As we descend into darkness at this time of year, our attention is naturally drawn to the light. As with many things of value, we notice it more when it seems to be going away. When you illuminate your tree, light the candles in a menorah, or throw a yule log in the fireplace this season, I hope you’ll take the opportunity to meditate on darkness and light.
Darkness is a metaphor for all the parts of ourselves and our lives that we fear or resist. We banish these aspects to the shadowy corners of our minds where we can avoid reckoning with them. But rather than remaining contentedly neglected there, they tend to weigh on us, as if we’re being followed by a murky figure or a long-procrastinated task. In this way, they infringe on our freedom.
Have you ever felt completely free? Not just in the ability to do or say what you want, but free in the sense that there is nothing you are trying to avoid. Nothing. It is supremely peaceful and powerful.
A starting point could be the non-avoidance of anything within the small range of thoughts, feelings, and surroundings in your current experience. The next step is to venture a bit into the darkness. Depending on what you’ve got stored in there, it can feel quite daunting. But the thing the makes all the difference is that you’re allowed to bring a light with you.
I happened upon this realization during an involuntary visit to my own darkness, and I’ll bet you’ve had a similar experience – even if you didn’t realize it at the time. For me, the darkness came without a conscious request for it, and there I was, resisting it with all my might, feeling I would never find my way out of it.
Suddenly, a little drop of curiosity fell into the dark. There was a tiny impulse that felt different from the fight and despair. There was a part of me that was just a teensy bit curious about the dark. And as I brought my attention to this curiosity, a thought arose: “Where did this come from?”
I didn’t get a clear answer to that right away, but I could feel that the question opened something; my consciousness wasn’t wholly dominated by aversion anymore. So I gave myself over to the curiosity. It wanted to venture into the shadows. Like a cat in a room with a box, it couldn’t resist.
I saw and felt some unpleasant things, but only a fraction of what lurked in the recesses of my mind was connected in any rational way to my own life. Most of it was fabricated from a vast collection of disturbing thoughts and images – just a lot of “what-ifs.” As in, What if I have to experience [insert undesired scenario here]? As I went deeper, these what-ifs were more existential, like, What if I lose myself? Or, What if I’m wrong about everything? If I let my mind run away with what I encountered, I felt aversion and discomfort again; but as long as I stayed curious and open, I could perceive the insubstantiality of these thoughts and I remained in a state of relative peace.
After a while, my attention returned to the curiosity itself and its origin. I was conscious that I was looking into the darkness, but it occurred to me that people can’t see in the dark. Even cats, whose eyeballs are excellent at making the most of a few photons, can’t see in total darkness. So, there had to be a light source here. But where was it?
“Where is the light coming from?” I asked inwardly. And this time the answer was clear.
It was coming from me.
Not from my mind, but from my Higher Self – from that One Awareness that is the same One Awareness that you access whenever you allow your consciousness to expand beyond your thoughts.
This realization made the light grow brighter. As I looked into these undesired stories of my shadow self, I began to see lightness even within them. They became less substantial and they started to fall apart, liberating facets of me that I had denied. At the same time, knowing I had this light, the darkness felt less forbidding. I started to experience a certain softness and stillness in it.
I pulled back at first, because the stillness was disconcerting. It felt like what I would have imagined death to be. But then I revived my curiosity and stayed with it. And I could perceive the dark stillness as an infinite container, holding everything, and it was the most peaceful thing. Also, I remembered the many accounts of near-death experiences I had read, virtually all of which focus not on darkness but on the presence of light and an inexorable movement toward it.
I began to see that this light is a source of freedom. The recognition of one’s light brings an assurance of not needing to avoid anything. This assurance is further bolstered by the recognition that the light isn’t something separate from us. We can forget about it, but we can’t lose it entirely because it’s what we are.
As I was coming out of this experience, I saw a succession of memories – times like this when I had been rescued from despair by my own light – and I got an answer to that first question as a word formed in my mind: grace. I hadn’t really understood the meaning of grace before, but here it was. The Divine reaching down into the muck of my confused mind with a candle.
During these dim days, I encourage you to be curious about the darkness. Rather than switching on all the lights in your home, let yourself be aware that we’re approaching the Longest of Nights. The world needs to rest, to bask in the stillness.
What has been banished to the darkness of your mind, yet nonetheless encroaches on your freedom? Can you enter your darkness? Can you perceive the light you bring with you?
As a final note, I’d like to direct you to the continuity of light in human traditions. For millennia, one torch has lit the next. Each Yule log was removed from the hearth before burning completely, so that it could be used to kindle the next log the following year. Similarly, when lighting a menorah, the tallest candle, representing the Divine Light, is ignited first, and from this one the others are lit.
When you engage in merry making this year, notice the ways you carry forth a light that was kept alive by those before you. What happens when you stay conscious of your light as you interact with others? Where is your luminescence most needed?
Dr. Peter Borten