Sitting with Darkness

"Everything has its wonders,
even the darkness and silence,
and I learn, whatever state 
I may be in, therein to be content."
~ Helen Keller

It rained a veritable deluge this week, and I thought of it as Mother Nature cleansing everything to usher in the month of May and the season of spring in a much more emphatic way.

For a couple of days it was dark, and I took a day of total silence during one of them - not speaking or listening to music, or the TV - just to the falling rain as it landed softly and more deliberately at times, on a number of different surfaces, occasionally punctuated by a bird chirping, here or there. For most of that silent day, the rain was of the deep, soaking variety.

I also chose to turn off the computer and phone, so that I could enter deeply into the day, without anything pulling me out of it. It is amazing how much of your day you reclaim when you are simply not "online" or "available." Instead, I moved slowly and mindfully  throughout my day, and I read - finishing one book, and then starting another. 

The primary book I read was Learning to Walk in the Dark, by Barbara Brown Taylor - an Episcopal priest, that Time just happened to recognize as one of its 100 most influential people in its latest issue. I've read most of Taylor's books, and her prose is just exquisite.

In this book, she speaks about the power of darkness and how we often view it as something negative. Yet, even in scripture and the lives of the saints, great transformation comes from sitting with darkness. John of the Cross especially comes to mind, and his noted work, the Dark Night of the Soul.

Taylor shares her experiences of caving, and spending dark nights alone in a cabin without light - and even going to an exhibit where she is blindfolded and led through rooms simulating traffic and other quotidian experiences - by a blind person! Yes - learning to perceive things from a totally foreign vantage point, and her insights and disclosures are fascinating.

We all sit in darkness from time to time. It arrives in many different forms for each and everyone of us - perhaps in life's challenges and experiences. We are sometimes overwhelmed or consumed by "dark emotions" such as depression and anger, which tear at the fabric of our hearts and lives. We seek the light incessantly - not realizing that we must come through the dark to get to it. Yet, darkness in and of itself is not bad. For example, think of sitting to watch the moon rise! As Taylor notes in her book, most of us have witnessed a sunrise countless of times, but very few of us have experienced the moon rise in the sky.

In these days of quiet darkness and silence, I sat with what lies most deeply in me - listening to every sound elicited - listening to my very own heartbeat. Anyone who has deeply meditated, has experienced what Taylor experienced in a cave for the first time - the sounds of her nervous system and her circulation colliding within.

There are lessons to be learned in darkness, which can only be learned there. We need to cultivate a life where we are comfortable with darkness, so that we can reap its fruits.

Taylor also speaks of unplugging all her electronic devices - including clocks and lamps to dwell in the stillness of night. Artificial light has wreaked havoc with our systems and pulled us out of a natural entrainment with the rhythms of nature.

It is time to make friends again with darkness. It is time to makes friends with the light, for it has much to offer, if we are willing to receive its gifts...

"Whoever you are:
some evening take a step
out of your house,
which you know so well.
Enormous space is near."
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

"In a dark time,
the eye begins to see."
~ Theodore Roethke

"We cannot live in a world 
that is interpreted for us by others.
An interpreted world is not a hope.
Part of the terror is to take back 
our own listening.
To use our voice.
To see our light."
~ Hildegard of Bingen


Anonymous said…
Terrific post but I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this subject?
I'd be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further.

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Olga Rasmussen said…
Hi there!

Not sure what you'd like me to speak about more specifically - the book? Basically I wanted readers to realize sometimes we dismiss experiences of darkness as being bad, but they often are our greatest teachers.


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