The Thing about Love and Light
In my early twenties, I worked as a naturalist in outdoor education programs. This meant leading kids on hikes in the mountains, even at nighttime. Most kids were fearful and anxious of walking in dark forests without a flashlight. With gentle encouragement, slowly they’d relax into my leadership and allow me to be their guide through the dark. In the dark, where so few souls treed, we'd discover the magical and inspring. But making the commitment to explore the dark can be challenging for many people.
Fear of the dark is a natural human tendency. As kids, we worry about what’s lurking in dark corners and what’s hiding under the bed. Our parents tell us that monsters aren’t real and encourage us to just go to sleep. We sleep through the dark and only venture out again when the sun is shining.
The thing is the dark is worth being present for. It's worth exploring. And those monsters, they're totally real. As we grow older, the monsters move out of the closet of our bedrooms to take up residence in the darkest corners of our mind. They take the shape of deep seeded fear, self-doubt, resistance to change, anxiety of the future, clinging to the past, and on and on and on. These thought patterns have form and texture not unlike the monsters of make-believe stories.
As a yoga teacher, I hear people talk a lot about the light, specifically love and light. We must battle fear with light. Hatred with love. That only love will save us. Only light will set us free. And of course, that’s all true. We are divine beings made of light. Within us there is infinite space to bask in the glow of radiant and pure love. Yet we also carry within us a reservoir of darkness. I’m suspicious that with all this language about love and light, we might be sleeping through the dark.
The thing about love and light is that it glorifies the answer without worshiping the question. It's missing all the adventure! The quest for your bright spark begins on a trek through the dark and scary forest. It's on this journey that you build your resolve, that you grow your compassion, that you learn what you're really made of. In all the epic tales, the seeker transforms himself before he saves the day. And as the yoga teachings remind us, we must transform the fear that lives within us before we can hope to transform the fear that lives around us.
Here and now, in this blink of infinity that we find ourselves in, the battle between light and dark is raging. Destruction, anger, fear and hatred, those monsters are real. They grow in size, shape, and strength whenever we feed the illusion of seperateness. It’s tempting to believe that the monster exists outside of you. To point at extremism and materialism and say those people, they're the problem. It's not me. I believe in love. I live in the light. This is how the monsters set their traps for the kind and gentle hearted, and we "light workers" miss the opportunity to connect the dots, that those monsters out in the world, there's a little bit of them also within us.
Stepping into the dark forest of your mind can be pretty scary at first. Getting intimate with yourself and asking, "Where do I harbor hatred?" "How do I allow anxiety safe passage?" "When am I being dishonest?" That's not an easy task. And sitting with your fear, anxiety, judgment, even hatred, that's challenging. You may notice some things about yourself that maybe you’d rather not face.
When you spend quality time in the dark, your senses adapt to the environment. With mindfulness and care, you gradually learn to feel your way around. Your hearing sharpens as you make out the music hidden in the silent night. Eventually your eyes adjust and the shapes of trees, rocks, and streams come into focus. As you explore the night your anxiety melts and gives way to curiosity. You make friends with the dark.
We have the power to transform the darkness from a scary corner where humans rarely treed to a playground of divine love. The dark is scary at first, but the night is as beautiful and sacred as the sunshine. When I was leading night hikes, at the beginning of the trail kids would be super freaked out. They’d jump at their own shadow or think that a log was a mountain lion. They’d see monsters everywhere. But as the senses adjusted, they’d notice that what they thought was a grizzly bear was just a growing pine tree. They’d be delighted by the sounds of owls or a nearby stream.
In the dark, you develop your own night vision. Time reveals that darkness isn’t really darkness at all. The sun blinds us to the universe during the day. But at night? A blanket of infinte light pokes through the dark veil of the night sky. The sun’s there too, bouncing off the moon to dance in the dark. In this magical glow, you illuminate fear, anxiety, distrust, and hatred, all those scary monsters. With your newly discovered night vision somehow they’re much less scary. You realize the dark is filled with light and you are not your monsters.
Meditation is the practice of the dark. Still the body. Close the eyes. Embrace the soft darkness. Notice the bends in your thoughts. The shadowy corners of your mind and heart. Be the curious explorer of your own inner world. Make friends with your monsters. Step into the mind without a flashlight to find the light lives within. The world needs a few more intrepid night hikers, and it's about time we boldly explore the dark together.