Darkness is Essential
I love the above quote by Desmond Tutu. It’s so true, especially now when darkness seems to reign: the terrible human rights violations, the ways in which disagreements over politics have reached a new low, and the resurfacing of old prejudices.
Darkness is Essential
Even as I love the quote, I also find myself wanting to amend it; you see, darkness isn’t bad. It isn’t wrong or evil or deserving of those moral judgments we make about it. In fact, we need darkness in order to appreciate light. Darkness is essential for all kinds of things: in nature, seeds need the undisturbed warmth and darkness in order to grow. Apparently human beings (and other mammals) do too! The womb is a wonderfully warm, dark place for nourishment and growth, and we spend nine months in that safe place before entering the light!
In Jewish mythology, Lailah (meaning Night) is the Angel of Conception. She midwifes life by bringing the soul and the seed together and then plants the seed in the womb. While gestating, Lailah places a lighted candle at the head of the unborn baby, so he or she can see the entire universe and she teaches the baby the history of his or her soul. But when the baby is born, Lailah blows out the light, and gently placing her finger on the baby’s upper lip, she says,”Shh,” as she makes a tiny indentation. This causes the baby to forget everything learned in the womb. But the knowledge remains deep within us, waiting to be remembered. Lailah is said to watch over the child throughout life and leads her on to afterlife upon death.
I find this myth helpful for understanding the spiritual path. Many spiritual traditions have a version of this myth because it represents a deep truth about spiritual work: the work of remembering, coming back to ourselves, coming back to the sense of Oneness with the Divine that is the very ground of our being.
This myth is also appropriate for understanding our path at this time of year in the northern hemisphere, where the days are gray, the yin/yin time in the northern hemisphere where we also experience more natural darkness than light. I’ve talked about this before. Externally, we’re being pushed outward constantly. Holiday parties, seasonal concerts, shopping and gift-buying, family time, etc., all push us outward when our very being is calling us inward to make time for the gestating that’s happening and needs to happen.
We must go into the darkness to remember, regenerate, and renew. When we truly allow ourselves to do that, to take the time to remember who we are and where we’ve been, to allow time for inner nourishment, we can re-enter the world revived, refreshed, and renewed. We need the dark to be able to shine our lights!
Our Shadow Selves
More than that, working with the darkness also means working with the parts of ourselves we would rather not see, rather not feel, or rather push under the carpet (and keep in the dark). In other words, our shadow selves. It is crucial for us, our planet, and the shift in consciousness of which we’re a part, that we get and keep in touch with our own darkness (preferably without moral judgment), embrace our shadows, own them, and work with them. Then we can act from a space of light, that place that emerges from embracing the darkness.
Here is where Desmond Tutu’s quote comes back into play. Darkness and light are two sides of the same coin; we cannot have one without the other. When the world seems darkest, reflected in the unconscionable ways we treat one another, the rise of hate-filled acts, the lack of civility and people acting out of huge amounts of anger; when our own shadows are revealed by our words and behavior or in despair over the darkness we see—then it’s critical to rest in the wisdom that darkness is but one side of the coin. As the sun sets, so must it also rise; as the light fades each year, it returns again.
Let’s celebrate this season of darkness even as we light our candles (Advent, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa) and celebrate the return of the light (Solstice). For when we re-member, we also become agents of remembering and hope.
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