Embracing Darkness, Tending the Soul

I’m standing outdoors in the dark.

Darkness, in our manmade world of near-constant electrical illumination, is relative. Still, it is night time and I am outside my house in a realm of shadows, standing quietly with bare feet in the grass, gazing up at a handful of glittering diamonds flung across a wide stretch of charcoal velvet.

night-tree-moonThe sweetly intoxicating scent of night blooming jasmine enfolds me and I inhale it deeply—pure aromatherapy—while the crickets play their timeless symphony with gentle reverie. The world has quieted down, as if the very earth has exhaled and gently relaxed. The countless twittering birds have all returned to their night perches, small talons curled round branches to rest gingerly until dawn, and the noisy feral chickens have found shelter in the thick jungle of underbrush beyond the stone wall.

In the distance, I can hear the steady hum of cars speeding along the motorway, but the traffic is less at night and the drone of wheels and engines is somewhat muted and not overly intrusive. I am more attuned to the crickets’ song, the heady scent of flowers, and the hushed music of the dark that reaches out to me.

A faint breeze glides across the evening, rustling through the trees and the great stand of bamboo that towers high above the house roof, its movement a softly rustling hiss similar to gentle rain falling. Soundlessly it trails lightly over my exposed forearms and my face, fingertips of softest silk in a lovely caress.

How good it is to be outside at night, encountering the world differently—or meeting a different world. The trees have shed their daytime identity and color, and taken on their night guise of stately forms reaching upwards towards the twinkling stars. All the contours of a familiar green landscape, the living web that enfolds, these have softened, blurred and disappeared into shadow and quietude.

I stand at the edge of the ravine behind the house, gazing towards the sheer mountains that rise nearby, their jagged darkness blacker than the night sky, a dragon’s spine silhouetted by the lights of Honolulu on the leeward side of the island. I’ve stepped beyond the realm of the motion-activated light on the lanai, and as it switches off, its wide reaching sphere of light disappears and I am plunged more deeply into the sea of rustling shadows.

Wriggling my toes deeper into the cool, damp grass, I let my breath descend down into my belly, imagining I could breathe all the way down into the muscular cylinders of my legs, filling the entire body with oxygen. My shoulders drop a bit, my jaw softens, and the subtle tensions of the day world I was unknowingly carrying begin to fall away from me. Like a skin one size too small, I step free of the restriction and leave it behind on the grass, where it disappears.

How few of us ever encounter this night realm anymore. Secured inside our illuminated homes at night, staring at the hypnotic ‘electric eye’ of the television until nearly bedtime, we switch off the lights and fall into our beds for restless dreams until morning. Amid the glare of city lights, looking up we can’t even see the stars. In our towers of glass and steel, or houses tightly packed in dense urban grids, the elemental realm of moon and whispering night breezes has become a foreign language to most of us.

Ours is a world addicted to light and illumination, distrustful of darkness. Night is the territory of thieves, the illicit, the dispossessed, and the taboo—it is the realm where we project our fears and disowned aspects of self. In the unlit shadows, our dominant, habitual sense of sight is impaired, instilling a sense of vulnerability and defenselessness, while wild imagination creeps in on padded, glistening claws to stalk us.

Darkness is something more than merely the absence of light. It has its own powerful energy—fecund and rich—essential for creation, new life, and rebirth. A seed sprouts only when placed under a protective and nurturing layer of soil with the light blocked away. When the masculine spark seeds the feminine womb of creation—in the Unified Field, the energetic spheres of psyche and deep imagination, or in physical reproduction—it is in darkness that life and energy generates. The fecundity of darkness is elemental: energies evolve into molecules and matter; cells divide and gather to create new forms; bulbs wake and push upwards towards their blooming, colorful potential; bees construct their sacred geometry of comb and turn the nectar and pollen of flowers into honey; and events draw mysteriously together to form pathways, destinies, and solar systems.

Still, most of us avoid the dark. Fear it, even.

In The Bones and Breath, in the chapter “Myth, Shadow and Light,” I assert that a person is unlikely to fully awaken his soul in the comfort of broad daylight, or walk the long journey to embodying his creative potential while traveling only under the warming sun. The seed of the soul sleeps in darkness, waiting to be unearthed and allowed to expand, drawing us outward into communion with the ‘more-than-human’ world. Indeed, one of the seven Soul Skills presented in Bones is “Face Your Shadow,” and the embodiment exercise I outline for facilitating that skill is ‘Meet the Darkness’—an opportunity while in a dark place to feel what’s around us, inviting our other senses to come forward, allowing ourselves to be defenseless, vulnerable, and open.

How the dark changes us is part of its gift. 

Standing in the shadows, feeling and listening to the quietly beckoning night, I always feel that there is healing there. Something ancient and timeless still exists in the darkened world, an essential part of our soul that we can stitch back to when we stand or walk outdoors at night. When we escape from lit buildings and bright city lights, when we venture into the dark where we meet some semblance of wordless ‘nature’, something in our body remembers.

Yes, yes, stones_starsour soul and cells recall, whispering in a soft hum. It was like this when campfires lighted caves, when the great standing stones were raised, when the Acropolis rang with prayers, when caravans crossed the deserts and mountains bearing silk, spices, and an exchange of ideas. In darkness beneath the heavens we gathered in circles for shared stories, songs, and celebrating the gifts of the day.

In thinking we can have it all, we have lost so much. 

Friend, if you can find the space to do so, unplug from your wired life and step outdoors away from the light. Even briefly. Draw a few deep breaths and let the clinging noise and tension of the day drop away from you. As you cast your senses wide, why not slip out of your shoes and feel your soles upon the elemental earth—grass, dirt, fallen bark, pine needles, chiseled stone. Spend a few minutes allowing your eyes to slowly adjust to the dimness and shadows, simply feeling what’s around you. Breathe in, breathe out. Do it a hundred times… but don’t count. Simply be.

Who knows, perhaps you’ll see a shooting star, or catch the tail end of a forgotten dream. Maybe you’ll detect a little glimmer that there is something out there that is healing to your body and soul, some piece of yourself that you’ve abandoned or lost. It’s entirely possible that you’ll have a wild and crazy idea, like wanting to spend an entire night sleeping on the earth in the arms of the Grandmother, cradled by soil, leaves, owl song, and constellations as you dream… and Gaia dreams you.

Go step out into the shadows of night and remember that some treasures, like the luminous pearl of moon, can only be found in darkness.