Photo Good v Evil by Kweku
Within light, there is darkness; but do not try to understand that darkness.Within darkness, there is light; but do not look for that light.
參同契 Sandōkai, Sekito Kisen
The first book in the Bible proclaims: "Let there be light."
Classic canons of dark=bad and light=good have been proliferated in art, poetry, linguistics, and certainly religion, literature, and books; and pop culture is awash with examples of dark/evil vs light/good:
“Evil cannot and will not be vanquished by evil. Dark will only swallow dark and deepen. The good and the light are the keenest weapons.”
― Nora Roberts, Heaven and Earth
“For every item that carries the darkness of humanity there's one that holds the light."
― C.M. Rayne, The Forbidden Land of Andara
It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more. -Albus Dumbledore
“How odd that we spend so much time treating the darkness, and so little time seeking the light...We only get rid of darkness by turning on the light.”
― Marianne Williamson, Tears to Triumph: The Spiritual Journey from Suffering to Enlightenment
“Light always overcomes darkness.”
― Donald L. Hicks, Look into the stillness
From the imperialistic bigotry of Joseph's Conrad's, Heart of Darkness and Hollywood's good v. evil motifs to New Age glorification of enlightenment, modern day humans have, consciously or not, come to understand the 'dark' as negative and have actively sought to be "rid of darkness", seeking the 'light' for solace and protection against it.
Interesting to ponder: Darkness tends to evoke images of fear, death, and danger. Scary stories are told in the dark. Horror movie murders take place in the dark. Predators hunt in the dark. Hell is always featured in the dark, as is its 'prince of darkness'. Children are socialized to be afraid of the dark. Villains dress darkly, and monsters most often lurk in the dark.
Conversely, light is associated with angels, life, love, and the numinous.
Even when the culture does speak of darkness in more neutral terms, its often done in the context of something shining in it; the stars or a candle, indicative of the nobility of light. Superheroes most often conquer the darkness.
Darkness is something we leave to move into the light. And what some call the 'dark' emotions, like grief, are rejected, shamed, and relegated to psychological purgatory.
As an existentialist, my sense is that the dualism toward dark-light is likely advanced by a combination of nature and nurture: in part, engrained in our DNA and, in part, socialized by belief systems situated in good vs evil (Horus, the sun - good - had an enemy named Set- the darkness from the underworld, who was evil).
I admit that I used to be afraid of the dark as a child- even somewhat into early adulthood; after Cheyenne died, however, I welcomed the darkness because it symbolized what I felt inside. My energy pulled in, I came to know more intimately the dark corners of my heart; I could see more clearly the shadows of a hard childhood and began to cultivate a deep awareness of the suffering of others.
In 2011, I enacted my feelings of fearless appreciation toward the darkness externally, tattooing my back with her ashes:
The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night.
Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.
--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul
The mystics knew the light and the darkness as one, inexplicably linked, each one's existence reliant upon the other.
Yes, darkness holds its own secret wisdom and beauty.
Did you know that plants deprived of darkness will lose their color; flowers deprived of darkness will lose their ability to blossom?
My painful emotions were not anathematic; they were authentic feelings of my heart that would ebb and flow through my whole life.
I would not become a chronic light-seeker or a happiness pursuer or a ridder of darkness. I simply wanted to feel what I felt and accept my emotions in all their forms - this included the grief and despair and anger and confusion and guilt and shame and longing and fear (and endless list). In so doing, I've been liberated from the constraints of seeing darkness as evil and light as good.
We must awaken from our misguided assumption of darkness as unwanted and unworthy and harmful and light as wanted and worthy and helpful. The effects of these beliefs are insidious and perhaps further reaching and more nefarious than we realize.
These unconscious (or conscious) beliefs of dark emotions as bad and light emotions as good force grieving people to hide from the judgment of others and marginalize those who suffer loss, fear, trauma, and tragedy.
And, perhaps, these ideas are at 'the heart of darkness' hatred at a more systemic level.
From Scientific American, this year:
Although psychologists have known for a long time that people associatedark skin with negative personality traits, this research shows that the reverse is also true: when we hear about an evil act, we are more likely to believe it was done by someone with darker skin. This “bad is black” effect may have its roots in our deep-seated human tendency to associate darkness with wickedness. Across time and cultures, we tend to portray villains as more likely to be active during nighttime and to don black clothing. Similarly, our heroes are often associated with daytime and lighter colors. These mental associations between color and morality may negatively bias us against people with darker skin tones. If this is true, it has far-reaching implications for our justice system. For example, eye witnesses to crimes may be more likely to falsely identify suspects who possess darker skin.
Could the roots of injustice toward people with dark/darker skin be embedded in larger, historic systems that perceive darkness as evil, wicked, and dangerous while lighter skin is perceived as pure and innocent, good, and safe?
Perhaps, it is time to stop demonizing the darkness.
No, it's past time to stop.
The first step is to dismantle language. Watch what we share on social media. Watch how we speak of the darkness as something negative, something to push away, something to fear. Through deep self-awareness, we can uproot these unconscious systems of beliefs and reclaim our power to shift the paradigm. For ourselves, for others, for all.
Let there be light, certainly.
Let there be darkness, too.
And remember that all things were born from the darkness. It was here first.
Perhaps then, both within and between us, we will know peace.
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
My new book about Bearing the Unbearable on Amazon