October is my favorite month. In the Roman calendar, octo, Latin for eight, was actually the eighth month, but the Gregorian calendar, instituted by Pope Gregory XIII established January as the first month of the year, making October the tenth.
The leaves are changing colors; the weather is cooling off; football is in full swing; Halloween decorations are going up and I am going to celebrate another rotation around the sun. October is my birthday month and I get to blow out a candle.
Candles on birthday cakes derived from an ancient practice. Birthday celebrations began as a way of recognizing the spirit that comes to life with each soul born. Originally, there was only a single candle representing individual life no matter what the age of the celebrant might be. The single flame symbolized the inner spirit and natural, shining genius that enters the world at the birth of each child. The flame of inner intelligence burns at the center of the soul and would light a path through this uncertain world. The single candle was lit to remind everyone of the invisible fire at the core of each life and birthday gifts were not given to the person, but to the spirit born within them.
In this old sense, a birthday serves as a reminder that each person is already gifted – each having an inner genius and some God-given gifts to bring to life. One’s birthday involved a return to the mystery of oneself and a reminder of the inner flame of one’s life. The point wasn’t simply to make a wish, but also to consider what the candle of each life burns for. When the candle was blown out it was said that the rising of the smoke could carry prayers for the spirit of the celebrant to the heavens above.
I am a disciple of myth, a servant of stories, and strangely a devotee of the notion that the soul is threaded through with a plotline from the beginning that aims at a destiny that might be possible to find before the end. For life is an eternal story, a mythic drama that begins again each time a soul enters the world. This year on my birthday I am going to contemplate the candle on my cake, my inner flame and what my life burns for. Through mediation and prayer I will begin this quest by seeking the counsel of my soul. The soul is a kind of ancient library that holds the exact knowledge we seek and need most. Call it an inner spirit, the great soul or deep self, the inner genius or divine twin. It has many names but each refers to the older wiser self. We may enter paths where others have found meaning and even transcended; that’s a good way to begin a quest. But in order to answer the question of our own lives we must risk taking our own steps. The only genuine safety in this world comes from risking oneself completely in order to become oneself more fully.
Moses began being Moses when he was placed in a basket and given to the river of life. Later, he knew how to part the waters and lead others from bondage to safety. Buddha had to find a way to go between the two great religions of his time because he could not go along with either of them. Each of these men became a prophet in their own way and each is remembered for the way they became themselves.
Those who learn to paint like Da Vinci imitate a master; yet as long as their own inner mastery remains unknown, they are imposters. They may grow by following the brushstrokes of an original, but only become themselves by grasping their own originality.
So, this year, when I blow out my candle you will know exactly what I am wishing for, searching for and hoping to find…me.