Healthy Darkness, Healthy Light

hand reaching for lightbulb

Healthy light does not seek to eradicate the darkness. Healthy light has its place: I’m reading a book. I need some light. I’m sewing this curtain. I need some light. But I’m not trying to eradicate darkness. I can see the darkness across the room. There are sweet and subtle shadows everywhere.

Healthy darkness does not seek to eradicate the light, either. I will note that in this culture, when people speak colloquially of light and darkness, they often speak of light as good and darkness as bad. What a shame. What a shame for internal, external, spiritual, medical, and political reasons.

Yin and Yang are both blessings. Light and dark are both blessings. Night and day are both blessings. They are different blessings. Darkness takes us into the mystery. Light takes us into the clarity. The appropriate, healthy, dancing relationship between light and dark brings us into subtlety and nuance. I say we’re living in a time where we could use a lot more of that.

If, when we get scared, we turn on all the lights in the house, we will never know wisdom. We will never know the nuanced whispers that are coming to us through the half-light and the shadows.

street lights

I’m going to be a little bit rude and just impersonate that a little bit: “Hey, I don’t really think about the darkness or the mystery. I certainly don’t think about it much. I just work with what I know. What I don’t know, I don’t take into account.”

There was this period of time in my life when everybody I met was saying so confidently, “That’s the only explanation I can think of!”, as though that made a true?! Oh no… When “That’s the only explanation I can think of” means truth, help! Help!

Turn off the shadow-blinding overhead light. Light a lamp, or just a candle. You will see differently; you will see more shadows indicating what you don’t see.

How about saying the words, “I don know. I don’t understand this. This is a little more nuanced than I can catch. I don’t know what’s going on here.”

Too much light, unhealthy light, eradicates the darkness, saying, “Nope, there’s nothing subtle here. I can tell you exactly what’s going on. Because the only explanation I can think of…”

It’s way too clear.

walking on dark street

Winter is about the path of progressive endarkenment, the type of wisdom that we are only going to acquire when we are willing to welcome the nuance, the shadows and the darkness. We need to sit there as it gets darker—and listen, and say “I have no idea. I have no idea. I have no idea.”

I’m going to do a transmission of light resisting darkness that starts, “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, but I’m trying very hard to know. I’m googling everything I can think of. I’m trying to know; I’m treading water, treading water, treading water. I’m trying to keep my head above the waters. I’m trying to know.”

Take a deep breath, do not be afraid of the gathering shadows, and enter the Path of Endarkenment: I don’t know. It’s been five whole seconds, and I still don’t know. Another deep breath. Now it’s been 15 or 20 seconds, and I still don’t know. Can I actually get to an entire 10 minutes without becoming frantic? Without fighting to get out of the dark as fast as possible? You probably can’t unless you’ve been practicing.

tree in early light

The Path of Endarkenment is a practice. How much can I face my fear of the dark, my fear of the mystery, my fear of not knowing, right now? Enough to let the bubbles come out of the inner soda, and settle.

This is where, once it’s very dark and very silent, we start to hear the ancestors’ whispers in our bones.

To learn more about differentiating healthy darkness and light, join Thea at an upcoming workshop.

To join the discussion, find us on my Perennial Medicine discussion listserv (all are welcome).

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