Hello, Darkness, My Old Friend

Since the Winter Solstice, we’ve been heading into longer days, but for those of us on this side of the world, it’s pretty dark out there. I live in Maine, which is relatively far north. The change in seasons is pretty pronounced, and the differences in the length of day and night are obvious. Not too long after the Autumnal Equinox each year, we’re starting to turn on the headlights on our way home from work, and by the solstice it’s “pitch black” just before 4PM. I remember talking with my dear Aunt T in Pennsylvania on the phone one evening not long after I moved to Maine, and she mentioned seeing something in her backyard. I said, how can you see anything out there, it’s dark? She said, no, the sun is shining! Whoa. Same time zone, different world.

I’ve always loved the darkness. It’s not scary to me, and actually holds a great deal of comfort. There’s a quiet, and a peace, to be found in darkness. I remember once on a caving expedition, our trip leader had us turn off all our lights in a particularly large room and just sit in silence for a few moments. This was before cell phones, and once a few in our group covered their fancy nightglo watches (it was the 80s), there was nothing but a profound and almost unfathomable darkness. It was way darker than when we close our eyes in the world “up top.” I remember feeling like I could feel the darkness – it was thick – and breathe it in. All perspective went out with the light, and the world became very small. The large room felt like a form-fitting box. A few in our group couldn’t endure the dark and silence for more than a few seconds and some nervous laughter and throat-clearing drifted through the cave. But those few seconds of dark silence were breathtaking.

As a quiet/dark lover, I have a bit of an issue with those who equate darkness with evil or nefariousness – something to fear. Popular entertainment is filled with such references to the light/dark dichotomy: the Dark Lord, Dark Shadows, “Come to the Dark Side,” and so many others. The bad guys wear black hats, and ride black horses. Death wears a black robe. Good witches are sparkly and fluffy, bad witches are green and wear black hats and dresses. Gandalf goes from gray to white after finding enlightenment, but Sauron the Necromancer lives in the darkness of the shadow realm, behind the Black Gate. The Dark Web holds all kinds of dangers. Light is good, Dark is bad.

It’s interesting to me how darkness came to symbolize evil in the Western world. One might trace this back to the authors of the bible, beginning with god separating the darkness and light, and dichotomizing them. But many Eastern traditions recognize them as different parts of the whole.

The Yin/Yang symbol depicts the integration of darkness and light in all that surrounds us – the eternal dance of light and shadow. The symbol marries the seeming opposite swirling fields of black and white, including a black dot on the white field and white on the black, showing that nothing is absolute.

The Yin or “dark side” of the symbol encompasses the mysteries of the Universe. This includes the “female” energies – emotion, depth, calm/serenity and solitude. Whereas Yang is action-oriented and straightforward, Yin is watchful waiting, the breath, acceptance, meditation and peace. These are concepts that aren’t highly esteemed in Western cultures.

As a student of psychology I briefly studied Jung’s theory of the “shadow self.” Although I’m not an expert in Jungian psychology, the shadow encompasses aspects of our personality that we would rather ignore or wish weren’t there – hidden parts of our psyche that we keep from our consciousness. These are usually hidden in our Yin side – irrational, emotional, instinctive, impulsive and fearful. These are generalizations of course – I know that personally, my more aggressive Yang tendencies are a bigger nuisance to me psychologically than my Yin traits – but Jung practiced in a time when women weren’t widely considered worthy of psychological study (except, famously, by Freud, who projected his own hangups on to them – something with which Jung probably privately had a field day).

All sorts of turmoil results from pretending that we are “perfect,” and denying parts of our personalities that we wish weren’t there, keeping them in the darkness, or projecting them on to others. We can’t be whole – or honest – without embracing and accepting all parts of who we are. And there should be no shame in acknowledging our humanity and our status as lifelong learners, and accepting that there are no parts of us that are “evil,” except those which purposely wish to cause others harm. Our journey to health should focus on understanding and altering thoughts and actions that bring harm to others, and to ourselves.

I think that historically much of our popular correlation between darkness and evil is survivalist – simply speaking, we can’t see in the dark, and don’t know what’s out there (literally and figuratively). What we don’t know, we’ve learned as a species, can hurt us. If there’s a saber-toothed tiger or a “dark money” consipiracy lurking, we want to know about it. But I believe that the conception and extension that therefore all darkness is evil is excessive and unfair. Magic takes place in darkness – lovemaking, meditation, stargazing, fireworks, auroras, dreams – so much of what rejuvenates us and replenishes us for when we emerge back into the light spaces.

There is no Light without the Darkness, but there is also light in the dark. Seeing the Light within the darkness and changing our perspective of the “Dark Side” will help us integrate our thinking and see the black, white and gray of our Universe as one harmonious whole.

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” ~ JK Rowling


Saturn/Jupiter conjunction image credit Frank Delargy.

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