First the Darkness, then the Light

I’ve always liked those comic strips where when someone gets an idea a little light bulb comes on over their head.  What I think we tend to forget is the “pre-light bulb” state, the darkness before the light.  We have just passed through the Winter Solstice and those shorter darker days are now moving toward the light.  My friend John Copeland reminds me that “solstice” means “stand-still sun”.  In about six months the cycle will complete and start all over again.   This amazing process of moving toward and away from darkness and light are metaphors for our own relationship with the light and the dark.

I work on the assumption that we have a preference, even a prejudice, for the light that is matched by our more negative associations to darkness.  So, I am here to speak up for darkness.  I think that darkness gets a bad rap and needs to be looked at in a “new light”.  (I think that’s irony, but not sure. )   My premise for this situation is that it is mostly the ego that doesn’t like the darkness because it is too much of a reminder about how limited it really is in the face of the larger unknown, the tremendum, the transcendent.  And that unknown gets identified with darkness.  The darkness is the place of mysteries: the earth that holds the seeds; the womb that holds new life; the forest that holds monsters.   It is the realm of the unknown and the Other.  One response to this is to be in denial.  This simply leads us further into the darkness.  (More irony?)  Another is to project our own darkness onto others.  Again, this simply creates another larger problem since we end up dealing with “in here” issues “out there”.

C.G. Jung speaks of this as the Shadow we all carry.  Dealing with these unclaimed darknesses in ourselves isn’t easy.   So we hang onto our denial fiercely.  Woe be to the one who points out my darkness to me.  As for the Other, we are drawn to various methods of control or destruction that simply don’t work because they are dealing with the wrong problem in the wrong place. What to do?  Well, the simplest thing is to continue to do what we have always done and hope for a different outcome.  We can hope someone will come along and solve the problem, i.e., make the darkness go away.  We can make a lot of noise and glitter and maybe scare it away, or at least be momentarily distracted.  By theway, glitter is not light, it is just a distraction.  Or, we can learn from the Solstice cyle that these two are part of a whole, a whole that is never static.  The continual movement of light in dark that we experience through this cycle is at least measurable and predictable.  The daily dance of light and dark in our lives is not so predictable.  The rhythms of this life dance can go from high to low, fast to slow, pleasant to overwhelming in the blink of an eye, or unfold over the years of an illness.

Jack Kornfield says, “The unawakened mind tends to make war against the way things are.”  Sometimes they are very dark.  We don’t have to like it.  And yet, this darkness is a call to wholeness.  Real light needs real darkness to complete it.

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16 Comments on “First the Darkness, then the Light”

  1. Josh Says:

    So the way out of the darkness is through it. And, somehow, there always seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.

    That doesn’t mean the tunnel goes away, of course, When denial beckons, we can always retreat back into it. Which only makes us appreciate the light more.

    Weren’t we originally cave dwellers?

  2. Raddish Leaf Says:

    Someone recently suggested to me that one of our biggest fears is that this – whatever “this” is – will never change, that it will just go on and on and on, that the pre-light bulb state will never lead to the light bulb coming on. Thanks for the reminder that neither the darkness nor the light are permanent.

  3. Annie Says:

    Funny you should mention it. This year the season seemed somewhat less frightening, and I think it was because Elizabeth described imagining winter before history, without propane or electricity or hot water or Christmas lights. It was dangerous. It could kill you. No wonder the time of year brings fear up from the deep and drives us to distraction. And no wonder we make festivals of light, advent wreaths, Christmas lights. So I burned lots of candles. It seemed to help.

  4. Laurie Casriel Says:

    I like your post. A spot-on solstice musing…
    Yes, I agree that projection is useless.
    Waiting for someone to solve the problem, that doesn’t work.
    Distraction, sometimes does the trick. I think distraction is often underrated.
    But, embracing the darkness, containing it to become whole (not being swallowed up and lost in it) sounds like the best idea! The meaning of solstice, standing still, could be the best way to deal with the darkness – sitting still and just feeling, watching, waiting…
    Could it be that the darkness is full of such power that we are afraid of it, and thus of ourselves?

  5. Jerry DiPego Says:

    Thanks for this, elevating the darkness out of fear and into understanding, even appreciation – like the silence before the music. Need them both. Bravo. Jer

  6. Aaron Kipnis Says:

    Last night a noise woke me up in the middle of the night. Reached for the flashlight but the batteries were dead. Oh, no. But then I realized: wow I can see in the dark. Not those long wished for superpowers finally being bestowed but–moonlight. Yes this dark house in the Topanga hills is full of gentle light at night. The noise? A great horned owl on the telephone pole. It also loves the dark and needs no batteries. Wandered around in the moolight so long I have moonburn on my face this morning. OK Allen, I will try to love the dark without using batteries to stave off the unknown bumps in the night and learn to navigate my midnight home by moon and starlight. But I am not going to start eating mice just to understand the ways of the owl.

    • allenkoehn Says:

      What a lovely poetic description of your experience. Have you ever considered writing a book? Also, mice are good, or so I’m told. There’s actually a wonderful book called, “The Owl Was a Baker’s Daughter” by Marion Woodman about the repressed feminine. Missed seeing you today. Tired after a day leading a clinical practice class. Your response to the blog lifts me. Thanks, ak II

  7. Dostoevlover Says:

    Why am I compelled to respond to this? Not sure, call me a little odd, but I am one of those people who love the winter, particularly because of the long dark nights. This time of year I like to think of the folks who live up in the arctic north, in the real darkness for half the year, who sled icy reefs, with the Aurora Borealis overhead, and bears dreaming in snow drifts. In our latitude we just don’t know the night so well. It is in my imagination a time to feel fabulously in touch with the world’s mysteries.

  8. Amanda Says:

    Your post is very timely for me. This holiday season, I found myself being mindful of the symbolism of solstice and more willing to be in companionship with the darkness than all the years before. I found this new (for me) stance surprisingly comforting and resonant amid the frenetic, inflated pace of the season that so often seems to ultimately disappoint. Honoring and embracing the darkness resulted, for me, in a much more genuine experience of the season. By the way, I found a lovely CD that evokes this spirit: “If On a Winter’s Night” by Sting. He created it with the ambiguity and darkness of winter in mind.

  9. Kathee Miller Says:

    belated reply but I have always thought the darkness gets a bad rap. And as you know, am a devoted student of the seasons. Such interesting and complicated layers of thought around how we define darkness.
    I think of
    Wendell Berry’s words, to know dark go dark, go without light and know that the dark too blooms and has dark feet and dark wings.
    Now that is from memory and it may be off a bit, but its the gist.
    I think of the unusual blossoming that emerges after a darker time.
    I think of planting bulbs deep in the dark soil hidden from light to first grow roots.
    And all those dark crows and ravens seem like the wisdom keepers to me in their eloquent cacophany and humor.
    As we head into spring here now as I write, I am aware its too bright for me and I am not quite ready to leave the cave of winter.
    The chance to cocoon and hide.
    Not enough inward retreat and rest for me, so here I am about to drive up to the wildflowers of the back country in the bright light. so be it. Face the season.
    Thanks for keeping us in the loop of your articulate mind A.
    Nice to see the other AK on here too!


  10. […] First the Darkness, then the Light January 2010 15 comments 3 […]


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