It’s late autumn here on the North Shore of Massachusetts—cold and blustery. With every passing day, the light gets shorter and the darkness gets longer. In just a few weeks, we plunge into the deepest darkness—the longest night of the year. These long nights hold special gifts. In these weeks leading up to the longest night, we can practice receiving those gifts.
Several years ago, I came across Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Learning to Walk in the Dark. Reading her experiences from her own journey with the dark deeply enriched my own. Of many passages that spoke so personally to me, one sentence in particular stood out, and does still to this day:
It is always night somewhere,
giving people the darkness they need
to see, feel, and think things
that hide out during the day.
My own paraphrase of her statement:
In the darkness
we find the things
that have been hiding
in the light.
She goes on to write:
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 again,
so that there is really
only one logical conclusion.
I need darkness
as much as I need light.
It’s much easier to hide from deep feelings and thoughts in the daylight. We stay busy with all of the stuff of daily living. Yet in the quiet of the night, when the world around us has gone to sleep and the light is low, hiding is not so easy.
A Light That Can Only Be Seen in the Darkness
Our first confrontations with the thoughts, feelings, and stark realities that have been masked by the daylight can be uncomfortable. Sometimes they are filled with fear and anxiety. The ego, whose job it is to make sure that we survive, wants to run away to find safety.
However, the soul, in its longing for learning and growth and living into our greatest potential, wants to stay present with the moment. It somehow knows that hidden within the engulfing darkness, illumination is also waiting.
As uncomfortable as the initial confrontation may be, if we are willing to remain present from a place of openness, curiosity, and compassion, and meet what is unfolding on its own terms, something shifts. A kind of light that can only be seen or sensed in the darkness illuminates our consciousness.
Benedictine nun Joan Chittister’s words take us deeper:
Darkness deserves gratitude.
It is the alleluia point
at which we learn to understand
that all growth
does not take place
in the sunlight.
(from her book Uncommon Gratitude)
These hours in the deep darkness have been some of the most profound in my own journey into faith, wisdom, and truth. Fears have been transformed into empowerment, anxiety into peace, confusion and doubt into clarity and confidence. And it often happens much faster than it could have by trying to work through those same issues in the light of day.
In the daylight hours, I can rationalize all kinds of things. I can conjure up many reasons why or why not for anything.
Yet caught by surprise in the darkness when a feeling, thought, or reality suddenly appears, I have no time to prepare my arguments. I have no distractions. My rational mind is thrown off guard. And in fact, I have no place to hide. It’s just me face-to-face with whatever now insists on my attention.
Staying Present Allows for the Alchemy of Transformation and Healing
I’m not saying that it’s always easy. I’m not saying that I look forward to the unsettling dreams that wake me up in the night. Yet I also no longer try to run away when the moment comes. In fact, I’ve learned that avoidance just prolongs the agony! If I’m willing to be still and ask whatever thought, feeling, or reality has just appeared what it wants me to know, the energy starts to shift quickly. Most of the time, I move from anxiousness and dread to insight and discovery in a very short time. And soon I am filled with gratitude as new levels of clarity and peace unfold.
As the light of early dawn creeps into the darkness, I recognize that what has happened could not have happened in the bright light and noise of the day. It could only happen in a space where the depth and silence of the dark could meet the depth and silence of my soul. I meet the new day with greater understanding and awareness. The darkness has done its work. Alchemy has occurred.
~ ~ ~
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