We are living through trying and even surreal times. As I write this, I am managing a flurry of emotions along with the rest of humanity amid the unfolding of a global breakdown. On its face, that breakdown is a rapidly spreading virus that has reached pandemic proportions. But dig a little deeper and the crisis is also one of shifting paradigms. As the author and spiritual leader Kute Blackson eloquently said in a recent video, we are being forced to stop and slow down, really connect, and undergo a process of authentication. What is real in our lives when we are stripped of all the business and noise? What is left when we are alone and still? More optimistically, like a rainbow following a dark storm, what is seeking to emerge?
A few weeks ago, when I started writing this blog and before our lives were turned upside down, I felt inspired to explore the symbolism of rainbows. Although I started a draft, it remained unpublished because it was not connected to anything meaningful for me. Suddenly today, this theme makes sense on so many levels. Rainbows are one of those phenomena that are just rare enough – bright, elusive, and heavenly – that they make almost everyone stop and marvel. In part, I believe it has to do with the conditions upon which rainbows appear. You can be stuck in a rainstorm with the darkest of skies, and suddenly it ends and this beacon of light in a perfect arc materializes. Science tells us that rainbows are created when white light from the sun passes through the raindrops and the different colors change to a speed proportional to their characteristic wavelength. After scattering inside the rain droplet, the light reflects until it exits the droplet and a rainbow is created. Mythology, of course, tells a more vibrant story.
Whether as bridge, messenger, archer’s bow, or serpent, all different cultures have symbolized the rainbow for millennia and it plays a magical, otherworldly part in most ancient and modern belief systems around the world. The rainbow myth is far-reaching and even considered to be representative of human hopes and fears. One such story according to Genesis, is that after Noah saved the animals from the Great Flood, a rainbow appeared. The flood had killed all other living beings, and the rainbow came to indicate God’s promise that he would never send another flood to destroy the earth. The rainbow epitomized hope, faith, and survival.
With a bit more levity, the Irish legend tells the story of Leprechauns that bury pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. But since a rainbow can only be seen at a distance, the gold is forever illusive. This might actually be a deliberate part of the myth, suggesting that the pot of gold is an unattainable goal and something that can never be found.
The hope for survival or the futile quest for the pot of gold might actually be one in the same. What is the promise the rainbow brings? Mythology aside, it is an interesting metaphor for the destination trap, or the belief that suddenly we are going to “arrive” at the ideal that we have defined in our personal or collective stories. The universe’s joke is that we will continue searching as long as we forget to look at the forest through the trees. Rainbows remind us to behold the miracle of life from a distance, recognizing that we are the observers. Our own eyes and brain work in tandem to perceive all the colors, the darkness and the light, and we get to choose to appreciate the present moment – even amid a crisis. Ironically, a rainbow reveals the spectrum of light that always exists, we just cannot detect it until the speed slows.
In these stormy times, it is so easy to hope and search desperately for the solution, or the proverbial pot of gold. Interestingly, from where we sit today, that hope is just a return to normalcy. We want our ordinary routines, our small conveniences – which we usually neglect to appreciate – back to being how they were. I would offer that in this uncertainty, fear, and heightened emotional state, we can choose to stop and see the rainbow anytime. It is always there; we just don’t see it. And life is forcing us to stop anyway, right? What can we do to remember our place in this wide world of endless possibilities? How can we use this time to expand our consciousness and bring ourselves into alignment with what is truly important? Now is the time to ease our resistance to the storm – go play in the rain with loved ones and marvel at the mystical that is always surrounding us. And when the storm subsides, definitely don’t go inside, back to your daily grind, without looking out for the rainbow.