There was nowhere else. I packed up my guitar and suddenly saw myself in every set of eyes passing by.  Not James, but my deepest, truest self, far beyond any individual identity. I laughed at myself. It was all so obvious, and so abrupt. I already knew it.

Everywhere is the centre. There is no edge.

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But that’s all I am going to say about it for now. 🙂 I will follow up next week. After a couple of longer blog entries, I feel a shorter one will do for today. Perhaps this post is just a tease. Maybe I want it to mirror life in its reluctance to satisfy expectations, to deliver the juice. (ps…it’s not on its way, it’s already here…)  Maybe I am trying to see if I can drum up interest for next week, a patient page-turner. Maybe I am just done writing for the day and want to go watch a movie. 😉

Who knows? But I hope you won’t let the mystery stop you from stepping out into it. That’s ultimately what the rainbow has been teaching me. Maybe.

More on rainbows next week, right here on Traveling Light.

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