This article first appeared in my newsletter September 23, 2016. Click here to sign up to receive my online newsletter.
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Scared of the dark
When I was little I was scared of the dark. I know that I am not the only one.
I still remember that terrible walk from the light switch to the bed. I’d turn out the light, cross the bedroom floor and jump into bed from as far away as possible so the monster hand didn’t reach out from under the bed and grab me by the ankle.
I’d dive under the covers and peer out. The half-open closet door hid nameless shapeless terrors; unknown bad things, scary things that would ooze out and do harm.
From an early age, I have preferred the light: daytime rather than nighttime, sunny rather than cloudy, clarity rather than ambiguity.
I have wanted to hide from, be protected from, turn away from, the darkness. At first, “darkness” meant simply the absence of physical light. As I grew older, “darkness” also acquired symbolic meaning – dark depressing emotions, dark ominous thoughts, dark evil actions. Anything I didn’t like was “dark.”
I really resonated with this quote:
“Darkness is shorthand for anything that scares me – either because I am sure that I do not have the resources to survive it or because I do not want to find out. If I had my way, I would eliminate everything from chronic back pain to the fear of the devil from my life…
~ Barbara Brown Taylor in Learning to Walk in the Dark
And then one day, I was jarred.
A friend from the west coast was visiting me on the prairies. We had, in my mind, perfect summer weather – sunshine every day, blue skies, bright and sunny. One morning it was grey, raining and overcast. I was disappointed.
My friend came into the kitchen and said, “Oh thank God! A rainy day. I was so tired of that relentless sunshine!”
It had never occurred to me that light could be “relentless.”
In the dark
When I remember painful experiences, many were prolonged unnecessarily because I kept myself “in the dark” about things I didn’t want to see.
Some of those things were external – events and people around me.
When I was willing to look deeply, most of those things were also internal. At the root, what I did not want to see within myself kept being reflected back in the outside world until I was courageous enough to let myself see it, or I was forced into seeing it because I had turned away for so long that a niggle became a crisis.
Paradox: I had to go into the darkness to see the light.
Here’s the rest of the Barbara Brown Taylor quote:
“…When, despite all my best efforts, the lights have gone off in my life… I have not died. The monsters have not dragged me out of bed …
“Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over…
“There is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.”
Gifts of darkness
On this planet we have light and dark in equal measure. No matter where we live, at whatever latitude, over the period of a year we experience light and dark in equal measure. Perhaps there’s a message here.
In the darkness, we can rest.
In the darkness, seeds begin to sprout and grow roots and leaves.
In the darkness, dreams are born.
In the darkness, ideas can percolate and take shape.
If we are willing to explore the darkness, we discover gifts we could not imagine when we are blinded by the light.
Walking in the dark
So how do we walk in the dark? Carefully, gingerly, gently at first, feeling our way.
And how do we learn to walk in the dark? Two favourite quotes provide a hint.
First the hard part, the courageous part:
Start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take.
~ David Whyte
And then the hope:
When we come to the edge of all the light we have known,
And step into the darkness of the unknown,
We must believe one of two things will happen:
Something will come up to meet us
Or we will be taught to fly.
~ Patrick Overton