By Kellie Schorr
“I go out walkin’
out in the moonlight,
just like we used to do.
I’m always walkin’
searching for you.”
Like every teen in the early 80’s my world had the best music imaginable: Bon Jovi, Lionel Richie, ACDC, Styx.
Every moment of my high school life was filled with guitar riffs, screaming love ballads, smooth moves and big hair. Until I got home, or sat in my mom’s car. Then the earth began to turn in 4/4 time, with a twang in its voice and the pure whine of a steel guitar. My parents were country music fans. Not just country—classic country.
I could leave my bedroom where Journey was encouraging me to “Don’t Stop Believing” but by the time I got to the kitchen where my mom had a little radio, Loretta Lynn was telling us about being a “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and poor Hank Williams was so lonesome he could cry. I grabbed a snack and ran back to my room where poverty wasn’t romantic, love didn’t seem so painful, and beer and tear drops were significantly less prevalent.
One of the songs that could keep me singing in the kitchen, or at least send me dancing down the hall, was Patsy Cline’s bluesy ballad “Walkin’ After Midnight.” Her voice was so robust, never strained, always grounded and the song carried the profound longing I felt for a lover I wouldn’t meet for another 20 years. It was simultaneously heartbroken and hopeful—just like adolescence.
Now, older and wiser, having found the love I was searching for, I still sing it and understand it as a great map anytime I realize I am on a path that is also heartbroken and hopeful—the path of change.
When we think of going through a time of change, whether it’s a new job, leaving a bad relationship, adjusting our dietary habits, or discarding ideas we just don’t believe anymore, we tend to imagine those things as best done in the light of day. However, that might not be the most effective. When is the best time for change? After midnight.
The midnight hour, that moment that turns today into yesterday and tomorrow into “right now” has long been known for its spiritual power and ability to facilitate change. Daylight is when we put on our clothes, comb our hair, lean into social norms, and use our indoor voices. Among the working masses we project everything they expect and we can rationally display.
What happens at midnight? Ask Cinderella.
The clock chimes as the veil over your eyes rips in two, the fancy dress is a pile of rags, your car is a pumpkin and the driver reveals himself to be a rat you picked up in an alley while he was stealing a piece of pizza from the trash. The illusion is over and there you stand, utterly revealed and undeniably authentic.
To walk after midnight is to move beyond the fictive self and the projections we put out for all the world to see. It is to let go of our clinging for acceptance or approval and to embrace our naked, vibrant Buddha nature in its most vulnerable, honest state. What better way is there to approach or survive a change, particularly one in which you have no choice, than be in a mindset stripped to the bones and awake without the clutter of day? A path of change that can take you to a better place should be walked after midnight.
In the Moonlight
The reason the path of change can be so challenging is the groundlessness of letting go, reaching out, learning from backward, and moving forward all at the same time. The path of change makes no promises and offers only a hint of a map. Enlightening and frustrating, change is as powerful and ethereal as the reflection of the moonlight in water.
In the third volume of his Trilogy of Rest, Finding Rest in Illusion, Longchenpa writes about the classic illusion of the moon in water. When you are walking after midnight you may stop and rest by a pond where you see a perfect reflection of the moon. It delights you, provides light and maybe even a little comfort. You remember the moon exists whether you see it or not, and isn’t wonderful when you get a glimpse of it in a dark night of the soul?
But when you reach out to touch it—to make sure this glowing orb of hope is really, most sincerely, real—you come up with nothing but a wet hand.
Turns out the moon isn’t in the water. That was an illusion. The moon is in the sky.
For Longchenpa this illustration serves as a perfect metaphor for the intersection of experience and emptiness. We see the moon’s reflection and can find our way by its light, so it really is there. And yet, it’s not.
Going through a life change, particularly the kind of rupture that alters everything, can seem a lot like the reflection of the moon in water. We think we see so clearly and are doing things so wisely, only to look back from the place we end up and realize how we took on too much, cut people out of our life, tried too hard, gave up too soon, let too much go or held too tight. We count on things or people that seem solid only to discover they were never really there at all.
One of the best ways to make it through the path of change is to remind yourself. as often as possible, to stay with each moment as clearly as you can. Make decisions with empathy, compassion and wisdom. Be gentle, so gentle, with yourself if you end up in a swamp and have to change directions.
The path will change you the same way day changes to night, slowly progressing minute by minute. Soon enough, you’ll be in the moonlight.
If you find yourself at a point where you aren’t sure which way to go and you just need to center yourself on the map: stop, take a deep breath, shatter the illusions, and say out loud, “The moon is in the sky.” Use that truth to ground yourself where you are, then look at your choices in the moment, and take the next step forward.
It’s been many years since teenage me stood in the kitchen singing with my mom and Patsy Cline. At the time, like most fifteen-year-olds, I felt like my whole life was changing every day and I couldn’t wait until that stopped. Now I know the path of change, fueled by impermanence and guided by patterns I don’t always understand, is never going to end. It won’t ever settle in my grasp like a big, beautiful moon glistening in a luscious clear pond.
The moon is in the sky.
If I could give teenage me, or anyone else, one piece of guidance it would probably be this.
Go out walkin’
out in the moonlight
searching for you.
The path will change you the same way day changes to night, slowly progressing minute by minute. ~ Kellie Schorr Click To Tweet
© “Walkin’ After Midnight” 1957, Decca Records (Universal Music Group). Lyrics by Alan Block and Don Hecht.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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