Forget love and light. Give me love and darkness.
It’s possible I’ve heard the phrase “love and light” more than most. The course of my life has included an herbal apprenticeship and about seven years as a yoga teacher. It’s used as a well-wish, a greeting, a farewell. It’s like the Whole Foods way of saying “I’m praying for you.” And you know what I’ve realized? Despite all the hippies, hipsters, and crunchy granola types my life has brought me in contact with, I’m just not a love and light kind of person. I don’t possess the correct level of airiness in my voice to pull it off. But, also I don’t believe that the path to goodness is paved in light. In fact, I’m certain it’s mostly dappled with moments of light and long stretches of dark along the way. The incredibly difficult thing I have learned is that the real meaty, formative moments tend to be the dark ones. I have never changed my life for better because things are going well. I’ve changed my life for the better because I felt surrounded by darkness. The darkness teaches with a poignancy and power that light simply isn’t capable of. I have developed an appreciation for darkness. A relationship to shadow. Day by day I am becoming a love and darkness sort of person.
I’ve tried pursuing light for a long time. I have been a regular “namaste”-sayer in yoga classes for the last 14 years. I have formulated enough herbal elixirs, tinctures, salves, and teas to fill multiple bookshelves in my home. I have spent many early mornings doing a smudge then sitting in meditation. I walk through life with a definite woo gait. I have been completely surrounded by people who wholly believe in saying yes to the universe and are manifesting their abundance. This mindset aspect of woo life is where I became a doubting Thomas (Oh, are my Catholic roots showing?). Don’t worry, there’s plenty of emails out there where I signed off “Love and Light.” But I never quite fit into this tribe of positive, light-beaming smoothie drinkers. It wasn’t me. But, on some level it worked. I felt in control, positive most of the time, and well regulated. At that point of my life my most vivid and difficult emotions were frustration and anxiety. Woo world provided enough tools to subdue the unpleasant noise of those feelings. I might not have been zen, but I could come across that way. I could maintain a lukewarm temperature. It can be surprisingly easy to mistake being dulled out for being blissed out. But then, something changed that sent everything into disarray. I became a parent.
Becoming a parent needled its way into my heart and started a renovation project. Like any improvement project, it was messy, chaotic, and destructive. In my pre-parenthood days, I kept my feelings neat and tidy when they are out on display, then carefully put them back into their properly labeled containers. Emotions that were difficult to contain got the yoga treatment and then fell in line. My feelings were well organized. When I had a kid, my emotions changed. They became more vivid, intricate, and craved expression. My well-organized containment system not only didn’t work, it got obliterated.
Emotions became unwalled within me. As feelings flooded out of the encapsulated boundaries I had divided them into, everything began to mix. Feelings not only became more intense, they became much more layered and complex. As everything blended into an emotional soup, it became difficult to decipher the experience. I couldn’t easily label each feeling. The intensity of emotion felt overwhelming on it’s own. With the added complexity it felt nearly impossible to interpret my emotional landscape. I felt awash and saturated with unfamiliar feelings. I became unmoored.
I felt as though I had descended into an underground cave. It was dark, steep, and stony. The experience forced breath from my lungs. I don’t know why becoming a parent triggered this shift in my emotionality. But some alignment of life events, disposition, and personal history generated the shift. Eventually, I found a way create more breathing space. It wasn’t light. I found my anchor. I found a way to ground into the darkness and make it my home. I got to know it. I stopped running away.
You know that moment when you walk into a movie theater when the previews have already begun. You leave a hall lined with neon lights to walk into a darkened theater lighted only by the flickering movie screen. Your first impression is that you’ve entered a narrow well of darkness. The awareness of your space narrows to the tips of your fingers. Even your feet feel impossibly far away and untrustworthy. You have a choice. You can walk back into the hallway where there is abundant light, a snack bar, and miss the movie you came to see. Or you can be still and breathe in the darkness. After some time, your eyes adjust. Forms become apparent in the darkness. You can find your way to a seat. Just as your eyes physiologically adjust to darkness, you can also spiritually adjust to darkness. You can become well adjusted and well adapted to darkness. When you wait in darkness, it eventually takes on its own shape and reality.
I learned to sit with it. That’s what saved me. Not light. But, learning how to sit in darkness. Learning how to sit with intense, complex emotions that are jagged and raw. It’s what made me a better parent and better human, I learned how to sit with my and other people’s darkness.
Every time I encounter darkness, I have a choice. Go back into the hall of garish neon lights or breathe and wait while blind. Or, stay still. After decades of running to the light, I have finally learned how to be still in the darkness. It is hard and requires high levels of patience, faith, and trust. I have to trust that I will eventually adjust. Moments waiting in the darkness are rich with the kind of potential that exists after destruction. They yield wrecking balls capable of decimating the walls around my heart. Dark moments hold the kind of questions that can undo my life. There is a kind of wild possibility that I only encounter after the full realization of my emptiness, yearning, and disconnection. Dark moments are fertile earth. They are the end of a tired exhale just before a fresh, full inhale. They are the spindly branches from which I launch into flight.