Spring is right around the corner, and most of us can’t wait to say goodbye to the long, dark nights of winter. We like light, and with good reason: Life as we know it couldn’t exist without it. Both faith and science tell us that “light is life,” which is why humankind has celebrated the return of spring since the dawn of time.
But as our days get longer and we happily escort winter’s darkness out the door, let’s remember that light and darkness are complementary: two parts of a whole, cyclical in nature, and meaningless without the contrast of the other. The Chinese Tai Chi, or yin and yang symbol is a perfect example of this concept, with its interlocking curves of light and dark. In most mystical traditions, darkness and light are equally necessary aspects of creation because darkness is associated with gestation, which precedes birth, and with death, which precedes resurrection.
Author and theologian Matthew Fox reminds us of the necessity of darkness in his writings on Creation Spirituality. In Original Blessing, he describes one path of the spiritual journey as the via negativa, or “the way of negation.” On this path, we let go of what we have created and what we seek and “befriend the darkness. When we are on the via negativa, we embrace what Buddhism calls the great “nothing,” which is the heart of the universe. We yield to the darkness so that, when the time comes, we can once again see the light, but with a deeper understanding of ourselves.
It isn’t easy for most of us to embrace the darkness. For the past three centuries since the start of the Enlightenment darkness has fallen out of favor, and has been equated with ignorance, despair, and evil, rather than mystery, potential, and renewal. Spiritually, we shy away from the dark and its silence, preferring the distractions of light and sound that the modern world offers us. And, technologically, we’ve practically rendered darkness extinct with electricity and the seemingly never ending string of lights wrapped around the planet. We have become a specie that is afraid of the dark. We are even afraid of our own shadows, as the saying goes. In Jungian psychology, the shadow represents the part of ourselves that we would rather not know. But even these shadowy parts of ourselves cowardly or selfish though they may be are a part of who we are and denying them prevents us from living up to our true potential.
So the next time you are feeling spiritually dark, remember that our hearts started beating in the darkness of the womb, seeds germinate in the darkness of the earth, and the earth rests in the darkness of winter so that spring can return. We all need fallow time. Darkness is a gift it’s a great open space in which anything can happen. Surrender to it and the light will return.