So many tomes have been written about the Dark Night of the Soul. Indeed the title of the great mystic was mistranslated. The original translation was “the obscured night of the soul.” The word “dark” gets a bad rap. “Dark woods” are frightening. “Dark Knight” is a medieval bad guy. “Dark thoughts” are usually the neighborhood of one’s psyche not to wander at night or alone. “Dark forces” are never considered a happy thing. And then of course, in the racial history of the West, there is the question of the “dark-skinned” or what southern plantation owners used to call and what modern bigots today call “darkies.” The implication has always been that the guy in a story wearing white is the good guy. The guy in the story wearing black is an ominous signal that he is the bad guy. Even in the church, Easter is white while Lent is dark purple – a combination of blue and black – the color of a bruise.
And why not? We have been trained as a civilization and as a church, for thousands of years, to maintain dualism. Things are “good” or “bad” and a creature like humans who uses sight to identify danger and safety far more than smell, taste, and hearing will learn to use colors to decide on good and bad. When you are close enough to a viper to touch, smell and taste it…well…it’s over. So we use sight.
We avoid “dark alleys” in a city. We are attracted to a bright vista which is why over 200,000 years of human development as a species we are neurologically attracted to “beautiful views” NOT because they are “pretty” but because our species has subconsciously learned to trust a place from which we can see danger at a distance. “A pretty view” is attractive to humans as a form of survival not pleasure; we simply white-wash that science towards aesthetics so that we avoid the painful subject of fear and safety.
This pathway I recently walked on Whidbey Island off the coast of Washington State. It was mottled with light and darkness, much the way our lives tend to be. Because it is an island, there are few things to harm a human and so one feels extraordinarily save wandering. At its end was an ocean, as is the ending of most paths on Whidbey Island.
As we wander the pathways of our lives might we re-train ourselves away from the dualism in which we have been trained? Good – bad. Right-wrong. Heaven – hell. Black – white. Safe-dangerous. Graveyard-sanctuary. Easy-hard. Life-death. Easter-lent. Lucifer-Gabriel. Win-loose.
What if we were to re-boot our lives and let go of these ego-based forms of thinking? Each one of these and many other dualistic thoughts has, at its core, one basic structure: me. Me and my thoughts. Me and my wellbeing. Me and my perspective. Me and my life’s comforts and safety. ME and my bank account. Me and my title. Me and my position. It’s all ego and it is what has caused every fight and every war and almost every anxious thought in the history of humans. It’s not that simple. The gorgeous island of Barbados is also the station of the slave trade. As was gorgeous, quaint Maine.
What if we were to let go of these judgments – the labels – and simply live? Pathways will sometimes be brightly lit. Sometimes they will be obscured by fog and the steps we take will be one tremulous step at a time, seeing only the next foot-fall. In my younger years I was strategic; trying to get the right committee chairmanship, the right job, the right neighborhood, the right retirement plan, the right address, the right car, the right church, the right home decor, and even the right religion.
As I age, I am beginning to realize that all I need to do is to take the next step. What makes it the “right” next step? It is the next one. The one that is available to me. The one which the cosmos seems to have placed below my foot just before it landed. But of course, there is something, a magic code almost, which one must need to have to be able to exhibit such great courage as to simply trust the next step. What is the magic code?
To take the next right step one must not worry about what happens to them. One must let go. One must trust the Loving Cosmos, the Loving Life-giver. One must let go of calculations of past, future, status, safety, and ego. One must live on the razor’s edge of the present moment, unafraid of the future and disconnected from the past. One must trust the hand of whoever made those turns, that moss, that thorn, that apple, that viper, that puppy, those dark shadows, those trees, and that sunlight. One must trust that what happens need not be fought with. One must “drop the rope” of dualism and simply keep going.
What makes one the most powerful and peaceful human on the planet? I do not mind what happens to me.