Darkness is defined as the absence of light, something that is difficult to understand, a state of ignorance, and something secret or sinister. Truth is defined, by the dictionary, as factual, or clear and visible, as well as something individuals choose to believe. Faith communities often speak of the dark as something evil and light as the most desirable quality to cultivate and yet it’s only through a willingness to explore what is dark or hidden within ourselves that we are able to shine a light of truth on the state of our consciousness and attain some form of enlightenment
It appears that no one ever believes they are choosing something out of ignorance or a misinterpretation of reality. We don’t have to look far to discover humanities willingness to pronounce as undesirable, ignorant, and evil people who are perceived as a hindrance to comfort, security, and prosperity. Currently, immigrants are being targeted as are Muslims, single mothers, and the poor or elderly. When one is truly spiritual it is easy to see through all the rhetoric and ask, who will profit from this persecution? Of course, darkness is always obvious when it belongs to someone else. Darkness is defined as the absence of light, something that is difficult to understand, a state of ignorance, and something secret or sinister. Truth is defined, by the dictionary, as factual, or clear and visible, as well as something individuals choose to believe. Faith communities often speak of the dark as something evil and light as the most desirable quality to cultivate and yet it’s only through a willingness to explore what is dark or hidden within ourselves that we are able to shine a light of truth on the state of our consciousness and attain some form of enlightenment.
Spirit invites us to discover our ancient darkness or ignorance that has continuously caused suffering for ourselves and those around us. This exploration is impossible without a spiritual director or teacher. If it were possible to enlighten our own ignorance we would all be ascended by now. However, the gift of shining light on delusions is about as popular as turning sticks into snakes. Inevitably, the student thus enlightened becomes enraged and defensive often turning on the teacher with accusations and resentment. My advice is- don’t ask if you don’t really want to know.
There is a line in the vow of the bodhisattvas that states- delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to end them. Delusions are caused by expectations of self and others. I’m not suggesting that we have no expectations of self or other, only that we become aware they are a major tripping point on the road of spirit. If someone says, I am enlightened- we can be sure that person is delusional. Even the Buddha did not say he was enlightened he said he was awake, which meant he was practicing awareness of his attachments and expectations in order to free himself from them. Only through constant vigilance can we disrupt our focus on what we expect, deserve, and demand from self and others. Note the attitude and ask- is it fair of me to have this expectation of another? And- how can I meet my own need without imposing it on others?
Not all expectations are bad or even undesirable. This is why we learn table manners as a child, discover the magic of please and thank you, train our pets to deposit their bowel movements in an appropriate place, and end abusive relationships. Here are some expectations that are guaranteed to cause suffering – wanting others to give us comfort, acceptance, and anything we else we want without our having to say anything. And, if we do state our need there is an expectation that it is the other person’s responsibility to give it to us. All of this is delusional thinking a result of ignorance and living in the dark.
Having a session with a spiritual director or teacher can be a challenging opportunity. While part of us wants to be free from delusion, there is often a greater part that prefers to remain ignorant or to be reassured that we really don’t have much to work on so we don’t need to worry about it. Amma Ilowan told us once that the mantra for the path of enlightenment is- Oh, Shit! Here is a poem/story gifted to Amma some years ago by a seeker.
A Day in the Dark
On a day such as this my life might be destroyed.
I am not worthy of being in the presence of a Master!
Bitterness courses through my every thought and burns my mind.
Time is passing-
But when will it open?
I am frightened!
I am petrified!
I am anxious- and I do fear what seed I have sown and their harvests to come!
This does not sound like discovery to me- but desolation!
Perhaps it is transformation?
Perhaps it is my evolution?
But to be immersed in such darkness and despair seems cruel and heartless.
True love is creation-
I have said so many discouraging times of late!
Thought creates- and I have thought so many unloving things of late!
Where has the holiness- that I so fervently aspire for gone?
Why do I find myself falling away from the ladder of prayer?
Where has my soul been slipping to?
Why does my love and light flicker- and in the most important of times?
Why does Spirit seem to fade away when I am most in need?
Why am I so afraid?
Why have I chosen to act in anger instead of from my sadness or my love?
The Sword of my Soul has almost become fully tempered
and shall soon undergo the refreshing submersion into the waters of Spirit-
Yet the fires still flame with such climactic degrees-
It seems impossible to focus on the process in its complete stage!
Is this not the dross that initiation burns from my soul?
Will I ever feel I’ve arrived at the warmth of spring again?
My own ancient darkness is fear. Fear of being abandoned , fear of becoming homeless, fear of failing, fear of disapproval, and fear of trusting others too much and various terrors that come up at odd times. And, while I’ve experienced some of these energies in my life…most are pure imaginings like a child panicking over shadows in the night. I believe my ancient darkness arises from the expectation that these things could happen and I must do everything in my power to prevent them from manifesting. If I have a plan for the worst case scenario I will be able to survive it. That was my motto for years.
So, I have been advised to simply notice the fear, breathe, and stop making strategies to deal with imaginings. Once, he told me that my people didn’t know that I loved them, which was devastating to hear since I thought I was serving to the very best of my ability. After being angry for a few days, thinking people were complaining about me to the Masters, I decided to accept what he said and change my behavior so people would understand that I loved and cared about them. First, I had to notice what behaviors gave a wrong impression so I watched sangha members who were considered loving and kind individuals. What did they do? What body language did they use? What did they say? Mostly, it turned out to be a matter of eye contact, fully facing the person I was talking to, and not multi-tasking while speaking to them. Getting out of the dark into the light required acceptance and accountability and a willingness to be enlightened rather than defensive and resentful that everyone didn’t already think I was an amazing being.
Willing to go into the dark is entering a time when we don’t know the result and sometimes when the result is known it is nothing we want or desire to experience- and yet, there it is. To find the light of truth we must be willing to realize, even if it is on faith, that Divine Spirit is with us, as us, and will not abandon us in our grief, pain, or fear. This doesn’t mean we will have that fear removed, the grief taken away, or the pain eased, it only means we trust we are not alone in those times. We rely on the relationship we have created with the Dharma, the Sangha, and the Masters to find our courage, strength, and the fortitude to make it through the dark. In challenging times we have the capability of ignoring or chasing Divine Spirit from our hearts, minds, and lives. If we do this we sink even deeper into the dark night of our soul. Ultimately, we cannot find the light without each other and though we may stumble and fall- surrendering to Divine Grace will see us through into the light of wisdom and love.