This is the time of year when we collectively affirm who we are going to be and what we are going to do and not do in the year to come. We articulate intentions big and small, hoping to position ourselves, this time around the sun, in bodies and relationships, with full wallets and on life paths that will finally reflect the lives we've always dreamed of.
This year, I wish upon you the great fortune of not having all of your dreams come true. Truth is, instead of getting everything you think you want, you are going to get what you get. Certainly we are participants in the shape-taking of our lives, but life will play on us in ways we could have never anticipated, changing us and dawning dreams we couldn’t have dreamed yet.
What if, instead of figuring out exactly what we want this year, we dedicate our energies to becoming more curious, wider of heart, and more willing to embrace the arrival of the unforeseen? What if, this year, we become available for a life more open and empowered than we can imagine? Out there, just beyond the bounds of your intention, a life awaits you that you haven’t envisioned yet. On the far side of your resolution, in the penumbra of your as-yet-undreamed life, the universe dreams.
It seems that part of our compulsion to set resolutions each year is our obsession with knowledge. We want to know how things are going to go, what is going to happen, and even how we are going to feel. We value and take comfort in the appearance of this knowing (albeit it faulty and imperfect), and we’re terrified of the unknown.
Our desire to know is closely tied to our predilection for light. We want to ‘shed light’ on a thing, or ‘see the light’ of a situation. We are especially inclined toward this light-fetishizing in contemporary spiritual communities where the concept of enlightenment is posited within our sight, but appears to be just outside our reach. A subtle unrest stirs as we elevate clarity to be the apotheosis of all our journeying. As if, if we could just get clear enough, we could eliminate the murkiness that holds us back from the lives we want.
We are anxious devotees of what Dr. Andrew Weil calls ‘solar consciousness’. We are addicted to light. In his book, The Marriage of the Sun and Moon, Dr. Weil writes, “Like night and day, solar and lunar consciousnesses have become increasingly polarized. Daylight is dominant, overvalued, and even deified, while darkness is dismissed, devalued and often demonized.” We associate darkness with confusion and struggle. All grown up, we’re still afraid of the dark.
Although the relationship of light and dark, of day and night, was a core inquiry of all ancient and indigenous cultures, it appears that seeing that relationship as conflicting or even adversarial may be a quite Western convention. We have set light and dark against one another since Ancient Greece and throughout our Western bible: The ruling Apollonian model (sunshine and rationality) dominates the feisty Dionysian (night and wildness); we are reminded that our day of reckoning will take us either up into the great eternal light, or into that final dark descent.
In Healing Night, Rubin Naiman suggests, “Our struggle with night is ultimately a struggle with denied aspects of our own darkness.” Ultimately,our fear of the dark may be our fear of death. It strikes at the very core of our being human: we are cognizant of the inevitably of our own death and the death of everyone we love; death is promised by life. In our quest for knowledge, we deny the only thing we can truly know. In our search for light, we find that the only real certainty is that final dark.
In contemporary spiritual communities we’ve found new ways to run from the dark. We’ve missed the point. Spiritual practice is about a fully lived life. It invites us to the mountain’s peak as well as into the bellows of its earthen caves. It shines a light and then invites us to step to the other side and see the shadow that has been cast. It is the core endeavor of spiritual practice to invite us deeper: we will miss it if we let our fear of the dark truncate the possibility of our practice.
In all of our ardent rejection of the great feared darkness, we miss out on all of its treasures. If we reject the night because we fear the monsters under our beds, we fail to see all of the magic hiding there too. Monsters, maybe. But the dominion of night is also the dwelling place of our dreams. We find lovers dancing. We find the tips of plants’ roots picking their way into the dark of soil. We find the heart, deeper and more mysterious than we can fully know. Like a well that goes forever into the night of ground, as soon as we think we have found the bottom of our heart, we find that we can go deeper, and know again.
Possibility lives in the dark. Everything that can be dreamed or thought, built or expressed, is born from darkness. In the shaded corners just outside our visible periphery, all potentiality adumbrates. Everything we can possibly imagine, and all that we haven’t imagined yet, rests in the shadows, waiting patiently to find a way into our lives.
One of the greatest expressions of this fertile dark is the womb. Quite literally, ‘in the dark’, the womb houses the possibility of life. In her elegant quiet, the child gestates to the sound of the heartbeat. She is safe and warm in her mother’s inner darkness. The dark is essential to her birth. In order to make that colossal journey from the unmanifest into the world of form, she needs to rest peacefully in the mysterious realm of the dark inner body. Only through the dark can she find safe passage to the light.
If we are going to ask the universe to enlighten us and heed our wishes, we need to begin to respect its shadows. During this time before the next new year, can we learn to rest in this year’s dusk, instead of reaching impatiently into our perception of the dawn? This year, rather than focusing on what we want next, can we settle into the quiet spaciousness of the new year’s eve?
This year, rather than giving our energy to intending the future, what if we were to set ourselves to the task of establishing an inner posture that equips us to live more fully into our lives as they unfold? There will be time for the dawning of new relationships and opportunities. What if, for now, we stay here in the shadows? Here we can ripen and grow stronger, preparing ourselves to be ample vessels for a life more full and more wonderful than we could possibly even yet imagine. Here in the dark, we await our next birth.
Happy New Year.