Embracing the Darkness
All too often our spiritual traditions teach us to bathe ourselves in the light of whatever deity or deities we choose to trust and believe in. We’re taught to turn our backs on the darkness, the unknown, the mysterious and the forbidden. But by doing so, we limit ourselves to the greater teaching: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
We’re all taught from a very early age that the “Light” is good and the “Darkness” is evil. We’re made to understand that wisdom and love abide in the Light, and ignorance and fear abide in the Darkness. However, this is an over-simplification. Sure, one can get “lost in the darkness.” But one can as easily be “blinded by the light.” Either way, the absence of clear vision (ignorance) is the result. What we need to understand is that both light and darkness are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. And too much of one is just as bad as too much of the other. Balance, as always, is key.
Let us remind ourselves for a second about the story of the Buddha. Siddhartha Gautama was an Indian prince who gave up his royal status and worldly possessions to live the life of an aesthetic and hermit in search of spiritual enlightenment. In the shear “light” of religious extremism, he denied himself all physical pleasures. He fasted until he was nothing but skin and bones. He ritually flogged himself until he bled and pieces of flesh tore off his body. None of the rituals, fastings, floggings or prayers he offered in accordance with the religious teachings of his day gained him enlightenment. Only after long meditation (looking inward … into the darkness of the soul) did Siddhartha Gautama find the wisdom he sought. It was only then that he looked up into the sky and gazed upon the morning star (the first light of the day before the dawn) and proclaimed his enlightenment. Siddhartha Gautama “embraced the darkness.” Only after looking inward and facing his own fears, anxieties and demons did he wake to true enlightenment and become the Buddha.
Though not all of us will achieve Buddha-hood, the story holds a great teaching: true enlightenment can only come after we’ve taken a deep dark look at our true selves. This inner journey is sometimes called the “dark night of the soul” in some spiritual traditions. And it is this journey that is commanded by the winter season. A call to the darkness is a call for us to search the truth within ourselves. Only seeking and finding that truth will yield true enlightenment and transformation.
In order to journey into the “dark night of the soul,” we must be willing to walk among the shadows and take a good honest look at ourselves. We must delve into the deep chasm of our being and uncover the truth about ourselves. We must ask the important questions: Who am I? What are my fears? Why do I act the way I do? What is it I really want out of life?
To embrace the darkness is to venture truthfully upon this journey. It is not for the faint of heart. It will reveal truths about you that will be hard to overcome and accept. Harsh lessons are learned by hard truth and this is what comes about from an honest search within one’s self.
So, while you’re celebrating the light, take some time to get in touch with your true inner self. Find the time for some deep, dark soul searching. Explore some of those desires you have deprived yourself of for so long. Question the very nature of your faith. Break down the walls of belief that imprison you and see if you can stand on your own. Test yourself. You may be surprised (and relieved) by what you find.