Monday, July 8, 2013

To Know the Dark

We love darkness, The Shadow. And I’m not just talking about getting it pitch black in your bedroom so you can sleep well. We love the sinister, the bellicose, and the morbid. This isn’t new or unique. Human’s love for The Shadow is a time-tested, cross-cultural phenomenon present in virtually all myths. We’ve celebrated The Shadow with narratives like the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, gothic tales of vampires, and novels like Frankenstein. The Shadow is present in our spiritual ceremonies and narratives. We call it The Devil, Brother Crow, Shiva the Destroyer, Kalima, and Sedna. We even have entire days devoted to The Shadow like Halloween and Dia de los Muertos. Time has proven that we love the Shadow.

We love The Shadow because it helps us make sense of what it means to be human. In non-dualist thought, the darkness is simply the tails side of the coin to the light. The integral approach to The Shadow would suggest that to fully celebrate humanity means we must embrace both the light and dark, the good and bad, ease and difficulty. If there were only goodness, we’d be watching Barney 24/7.

In our every-day life the Shadow might not come in the form of a vampire, The Joker, or Cruella De Vil (though those who have had dealings with SLC Parking Enforcement might debate this). Rather, we might experience the Shadow in the form of that one uber cynical person on our team at work, or an economy that is slow to recover, or the bad blood between you and a former partner or spouse. Relatively light manifestations of The Shadow might look like getting stuck in traffic on the way to something important,  or splitting your favorite pair of jeans as you bend over to assemble some Ikea furniture (yeah, it was terrible, I’m still traumatized). More poignantly, the Shadow might manifest as cancer, death, an accident or depression. In some way or other our collective incarnations of The Shadow represent all of what we might not love in this world as a way to help us make sense and process it.

In yoga we practice creating a presence that no longer hopes only for “good” things to happen, one that can hold the good with the bad, in yoga terms, one that can balance the steadiness and the ease. Louis Armstrong once said, “What we play is life.” I echo that sentiment for our yoga practice. Our yoga practice is the mirror of our every-day living. In it we practice the tools that will help remedy life’s pain and intensity, but we also simply practice the struggle that sometimes is life. Don’t worry; we also practice the joy and sweetness, too. And as a result of our practice and our presence, we will feel our own innate goodness and learn to expect to see goodness and light manifest around us, knowing that Shadow is just behind the next corner and that we do not need to be afraid of it because it is a part of life. And when Shadows do manifest, my hope is that we will have the presence to, like Sufi poet Rumi says, “meet them at the door laughing.” The less we fear The Shadow the more we see the magic that lies within it. Maybe this is why we love Halloween so much, because somehow we sense the magic in the darkness.

To Know the Dark

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

~Wendell Berry

Maybe we don’t necessarily need to wear fangs, but can we somehow celebrate The Shadow in our every-day the same way we celebrate Halloween or Dia de los Muertos? Perhaps true transcendence isn’t to obliterate the darkness, but to embrace it as part of the whole and in so doing enlighten it as one of the beautiful facets of everything that is. I invite you to see the ways in which The Shadow plays a role in your life and develop a practice that grows a presence which can hold both the light and the dark.

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