Befriending Darkness

By Tarrin McDonald

We all begin in darkness. A zygote in the eternal mother’s womb. We are sheltered, fed, tended by the dark, all our needs met. We are warm. We are safe. We belong to everything and there is no separation between me and it and her and him and they. There is only what is. But then… we are thrust into the light. A disconnect happens. We leave the comfort of the darkness, ushered into a world of brightness, of distinction, of separation, of fear and insecurity and communication. In the light we learn to see, to use our senses to navigate, to touch, taste, and smell, beginning to own our autonomy in the world, separating ourselves further and further from the archetypal mother, because that is what life requires of us. We ween ourselves from the darkness, beginning to suckle at the breast of eternal light.

Many of us spend the rest of our lives trying to find the comfort of that darkness again, seeking partnerships, occupations, material wealth, addictions, and rules that will again hold us, a place where we can settle into the undifferentiated is-ness. Yet we grow afraid. We become so accustomed to the light that darkness intimidates us, frightens us.

Why then are we drawn back down? When the rug is pulled out, when cancer, heart attack, divorce, death, or loss of any kind thrusts itself upon us, and we find ourselves in the dark, why is it no longer a comforting place? Why does darkness threaten instead of nurture like it once did? Why do we numb, distract, and sink in the presence of darkness?

Because we have forgotten how to be held. We have forgotten how to let the womb of darkness tend to us.

A seed cannot burst and bring forth its beauty and sustenance if it sits all day in the light of the sun. It will wither and all of its potentiality diminish. Seeds, like humans, have their beginnings in the dark. Only when roots are being nourished by the darkness can the seed become what it is meant.

Learning to befriend the darkness and dig our roots in deep is a process that seems counter-intuitive for many of us who have been trained in the light. Our culture is not one that teaches us to see in the dark, to mourn loudly, to face death and loss as a communal descent, or to acknowledge the gifts that darkness offers. We often turn our backs on grief and hesitate to engage with those who suffer. We are afraid of overwhelm. We are afraid of our own darkness, the parts of us that suffer, the parts that have been relegated to the shadow that we drag behind us.

Light is only half of the human experience. To deny the dark is to deny humanity, to deny wholeness.

If we really want to live in the light, we must learn to befriend the dark.