11 August 2015
“You must go into the dark in order to bring forth your light.” ~Debbie Ford, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers: Reclaiming Your Power, Creativity, Brilliance, and Dreams
I fear going into this kind of darkness. I wouldn’t have admitted that until recently. I didn’t consider it true. But this week I’ve seen how I hold a prejudice—always attempting to be cheerful, able, strong. I’ve imagined spending too much time in the dark nurtures the pain, gives it strength to crumple the light parts of me. But I think I’ve had it exactly wrong.
Denying our fears doesn’t make them go away. Running from them keeps us always looking over our shoulders.
Last week, every time I’d think I had overcome the irritation and discouragement I was feeling, some small, silly trigger would snap me right back into a mood. From beneath the surface, a dark side kept raising up. A side that feels pain in a very intimate and pervasive way.
Despite my efforts at good living, there I was—the world full of hurt, my best attempts at communication failing, me should-ing all over myself, and once again sliding into the trough of ‘I am not enough’.
I resented this. After all, I’ve applied myself and worked hard. I felt I shouldn’t keep winding up back in that nasty muck again. And then-it was this attitude that woke me up.
The attitude that life is a bargain I’ve bartered: I arrange my life properly, wisely, pragmatically, and in so doing assure myself security, a sense of unwavering worthiness.
Life doesn’t do bargains. We have influence over many things but control very few. Often it’s world affairs, pollution, abuse, or tragedy that cause despair. Because it turns out that we are wired for a full gamut of emotions, not just the sweet ones.
What I’m understanding now, slowly, is that a bias against the emotions I don’t consider pleasant is misinformed. And damaging. I have looked at unpleasant emotions as trouble makers that need to be overridden with ‘higher value’ emotions. Now I’m seeing those trouble makers not only as an inherent part of life, but as guides leading me toward a fuller, richer appreciation of life.
It takes courage and spirit to face the fears that lurk in the dark, the yearnings that persist, the passions that have been stifled. In our fables, the journey of the hero always requires that she or he face a difficult external and internal challenge. In our lives, we too are heroic when we face the emotions that frighten us with an intention of creating greater understanding and love.
Thích Nhãt Hahn writes that understanding is love’s other name and that understanding another’s suffering is the best gift you can give them.
I’ve been opening to this idea, listening to my friends and seeking to understand what suffering has shaped their paths. It takes mettle to sit with pain or the behavior it creates. But it is rewarding to extend kindness to those pains, to know of those parts and, even when they are not being spoken of, to hold them with tenderness.
Even if we deny their existence, pains will affect us. When we turn to face them, to offer them space to be heard and known, fear can strengthen us, we can walk more upright. I hold my head up higher and open my heart more widely when I listen with acceptance and compassion to wounded hearts—others’ and my own.
There’s a potent, fertile world alive beneath our mental surface. If we are courageous enough to embark on a journey into our hurts, to sit with them, listening and opening and tending, we might find answers to questions bigger than we even know to ask.
(For more on Thich Nhat Hahn and his book How to Love, see Brain Pickings here.)