Light exhorts us to put a brave face on our lives, admit no fear, go down fighting, never accept defeat. Light says we can always be happy, if we just try hard enough. Light says positive thinking wins the day. Light says death can be vanquished; eternal happiness awaits us in a next life.
Darkness is pragmatic. The abyss awaits us all. Only if I enter it respectfully, mindfully, can I learn its lessons, and potentially emerge, reborn. But I have to die first. It will hurt. It will be more than I can bear.
I will encounter my shadow aspect(s) **, and other pieces of me long missing. Sometimes the scariest part is realizing these pieces are just as much me as the pieces I like. Then I have to befriend them, treat them kindly, and learn to love them.
When I take this road, I take it alone. Even finding the right questions to ask is difficult, and there are no easy answers. There are long periods where nothing seems to be happening. My efforts to fill this void come to naught. I must be patient. It is only by fully inhabiting this emptiness *** that I make possible significant emotional growth.
I have undertaken this journey several times. It doesn't get easier. Once I have descended, and then ascended, I am a very different person than I used to be. People of light find me disruptive, uncomfortable, even unpleasant. Some of my most significant relationships have foundered in such a way. I had to let them go.
I used to be an unqualified optimist, but the more I go through this process, the more nuanced and complex my thinking gets. Sometimes I need to grieve for what I've lost. Sometimes I need to fully explore my doubts. Sometimes I need to feel despair. Sometimes I need to say, “I learned useful lessons by doing X, I don't regret doing it. But it was dangerous and painful and I paid a high price. I bear scars.”
I am a child of Earth. My gods are chthonic ****, and so am I. Our spirits dwell in earth and the depths of seas, where everything is dark, within and without, and everywhere in between.
We are born out of darkness, and in time, to darkness we all return. The wheel of life turns, what was created is destroyed, and new possibilities arise. Nothing lasts, so we must enjoy every moment we have.
Darkness illuminates truths that daylight obscures. ***** In darkness I perceive beings at widely different scales [cells, animals, humans, trees, stars], and I see that we are all part of the universe, and we all matter. We all face challenging situations, we all make moral choices, we all wonder if we’re doing the right thing. When I die, my atoms and molecules will enter darkness, and be taken up by other living beings. My parts will be recycled, some of them staying in earth, and others becoming part of worms, soil microbes, trees, fungi, grazing animals, predators. Perhaps someday parts of what used to be me will become part of a river, a mountain, or a tectonic plate. Parts of me will get to be a turtle, a slime mold, a squidworm, a paper birch, a lichen. Wherever “my” parts go, I will remain a child of Earth.
I stand in the dark of night at a sacred site, speaking to trees and the moon. Leaves rustle, and I hear a large animal moving towards me. It's probably a deer, maybe a fox, yet I feel a sense of dread and awe and uncertainty swelling within me. Part of me wants to flee in fear, but I stay, increasing my comfort with not-knowing.
Around midnight, night after night, I traverse my neighborhood, open to whatever experiences cross my path. Each experience differs subtly, but the dread and awe and uncertainty remain. I renew my relationship with darkness, with mystery every time.
Notes and links:
* For an in-depth explanation of the cognitive processes of visual thinking, read Colin Ware’s book, Visual Thinking for Design.↩
***See Clive Hazell’s The Experience of Emptiness, pp. 114, 115, 121.↩
**** Chthonic, strictly speaking, refers only to “beings who dwell in, or under the earth”, not ocean depths; but for me it evokes any place that is deep and dark and, in some sense, unfathomable. ↩
***** I do recognize the irony of using ‘illuminate’ as a verb when the subject is darkness. My thesaurus gave me these synonyms for illuminate: “make understandable or lucid, throw light on, elucidate”. Its antonyms were: “darken, becloud, cloud, obscure”.↩
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