Respecting darkness

Some poor choices today brought me a bit closer to this subject than I like, however most fortunately  I wrote this a few days ago.  I’m making this post late for that reason, but also because I was busy making up for lost sleep, cooking delicious belgian waffles, helping look up hints for Lego Harry Potter, and making sure we had toilet paper.  And, well, eating too much leftover candy…

Enjoy, comment, share, subscribe… another post tomorrow, but especially don’t forget to check in on Friday!

With the darkest part of the year just behind us, I want to reflect on loving and accepting the darkness within ourselves.  I’m surprised to see how little this is addressed, seeing how even the most optimistic among us at least occasionally have a rough day, or an experience that challenges our positive outlook.  And even more so, seeing how many people seem to go through life with a distinct desire, or a persistent habit, of focusing on the negative- to always find what is wrong, rather than what is right.  There was a time in my life when I actually felt pride in being a pessimist.  I thought “I might not be happy, but at least I’m aware”.  It surely wasn’t the happiest period of my life, but it also wasn’t the worst. 

 I’ve always respected darkness, and for a long period of my life I respected the dark and heavy places within myself.  This was during my pessimist period, but it was also partially during a time when darkness seemed inevitable to me.  I was a minor and didn’t yet have the freedom to fully choose my direction or my everyday activities (which are what move us in a direction).  I accepted what came out of that- I was angry and I expressed it in what I hoped were creative and productive ways.  I developed a place within myself where I honored the anger and lack of freedom- my own and that of others.  Being highly empathic, I picked up on others’ frustrations- and believe me, many of theirs were much more difficult to bear than my own- and I held them, saw them, and recognized their rightness and their beauty.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I recognized the rightness and beauty of the dark places within us where there is pain and anger and fear.

 Fast forward fifteen years or so to a life where I was no longer denied the freedom of self-determination simply for being young.  This was a life that was nearly everything I’d ever dreamed; an incredibly supportive and loving husband, 3 beautiful, healthy, unique, wonderful children, and the financial resources to allow us to live a bit more than modestly while I stayed home with the kids to support their curiosity, empowerment and freedom.   Here I was with everything I always wanted, yet struggling against my dark places- mostly pain and fear, but also some anger.  Most of it was old, some of it newer, and almost all of it aimed at myself.  What right did I have- a woman of freedom, intelligence, good fortune and privilege- to be entertaining any of these dark feelings, or to even possess dark places within myself?  My life should have been all positive energy, gratitude, light and love, right?  I had no right to darkness in my world full of freedom, love and comfort.

 But there it was, all the same.  *This* was the worst time in my life.  So I did what I could to make it go away.  I numbed- with food, with distractions (Zuma, anyone?), even with complaints and blame- reaching outside myself to look for the solution to make the darkness go away.  It didn’t work.  As I came to learn from my experience, and recently found words for in the brilliant work of Brene Brown, a shame researcher, numbing can’t be done selectively.  When we numb our pain, fear and shame we also numb our delight, excitement, interest and gratefulness.

 So, what to do with that darkness?  We all have some of it.  Some of us, at times, carry it around like a dark cloud or the weight of the world, like Atlas.  Oh boy, have I done that.  I think I was a frequent, long term visitor to that place with the t-shirts to prove it (you know, the ones that are the size of a child’s tent, covered in stains and dotted with holes?).  And we carry this weight and try to pretend we’re not standing in the cold rain being crushed to death as we smile and look for the positive.  We already know that doesn’t help.  So, alternatives?

 I suggest that we find the place I did when I was an angry teen- the place where we recognize that as much as we’d like to *not* feel those feelings, they’re there.  They won’t go away until we honor their presence and give them our love and respect.  Those dark places hold energy and power that we can use to draw ourselves out from under the clouds.

 I’m not suggesting that it’s good to repeat our stories ad nauseum- usually that’s a way of avoidance through blame (ie. complaining).  I’m also not saying we should act out these feelings and dark thoughts.  If one is feeling any serious urge to act harmfully or violently towards another living being, self included, that’s where some professional psychological help is vital.  But we can feel, honor and express our fear, our pain and our anger in ways that release the energy and free us.  I think everyone may be different here, but I’ve found much of this release through physical activity, music, art and occasionally a good hard cry.  (Any other suggestions?).Once the energy is released we can recognize the beauty and importance of our darkness- giving it the love and respect it deserves as our strongest and most effective guidance system, showing us that somewhere we are numbing or suppressing or hiding from vital parts of ourselves.  Then we can turn towards the light of what is calling us forward. 

 In both darkness and light,

Lesley

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5 Comments to “Respecting darkness”

  1. Thanks for posting this…a topic near and dear to my heart! I don’t believe you can be truly mindful without being completely at peace with the darkness, with the difficult and painful and without facing it and being comfortable talking about it. Pretending everything is sunshine and light is just another disconnect in my opinion…. Great post!

  2. I, too, believe in extending friendliness toward our shadow. Beautifully said.

  3. This really moved me this morning. I can relate to every word you have written. Indeed, it has been my struggle for the past couple years to understand what is “wrong” with me, when all is good in my life, yet I still struggle with inner difficulties. Thanks for reminding me that those difficulties are apart of what makes me me–what makes me whole. These difficulties allow me to laugh, cry, reason and sincerely feel for myself and others. They make me stronger, even when I feel so fragile. Thank you.

  4. This is wonderful. Thank you for sharing. I am having trouble lately accepting some of Lia’s dark places, and being 12 is not always wonderful. I am working on being more respective of them instead of trying to fix or change them. Today I was talking about to JoAnn about it, and she was reminding me of how Lia is a lot different from the rest of our family, and how I should not try to fit her into some mold. Such wisdom!

  5. Thanks for the comments, all of you. I appreciate every one!

    Absolutely, Ren. I think there is some misunderstanding about facing and talking about what’s painful- a judgement that it’s wrong, that it creates more pain, that it isn’t worthwhile. But we can’t move forward until we know and accept all the parts of ourselves, and learn how they serve us.

    Karen, thank you for sharing your thoughts. It definitely inspires me to keep writing when I know it’s connecting with other’s experiences.

    And Jacqueline, I wonder if that’s part of what draws our girls together? I could say the exact same thing. Ayden’s our extrovert in a family of introverts. A challenging place to be, I’m sure.

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