Blinking Into the Light

“When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.”  Do you recognize this quotation?  It’s the first line of The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.  It popped into my head this morning during meditation. 

Strange?  Not if you knew me as a teenager; I was absolutely obsessed with The Outsiders.  I must have read the book a dozen times, and watched the movie at least that many times, if not more.  But, why now?  Why did this line surface now, during meditation of all times?  To be honest, I only remembered the first half of the sentence.  I think it has always stuck with me because it’s almost palpable—I can feel myself blinking after coming out of a dark theater into the harsh light of day, the world suddenly too bright.  I imagine it’s like coming out of a cocoon, or the womb. And this is why I think Ponyboy’s words came to me during meditation.  I started thinking of it as a metaphor for spiritual awakening.  

Think of it this way:  in our daily lives, we are in a movie house.  We immerse ourselves in stories—tragedies and comedies, fantasies and horrors.  It doesn’t matter what movie reel it is—we get caught up in the characters, plots, flashing images, soundtracks, and on and on.  All these films seem to be our reality.  And often, like an IMAX 3-D movie, they loom larger than life.  But then we walk out into the afternoon light.  We blink and squint, trying to block out some of that dazzling light.  We can’t take it all in, not all at once.  

A sudden shift from darkness to light can be disorienting, especially when moving from illusion into reality.  But whenever something is freshly illuminated, it is a stepping stone to awakening.  We walk out into the light, stretch our legs, feel fresh air.  Now we see the world differently than when we went into the theater, when we immersed ourselves in that particular film.  For a few moments, we are free from the illusion. 

Sometimes we cling to it—the movie—talk about it, process it, even criticize it, or maybe we wish we could be glimmering Glinda or the Black Panther.  But there we are, standing outside the theater, squinting as we walk away from the theater in the afternoon light.  (Gotta love a matinee!)

Isn’t that what the spiritual journey is?  Diving deep into the illusions created by people and swimming up into the light, where we now see our reality in stark contrast to the story from which we just emerged?  We have these moments of clarity, but sometimes it’s so bright it hurts.  Then, we quickly put on our sunglasses, protect ourselves, dim our vision.  

I wonder if and when we’ll be able to walk into the light — the harsh reality and the luminous brilliance of it — and keep walking.  Eyes wide open.  Maybe then we will be enlightened; maybe these tiny awakenings are the previews.  Maybe enlightenment comes when, like Ponyboy, we start to walk home seeing things as they are:  “rough all over” and shimmering with beauty—all at once.

(Cover art borrowed from

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