The days are incredibly dark this time of year, the sun rising as late as 7:30 and setting by 4:30. With the endless streak of rain in the last weeks in Portland, it makes me want to curl up and hibernate like a bear most of the time. In the dark days, I contemplate what it means to be still in the quiet time of Winter Solstice, to find my intentions and the blooming of that which is dark. To embrace the dark. During Summer Solstice, we honored the outward expression of light and expansive summery warmth yet acknowledged the seed of darkness that was to come.
I have often found it curious how we humans connect the idea of darkness with negativity…and yet we also revel in the dark. The night time skies, the mystery of the vespers at twilight turning toward darkness, the quietness of snow in dark. The hush of the owl’s wings as it swoops over land under shining moonlight, the sparkle of the stars on the nighttime ocean, the shimmer of dark black crow’s wings, the softness of our beds while we sleep…in the dark.
However, when trouble arises we call it dark, terrible, fearsome. Times in our life that are dark challenge or frighten us; they are mysterious, unknowable, unfathomable and painful.
Darkness also translates toward our perception of race, skin color, gender and sexuality. I awoke from a disturbing dream this morning that contained within it issues of black and white, violence by men against women. I turned to face some of those issues inside me. What advantages do I have because I am white? What disadvantages do I have for being a woman? A queer woman? How are these internal issues reflections of our societal and cultural stories? How do we confront these identities within, dissolve them and heal them? How do we heal them on a cultural or societal level? How can we embrace our inner darkness?
In my seven years living in India I discovered myself in many situations where there was an idealization of those with lighter complexion and scorn or distaste for those with darker skin. Sometimes darker skinned people are associated with the lower caste, the Untouchables. We see this in other cultures, this divide of skin color in reflection of godliness. That somehow if someone is lighter they are closer to the light, to god, to brightness, to enlightenment.
Not only darkness, but that which is also feminine, wild, unknown has been associated with disturbing qualities, aspects that are demonic, devilish, and is rooted in my own Christian heritage as well. Witches are dark and shadowy, women’s issues are inherently vile. Menstruation, birth, and sexual energy has been demonized, controlled and abused for many hundreds of years. Eve was ultimately weak and prone to temptation, seduced by the serpent and the Tree of Knowledge which led to the fall from paradise. There are countless myths that celebrate the destruction of feminine power, rape, violence in reflection of our own cultures and violence against women, those who are different, those whose beliefs challenge our own, those who are dark.
Yet…in the darkness, resides not only mystery and wonder, but also power. In the myth of Inanna, one of the most ancient stories written down, the Queen of Heaven descends into the dark Underworld, to meet Ereshkigal, her dark, terrifying sister. Ereshkigal is all that dark: bleeding, moaning, defecating in the darkness under the soil. She fixes her eye of death on Inanna who then dies. Three days later, Inanna is restored to health by the small beings that come and simply mirror Ereshkigal’s pain. In the powerful silence of witnessing, Ereshkigal tastes healing. Inanna’s life is given back to her and she is reborn into her own power.
In India, I discovered the wild and wondrous worship of the Dark Mother, an archetype I have been drawn to for years. The main figure of the Dark Mother is Kali, the fierce, wrathsome Goddess/Dakini who is still worshipped all over India, especially in the Northeast. Kali devours blood, wears a skull necklace and dance atop the immobile Shiva. Although terrifying in image, she is also known as a merciful and benevolent mother to her devotees, a kind and loving mother. She is the reminder that darkness is not only terrifying, it is the necessary dismantling of our ego, identity and smaller selves which enables us to access the Light within.
Although there are complicated issues of color and race, gender and violence in India, there is also a depth of understanding in the spiritual context of karma. In both my Yogic and Buddhist studies, the understanding is that we have countless lives.
Thousands upon thousands of lives; and this particular life our identities hold a very limited perspective on our soul path. Because my work deals primarily with reading, assisting and healing on a soul level, this issue of race, gender, sexuality are seen as part of our identity. They contribute to our story, the play in which this particular form is experiencing. This is not good … or bad…it is ultimately, a story.
Many years ago I had the opportunity to see Malidoma Patrice Some´speak in Brooklyn, NY. He is a Dagara elder from West Africa, an indigenous healer and shaman who was raised by white French Jesuit priests. He has spent his life building a bridge between spirit and form; between white and black; between the west and Africa.
It was the most mesmerizing speech I have ever attended and one of many highlights on a visit to NYC several years ago. I could literally feel the visceral press of the Spirit Helpers all around us. The crowd was mostly people of color, local Brooklyners, however one other white woman asked about accessing the spirits and partaking in ceremony as a white person disconnected to her own cultural heritage. Malidoma laughed a great belly laugh, and said something like, Do you think the spirits care about your skin color? No…you could be blue to them for all you know! And he laughed again. I was struck by his words and even more so, by his JOY. Transcendent, wonderful joy. The spark that illuminates.
When we fall into that which is dark, when we embrace the darkness, we discover the true nature of our Selves, the larger part of divinity that transcends race, gender, identity. There is power in the earth and I often sense that we, who are so cut off from the magic of natural world, are missing out on a deeper, perhaps very dark, and very mysterious connection to that which goes beyond black and white, male and female, dark and light…
As we move into Winter, we can ask ourselves, how do I relate to the dark? The dance of dark and light, the labyrinthine mystery of the shadow on light play on earth. How do I connect our understanding of dark and light to human story, politics, pain and suffering? How do I relate on a personal level? How do I dance with this interplay? How can I honor both the dark and the light within? One of my favorite quotes from my college writing days is from James Baldwin, a gay black writer in the 20s and 30s:
“For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.” ― James Baldwin, Sonny’s Blues
As the days continue to darken toward the Winter Solstice, I wonder if we can contemplate the dark in a whole new light, so to speak. To turn ever toward that which we fear, or scares us. And not with our defenses up, but instead with an open, trembling and vulnerable heart. Ultimately, this is pure, naked vulnerable compassion. When we meet the world with our defenses down, not making assumptions, we can come to a place of infinite love, that which resides behind all things, both the black and the white, the dark and the light. The power of light is immense. In a completely darkened room, the illumination of one small candle is striking.
May you light the candle of your heart this winter, and appreciate its brilliance in the context of the richness of the dark, honoring the seed of light that begins everything anew.