Since the beginning of this year I have had a sense of the world entering dark times and for many the winter was indeed both long and dark in different ways. Those first days of spring light and warmth held such release and in March we celebrated the time of equal day and night.
We tend to praise the light and shun the dark. There are those who glamorise and relish the dark as a sanctuary of rest, introspection, beauty and imagination. Others associate it with danger, evil, punishment and demons both inner and outer. The fact of ‘matter’ is that we cannot have light without dark, or dark without light. We all experience periods in dark places; when we are filled with sadness, pain, sickness loneliness or despair. There seems no way out and we feel powerless to change anything, or have any sense of control.
Sometimes our attitude becomes so negative that we even find it hard to let in the very things that lift our spirit. On the other hand life does send us tiny shining moments that remind us of a reality beyond the tunnel we find ourselves in. The sight of a small bird, a flower poking its head up, a song with just the right words, support from friends, or unexpected warmth of strangers. These moments can lift us just when we need it and help to sustain us that bit longer.
One of my inspirations is Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s poem ‘Invitation’ because she addresses these raw moments with such compassion and honesty: It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.
I heard a woman relating the story of her first encounter with Wells Cathedral. She was one of several interviewed for a documentary about the cathedral and peoples’ relationship with it. She was going through very dark times in her own life and took a job as a cleaner there. She described it as seeing a beautiful garden filled with light but one she could only view from outside. However, she felt it gave her a sense of a possibility and hope that another reality existed. Years later, she became a deacon there and she expressed gratitude that her encounter had made her determined to resolve her problems and recognise her right to be in that ‘garden’. Religion has unfortunately preached that suffering is a punishment, and sadly many still believe this. Even though we may not hold traditional beliefs, some of us cannot help but imagine that we are being punished by misfortune. We blame ourselves and feel ashamed, whether we have indeed committed trespass or not.
Truth is, it takes light to cast a shadow; yet shadow softens light. Light without shade can be harsh and unforgiving; dark without light is unsustainable. Our shadow follows us wherever we go. Peter Pan was lost without his and Wendy had to sew it back on for him. Our shadows are repositories of learning, they challenge us to grow and accept our humanity. Sometimes we find aspects of ourselves we deem ugly and unacceptable, only to discover that it is simply our rejection that has made them so. The real problem comes when we split shadow and light into either/or, rather than both/and. Nobody relishes suffering but the expectation that life ‘should’ be light, or that darkness ‘should’ be banished; is unrealistic. Life carries us through cycles of all shades and colours.