The Dark Side of Being Light
Shadows are inevitable on the path of spiritual illumination
There’s a point at which you start to feel that the enormity of things is so unbelievable, you wonder how you’d ever been walking around at all. With eyes held so tightly; slivers, before. How on earth did the light get in? How did you ever arrive where you are?
Perhaps, in being led towards the heat.
Developing any kind of spiritual practice, anything that brings you greater awareness of yourself and your relationship to the world around you, is a process of stepping into a fire and allowing the flames to eat you whole. It is not gentle. It even seems unkind.
There is rage, there is fear, there is fury. There are days when you may feel unable to move or, sometimes, breathe. In these moments, one cannot fathom how there is anything left to do but let go.
And that’s exactly when it begins.
The rise of spirituality
It’s a beautiful thing to see spirituality flooding into the media en masse. Great spiritual teachers and seekers are rising up in profound, modern, and thoroughly authentic ways.
For so many of us, seeing these lighthouses appear is a welcome sign from our seemingly endless days at sea.
We are often brought to creating our own spiritual practice, whatever that may look like, by a period of inner and outer turmoil so unbearable we believe we are being torn very slowly into fragments.
Part of this is true, we are being torn, to be fed to the fire. Part of this is not true — it’s not unbearable, because we only receive that which we need to grow and expand.
The contrast is that in our seeking, we believe we have found wholeness. As if it was outside of us all along. The answer. We think, great, I can meditate and have conscious sex and drink green juice and I will slowly diminish my experience of negativity and pain.
I will forget about my secret impulse to self-destruct. I will forget about my insecurity. I will disregard the truth about my identity.
Forgetting things doesn’t make them disappear. Pretending to not feel doesn’t mean you can’t. Someday, you will, and you will feel everything. It will not stop. It will not cease coming, it will only grow in intensity, and it will beckon you to the edges of your sanity.
And that’s exactly when it begins.
Led to the light
After an initial period of flocking to the light like a moth on a warm summer evening, we tend to realize that no matter how venerable our guru or preferred practice, much of this path is to be walked alone.
When we fail to realize this, we are often catapulted into situations which isolate us, exactly for this reason. Life won’t baby us. She’ll demand that we show up.
The process of being led to the light, of waking up as so many of us like to say, is not simply becoming more luminous. I’d love to see that idea detonate. It is also the process of getting very intimate with the dark, ravenous, insatiable heaviness inside of you.
Freud’s death drive. The Kali aspect of your Shakti. The brink of your humanity which wishes to experience it’s temporality in all ways — blissful and devastating.
The more we practice, the more we realize that the more we let the light in, the more the darkness will arrive, exist, and grow to bring contrast. Denying it causes a lot of mania.
Underneath a façade of purity there is always a deeper story. The whole point is to experience balance, and we can’t get there by sweeping our old stories under the rug. They have to be transmuted. Alchemized. Used as kindling. The darkness. We have to look at it.
When we continually push it away, judge it, or believe it to not be aligned with our path (often read: who we think we are) it only grows in power and presence. A real-life example for me was reconciling my sexual energy with my yogic dedication.
In retrospect, it’s hilarious to me that I ever believed I would subdue a part of myself that is not only not dark but also entirely yogic. And also, a core part of me. I let go.
And that’s exactly when it began.
There is a long history of study of the shadow self. This subject often gets a lot of flak, and likely because people want to focus on the positive aspects of growth. Can’t blame them.
What happens when we ignore the parts of us that we are afraid to look at, is that we become slaves to that master. We hide a secret that we think no one can see. They can.
It grows and grows, and becomes fear, guilt, shame, terror, anxiety. The pangs of which you may not wish on your worst enemy.
I have this vision often, when I am facing something truly terrifying, of being just above water, and consciously, making the choice to submerge. Dark, choppy, ocean. An adventure to the depths. It guides me in these instances.
I remember how small whatever I’m up against is in contrast to the vastness of my life. I remember that my darkness intrigues me, because I allow it to. I want to know myself fully. I want to love every corner. I want to meet people who love every corner.
You can sort of sense it, when you meet someone authentic. They’re tapped into this. They’re unafraid of being a hot mess. Of being too much. Of having a vulnerability hangover.
They really don’t give a f*ck, because they recognize that darkness is part of being human, and they are okay with baring their humanity to the world. In a society focused on continual upward mobility, it’s no surprise that so much success is built on artifice and lack of depth.
The more we reject the notion that it is okay to have darkness, and that these part of us are not less likeable, loveable, or spiritual — in fact, they make us more so — the more we venture down the path of being half-human.
The darkness is real, it’s not going away, but once you look at it, it becomes something else: the canvas upon which the cosmos are born. Choosing to be half-human means denying yourself the possibility of exploring the furthest reaches of the universe.
I’m not sure about you, but I came here to be full-human.
And that’s exactly where it begins.
Feature Image: Excerpt from ‘Deliberation’ by Mario Sanchez Nevado