Growing up in a small town in Kentucky in the late 60s, we had to create our own entertainment and social life. In my early teens, hosting a dance party in your home for your friends and classmates helped insure that you were “cool.” And conscientious parents thought this was a great idea because they could keep an eye on what their young teens were doing. Remembering those times also reminds me that I grew up in a different era!
There was a formula for our dance parties. Early in the evening, the music would be the up-tempo pop-rock and soul hits of the day. If your parents had money, they might have even hired the hot local high school group, the Soul Syndicate, to play.
As young teenagers can be, many of us were incredibly self-conscious, especially with the hosts’ parents popping in and out, so it always took a while before the dancing actually began. There were lots of awkward moments, occasional embarrassments, and all of the “stuff” that goes with being an adolescent. Yet after a while, someone would get up the nerve to get the party going. And soon, we would all be dancing and having a great time.
As the evening progressed, the lights would gradually go down, and so would the tempo of the music. The Temptations’ hit single, “My Girl,” was at the top of the charts in those days, and that song seemed to be the unspoken signal that the party was transitioning from sock-hop style boogie to slow dance embrace in the now near-dark room. Though other songs would be in the mix, “My Girl” would play over and over again.
We were finding our way – sometimes shyly, sometimes boldly, yet almost always unsure. We were discovering who we were and how to navigate this whole new world of intimacy and relationship. We were learning what was OK and what wasn’t – where the boundaries were. In the days before a party, the anticipation of “slow dancing in the dark” conjured up both excitement and trepidation. In truth, I actually had no idea what romance was, but I was sure that it must be incredible. And the dark somehow made it safe from teasing and embarrassment.
However, now, nearly 50 years later, the “dark” has become a societal metaphor for anything that feels unclear, unknown, or uncertain – for fear, doubt, or hesitation; or any part of ourselves that we don’t think is OK; or simply anything that makes us uncomfortable.
These days, it seems that nearly everyone around me is wrestling with the dark in some way. Many of us are experiencing uncertainty, transition, and growth challenges. Such challenges also tend to spawn feelings of fear, doubt, and hesitation. There is a natural survival-self impulse to back away from the “dark” – to avoid it completely, or to try to get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible. Or we attempt to transform the “darkness” into “light.” Perhaps you can relate.
However, “pushing against” the dark or hurrying to “fix it” does not serve us. In fact, it actually delays the powerful growth and learning that is waiting for us.
What if these moments of uncertainty and transition are not about fixing anything? What if they are asking us to be fully present with whatever is going on – to get intimate with our fears and doubts – to find the invitations for our own next steps forward? In contrast to “slow dancing in the dark,” what if these moments are about “slow dancing with the dark?”
When the darkness brings fear, resistance, doubt, or hesitation, what if you extend your hand and invite the darkness to dance? To slow dance. For me, slow dancing with the dark has become a powerful metaphor and practice. I’ve been getting up close and personal, metaphorically speaking, with the dark and all it represents. All of me touching all of it.
Sometimes it feels awkward. Just like my adolescent self at the dance party, I think I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know where the boundaries are – what’s safe and what isn’t. It feels vulnerable. It feels like new territory. And sometimes it’s scary.
Yet the interesting thing is, when I let go of the thought that I don’t know how and just do it – when I just start slow dancing with the dark– I discover that I do know how. I do know how to be with the “dark” just as much as I know how to be with the “light.” It’s really no different. It’s just about being present with what is happening in the moment without putting a label on it, and starting to dance. Together, we somehow find our way.
Yes, it’s vulnerable. Yet when I’m vulnerable, I’m also open. New thoughts and ideas can get in. When I allow myself to be vulnerable and get intimate with the dark, I sometimes even remember that I’ve been here before, and I made it through. It’s just that in the darkness, I had forgotten.
There is no big secret for how to find your way. There is no class to take or special technique. It’s so much simpler than we imagine. It’s just about acknowledging that whatever is in front us right now – light or dark, comfortable or uncomfortable, familiar or unfamiliar – is our next dance partner. The first step is to extend your hand and invite the dance. And then stay present moment-to-moment as things unfold. If you stay present to yourself, you won’t lose yourself in what is hiding in the dark. You are you, whole and complete. And the fear is the fear. And you are having a dialogue.
Slow dancing with the dark. It’s a practice. It’s simple, yet not necessarily easy. In fact, sometimes it’s really hard. Yet every time, as soon as I extend my hand, pull the dark in close and embrace it, somehow I know I’m going to be OK. I may not yet know how it’s going to be OK, but I know deep in the heart of my being that it will.
Living into your greatest potential, following the calling of your heart and soul, and living in service of something bigger than you, means that you will encounter periods of transition. You will meet situations that challenge you to learn, stretch, and grow. Those times are likely to be uncomfortable. On rare occasions, they may even feel terrifying or paralyzing. At best, they just feel awkward.
It’s OK. These feelings are normal. They come with the territory. You’ve been awkward and scared before, and you survived. And you will be again, and you’ll live through that, too.
So keep breathing. We don’t do big things in the world by staying in our comfort zones. Extend your hand into the darkness and invite it to dance.
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