An essay on darkness and light

Last December I attended a week-long writing course at the brilliant Schumacher College in Totnes with Jay Griffiths running the writing side of things, whose book, ‘Wild: An Elemental Journey‘ made a huge impact on me back in 2013. The course was entitled ‘Tender is the Night’ and the theme was exploring darkness, on all levels. So as well as spending lots of time out in the woods at night, we also delved into the darkness of the psyche through writing exercises and other exploratory techniques including shamanic drumming and dancing, and I suppose the week’s theme was really a celebration of this darker side of life, again on all levels.

Anyway, I was surprised at how difficult I found the week.  All kinds of buried emotions and memories emerged, linked to my history of depression, and I really struggled to connect to this idea of celebrating darkness, and felt like the ‘problem child’ of the group, although I know that was all in my head – the group were completely supportive and lovely!

Anyhow, rather than wang on about it here, I felt compelled today to share the piece of writing I did during the course; on the first day we were given the title, ‘True Darkness’ and asked to use our spare time during the week to write a piece using this title as inspiration, which we would all share on the last day.  I struggled with the piece and, in the end, realised I couldn’t celebrate darkness, and I needed to be true to myself. So, my piece was really an essay explaining why I honour and value the dark, but I seek and celebrate the light. I do hope you enjoy it – it comes from my heart.

16th December 2016 – Essay on ‘True Darkness’, written as part of the Schumacher College course, Tender is the Night, with Chris Salisbury and Jay Griffiths


The only truth I can ever speak is my own. And who can say if I’m right or wrong? Not I, not you. For truth is movable. Give me a fact, and I can always challenge it. But tell me with honesty how you feel, and I will listen gladly. Even writing down my truth feels wrong, as already it is fixed in time, static, positional. All of life is pure vibration and energy – of this at least, the scientists and the monks agree. So if life is movement, then nothing is static, not even truth. This writing is the truth I felt as my fingers tapped out the words. But already it may be old.

Darkness is a tool, to help us know the light

I honour and love the darkness, as I know it is an integral part of myself and all of life, and indeed it is my greatest teacher. But I struggle to truly revel in darkness; instead I seek the light. Having known darkness with an uncomfortable intimacy then subsequently having tasted the light of my soul, I know clearly in which of these I prefer to reside.

This week, whilst we’ve been celebrating the night, an insistent voice has whispered to me, ‘But we only find beauty in the night because of the moon’s reflected light’ and I can’t help but notice our rapture at the candles and firelight. And when I sit in the meditation room in front of a giant painting of a single candle, silent tears run down my face and I recall Rumi’s words, ‘the wound is where the light enters’.

I do not feel the truth of true darkness; any sense of true darkness is, to me, an imaginary, illusory fear-based state of the psyche, one which I know well. It is a negative version of Willo-the-wisp, there to guide us to the light. And, in opposition to its mischievous counter-light, it will take us there, if we have the courage to follow it. The only truth of darkness, for me, is the light it contains.

Perhaps this is ignorance of a deeper truth, an egoic blind-spot. But, if so, I have faith that, when I’m ready, the darkness will show this to me, drawing me out of any backwater in which I languish and back into the full flow of life.

The truth I feel is that we are pure light, and all of our suffering comes from having forgotten this. As I write these words, I cringe at the cliché I’ve become. The earnest yoga teacher, speaking of love and light and ‘feeling energy’. But it wasn’t always like this, I assure you, and I can only speak my current truth, knowing that truth is the feeling of a moment in time and our truths change as we do, if we allow ourselves to grow.

In occasional flashes of lucidity, and sometimes for exquisitely prolonged periods, I experience my own light and know I am pure love, as are we all, because we are all one. And, for me, having tasted such sweetness, darkness is a bitterness that can no longer be tolerated as a long-term resident, but is valued even more highly as a trusted teacher when it comes to visit, to remind me of what I am not. Again, I cringe as I write these words – ‘You’re not seriously going to share this stuff with the group, are you Becky?’ my dark censor asks. ‘You sound like an arrogant mad-woman.’ But I have learnt to just smile at this voice, send it love, and soon it will leave again. Oh yes, it will be back, but I’m no longer its ashamed slave.

So I don’t share this in the spirit of superiority or arrogance, in fact egotism is one of my greatest fears, as the darkness loves to remind me endlessly. But, for my own growth, I need to summon the power of my shadow side to speak my truth, even when I’m shaking like an aspen leaf.  And, deep down, I know it’s the opposite of ego, as it comes from a feeling that we are all made of the same light.

And it is absolutely thanks to the darkness, that I have found this deep sense of knowing. Depression runs like a coal seam through my ancestry, and it has certainly mined my depths. It took a near terminal descent into the abyss of clinical depression for me to finally begin a dialogue with darkness. At the time it felt true enough – sadness was a black snow obliterating my sense of self, gradually turning me to ice.  But, through talking to the darkness, it lost its power over me, which I eventually realised was only ever self-imposed. The darkness is never our jailor; I created my prison myself, and it was made of nothing but fear. I began to see the psychic darkness as the patient tutor and friend that it is, even though it administers its lessons solely through the medium of suffering. It does this because it knows that we cannot ignore suffering forever.

So now I welcome darkness every time it scuds through my life, always teaching me, always showing me my opposite, moving me deeper and deeper into the vortex of my infinite existence. Melancholy still bites at my ankles, reminding me that black snow could fall again. But I now know it is helping me to maintain a true course towards the light, in order to heal not only myself, but also my family tree and, as we are all one, the universe.

To me, light is the fabric of existence and darkness is its negative state, the space in between. It keeps us growing upwards, like seeds desperately pushing out of the soil and towards the liberation of a light-filled, endless sky. We are seeds, and we have a lot of growing to do, sewing a seam through light and dark as we evolve.

Sun and moon

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