Into the dark
What does darkness mean to you?
What images come to mind? What are the feelings that come? What meanings do you make?
For many, the answers to these questions fall on what we might call the ‘negative’ side of the spectrum. Darkness is scary. It’s void of light. It’s where we go when we are depressed or angry. It’s a lonely place. A place where we withdraw.
Perhaps it’s bad — evil even. The Prince of Darkness comes to mind. From some religious perspectives, darkness is the realm of the devil, Satan, the anti-Christ. We tend to think of people who do awful things as being ‘dark’. We talk about horror movies or literature that depicts the depravity possible by humans as being ‘dark’.
And all of this is true. And, I think, there’s more.
The poem closes with:
in the dark i see the moon
saying ‘nothing is constant’
even a rock caught in light’s orbit
even these constellations are
a flash across infinity
that brightness doesn’t last
but the dark is forever
Yesterday, I read this poem in a men’s group I facilitate. My intention was to call forward that which surrounds us, which makes our life possible, what is eternal. Can we connect to the thing that holds us all? I was a bit surprised to hear a couple of the men tell me that the poem put them in a negative space. To hear that light is fleeting — a flash across infinity — and that dark[ness] is forever left them feeling something undesirable.
I get it. I really do. Especially when we live in a culture such as ours, a culture that prizes positive over negative, light over dark. I’ve lived in this space myself. I’ve dipped into what we might call the space of ‘love and light’. A space that, on one hand, feels like it is trying to invite in the highest good of what it means to be human. It can feel really good. It can be an uplifting space. This can really be true when we find ourselves feeling down in life. To find a space — a community, really — that tells us that light is the answer.
The thing is, what I found was that the ‘love and light’ space was actually pretty limiting. In fact, in some ways it kept me encased in the very ‘negative’ feelings that I was having — partly because I was convinced that I should be feeling all the love and light stuff people were going on about. I’ve come to see that when I feel I should be doing something, shame is usually pretty close by. And where there’s shame, there’s not much possibility for movement.
Adjacent to the ‘love and light’ crowd, I began to see something else.
I found it through a couple of different gateways. One of those gateways was the tantric teachings of Kashmir Shaivism. These are teachings that say that all things are part of the divine experience — the good and the bad, the sacred and the profane. Then there was Integral Theory. From an ‘integral’ perspective the same is true: a spectrum of positive to negative is just that, a spectrum. To hold a story that one side of that spectrum is ‘better’ than the other is just another perspective. And perhaps a limited perspective at that.
This isn’t to say that some things are more desirable than others. Of course they are. But what happens when we bump up against the darkness and choose to push it away? Where, exactly, is away?
A third space that I came in contact with was Core Energetics. Core is a somatic therapeutic process. It’s all about engaging the energies that are held in the body in order to release our trauma’s and come in contact with our full life force. When we move in this way, all kinds of energies emerge — joy, pleasure, rage, despair. It’s all there. And it’s all energy. So, we move it. In these processes, we’re able to move the energies that we pushed ‘away’ (which, it turns out, is really just into the recesses of our mind, and into to muscles of our body).
The experience of having these energies move through me in a way that led to a release was hugely impactful for me. I could really feel how it was all one thing that was taking different forms. Each part played a role. The ways that my body held onto the energies that were overwhelming to me when I was a child (and, quite frankly, not given the skills to deal with them), created all kinds of holdings. These are things that I’m still processing today.
Plenty of those energies, we could call dark. We could call them negative. And they are. It’s true. They are also something else, though. They are teachers. They are an opportunity to heal — not just for myself, but for my family. For the world. When any one of us heals what is in us, we heal some part of the world. In Judaism, we call this Tikkun Olam 1.
So, back to darkness.
What if we hold the idea of darkness from this place? What might it be?
Here are just a few thoughts:
Darkness is what makes the light possible. It holds the light in an embrace, giving it the container to shine, bathing us (and everything) in its glow.
Darkness is a space of healing. The room we step into to look deep within. In some traditions, they think of this as the ‘cave of the magician’.
Darkness is the place of growth and creation. The womb is dark. Before there was light, there could only be darkness. The creation itself is light. The space is dark.
When I think about what it means to embrace the fullness of life, I immediately go to embracing the darkness. In fact, I want to start there. I get that this isn’t the norm. I get that it’s not comfortable. But what if it was a step toward the light, from a place that allowed us to appreciate it all the more?
So, now, from here, what does darkness mean to you?
It’s certainly not all that Tikkun Olam is, but it’s certainly a part of it.↩︎