Some days I manage to remember that it is society which tells us we must exist in the light, not life itself. It speaks to us of always being happy and positive, only sharing the good, hiding away the heaviness of sorrow and depression. Our society tells us we are more valuable, more worthwhile, healthier even, if we are light and happy.
I got the message at an early age, being told to stop frowning, to smile more, to lighten up. No one bothered to ask me why I was frowning, why I felt things so deeply. I don’t know if I knew myself. But the message was clear: constant frowning is, well, frowned upon, being down draws others down too. I was a serious child. I am often a serious adult. But I no longer think I am ‘less than’ for it. Rather, my time in the dark has become a strength.
Humans insisted for decades that life can only survive in the temperate zone, that if things become too extreme, nothing can survive. But we were wrong. We’ve found life below the level of ocean where light is just a dream and pressure is too much for our bodies and our fragile inventions. We’ve found life existing in toxic waste, in burning hot liquid rock. We call them extremophiles, but they exist, they live, they survive, they thrive. And they’re not fighting to get out of their situation into “more temperate” places. No, they stay in the dark, in the pressure, in the heat. We’ve created a narrow band and said humanity can only survive and thrive within it.
But we were wrong.
I can live here in the darkness, I can breathe it in, I don’t need to fight to be somewhere else. It is the struggle which causes suffering, not the existence among the shadows. After all, is not God here too? This deep shadow is as familiar to God as the brightest joy and glory. The Divine knows the anguish of despair, the darkness of disconnection.
Why am I so afraid to discover that I have the strength to stand in this place too? We have been taught that the darkness comes with a pressure too strong to withstand, too much to survive in for long. As if it to live in the shadows is to live squashed between Ranginui and Papatūānuku, with no space to stand upright, no strength to hold my own.
But they taught us wrong.
There is power in the darkness, strength beyond their imagination, because they refused to see, they refused to stay. They didn’t like it so they slammed the door and barred anyone else form entering in.
But what of those of us formed here, birthed into pain and dark? They cannot shut the door to us, they can only refuse to see that we exist. Because if they saw, we would threaten their understanding of their own existence. We would threaten their belief that they got it right, we would challenge their adamant cry that the darkness is useless pain, a place only fools would turn into and, even then, only because they didn’t know better.
But they were wrong, because here we stand.
And we are stronger because we learned to stand while bearing such pressure, while using senses other than easy sight. Their privilege has been undermined simply by our existence. And we will not go away. You will hear us roar. And if we ever step into the light, we will be so strong that we will soar. And we will shake the foundations of the world with our flourishing, the way of life which we were told couldn’t be done.
So, if you are new to the dark, if you feel small and afraid, know this: you are not alone, and if you are not already squashed flat, then you are already strong.
It’s hard to accept this darkness some days. It is hard because society has brainwashed us into thinking it is wrong and abhorrent. Soon I start chastising myself for not being enough, for not managing to cope with living in the light. I start cutting myself down, speaking critical words over myself, breaking trust, destroying kindness.
But what better place to practice nonviolence, nonharm, than on myself – to myself? Loving kindness in all things, not just towards others. We can’t both love ourselves and force ourselves into the light. To force oneself into the light, or to be forced by others or society, is to leave part of you behind. It perpetuates the damage. It does not allow for healing and wholeness.
If you are finding yourself in the shadows, take your time, attend to your wounds, move yourself towards wholeness. True wholeness does not come from denying the shadows their place. True wholeness gives space for the depths to belong, as well as the heights. True wholeness is a seeking out, and allowing to flourish, the whole of yourself, even when it runs counter to “the way things are done”.
Do not be afraid to find beauty in your darkness, even if others don’t have the eyes to see. Perhaps they are just too used to dwelling in the light. Treasure it for yourself. Trust the process the darkness brings. It might seem to get darker before it gets lighter; you might need to go deeper before you can rest, floating, at the surface. But that’s okay.
Keep your eyes on wholeness, whether that is found in the light or the dark. It is better for you, it is better for the people around you, it is better for this world, that you find your way to wholeness and live as your full self, than that you live fractured in the light.
Take your time. Welcome what comes. Others walk this darkness too, even though they remain almost invisible to a world addicted to light, shunning and scorning the dark.
And remember, God is in this place too, you will not be abandoned here. Trust, too, that this darkness has your best in mind, and allow it to cradle you and bear you up.
So, don’t hurry out of the dark, my love, there is no rush, or even any real need. If you want to go, then take it slowly, build your strength, take the steps which lead you towards wholeness. And if you don’t want to go, then know the darkness will nurture you, and that you are not here alone.
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