The value in the dark

In western culture, we are used to thinking that light=good and dark=bad.

There are many variations on this. We shed light on something (good). We are in the dark (bad). Something is a beacon (good unless it’s misleading). A story is dark (good because it’s a story so it only flirts with the dark). Something is happening in the shadows (bad). We have enlightenment (good). Trolls burst in the daylight (good for us, bad for the trolls). We go through a dark night of the soul (looks bad but may be different). Heaven is light and hell is dark. The angels are bright. The devil is dark. And so on.

There is a lot to explore here. Why do we have these associations? In what way do we use these metaphors? How do they influence our perception and life? What are the upsides and downsides? How do they help us? How do they limit us? What do I find when I explore specific dark/light assumptions?


First, where do these associations come from?

It may be partly encouraged by evolution. Favoring light over dark – and the metaphors that come out of this – is understandable for daylight animals like humans. We evolved with eyes that function best in daylight. For us, the daytime is safer than the night. Light is good since it supports our survival, and dark is bad since we can’t see what potentially dangerous things are there. If nocturnal animals developed language and metaphors, theirs may be the reverse of ours.

At the same time, it’s clearly cultural. It’s easy to imagine cultures that don’t have the same assumptions, and we can also find many real-life examples in cultures around the world. (For instance, in some African cultures, white is associated with death.)


What’s the upsides and downsides of these associations?

The upside is that our shared understanding of these metaphors allows for shorthands and easier communication of certain ideas. That’s the same with all the images we use in our language.

The general downside is that these images become filters for our perception. We perceive, think, and partially live from them. If these remain unquestioned, we may mistake our assumptions for reality, and that creates rigidity, limits to our perception and views, and – in the worst case – harmful behavior.

A more specific example is that these associations have been used by Europeans to support colonialism, slavery, and racism. White people have –explicitly and implicitly –used the darker skin of other people as justification for seeing and treating them as inherently bad or inferior.


What do I find if I explore specific examples of these associations?

White vs black. As mentioned above, in the European culture, the color white is often associated with purity and good while black has less favorable connotations. Good guys wear white hats, and bad guys black. The pure bride wears white, while the mourning widow wears black. These are clearly cultural assumptions and, in some other cultures, it’s reverse.

Skin tone. This connects with European racism where white skin is seen as good and superior while darker skin traditionally has been associated with savages. Again, this is clearly a cultural assumption that is not based in reality, and it’s been used to justify colonialism and generally horrific treatment of those with darker skin. Skin color has to do with human migration, adaption to place, and biological ancestry. It doesn’t say anything about us as people. And, again, in some cultures and societies, these associations are reverse.

Days vs night. We are daylight animals so it’s natural for us to favor the day and daylight. The night belongs to other creatures. But even as daylight creatures, we can find value in the night. For us, it’s a time of rest and sleep. We rest and sleep during the night, and in many cultures, the winter is also a time of rest and catching up with smaller tasks we may not have had time for during the rest of the year.

Known and unknown. Some things are in the dark, and we can shed light on them so they are known to us. What’s known is in the light, what’s unknown is in the dark. Again, this metaphor makes sense of us since we are daytime animals, and seeing and knowing what’s here helps us function and orient in the world.

At the same time, there can be immense value in the unknown. To the extent we take in how little we know, it helps us stay receptive, flexible, and curious. And it makes life far more interesting since we get the adventure of ongoing and never-ending discovery.

What’s unknown may be “in the dark” for us, and can be as valuable as what’s in the metaphorical light and what we think we know.

Good and bad. In many cases, good is associated with light and bad with darkness. There are many wrinkles here. For instance, at a conventional human level, what first appears good in our life can later turn out in an undesirable way, and the other way around. As we see if we look more closely, the light=good and dark=bad analogy isn’t the whole picture and typically doesn’t hold up to examination. Our ideas of good and bad are ideas and labels and not inherent in reality.

Dark nights. A dark night of the soul can refer to many different things, but in the mainstream, it typically refers to a deeply troubling and difficult time in our life. It’s dark because we may not understand what’s happening, and we feel we are in a dark state of mind.

We can see these dark nights as invitations. We are invited to revise our priorities, align our life with our values and what’s most important to us, find authenticity and be more honest with ourselves, heal unhealed parts of us, and heal how we relate to ourselves, others, and life.

There is a blessing hidden in these dark nights.

What’s in the dark in us. We all have parts of ourselves we have shed light on and are relatively familiar with. And we also have a lot that’s in the dark. This darkness just means we are still unfamiliar with it. We can find things there that our personality would like, and also things it would dislike. And as we bring more into the light, and depending on how we relate to what we find and make use of it, it can help us in many ways. It can help us heal, mature, find authenticity, recognize the inherent innocence in what we find, find our wholeness as a human being, be more grounded and sober, and also feel and become more alive.

Awake and not awake. Enlightenment has light in the word, and it’s understandable. Metaphorically, awakening has to do with bringing into light what we are, and perhaps how we temporarily obscure this for ourselves. At different phases of an awakening process, we can also more literally experience or see a lot of light in our system. Of the two – awake and not awake – one isn’t inherently better than the other. And one isn’t more or less the divine than the other. It’s all the play of our mind, life, the universe, existence, or the divine, or all of these, depending on how we see it.

The light and dark divine. Many religions and spiritual traditions include light and dark representations of the divine. In Christianity, we have the black madonna representing an aspect of the divine feminine, fertility, the life-giving womb, transformation, and so on.

Womb. The womb, soil, and early universe all are associated with darkness. And this is where life comes from. We live our first months in and are born from dark wombs. The soil supports most plant life and land life, including our own. The dark and early universe reorganized itself, over billions of years, into the universe as we know it, and into everything we know including ourselves. Darkness is often fertile. Quiet periods in our life can be a womb, as can the night, the winter, spending time in nature, incapacity because of an illness, metaphorical dark nights, and more.


The essence of this is simple: Our associations with light and dark come from our culture and we recreate it for ourselves here and now. These associations are not inherent in reality. At the same time, they do influence our perception and life, so it’s good to bring these to awareness and shed the metaphorical light on them. This helps us relate to these associations more consciously in ourselves and when we find them in our culture.


When I write these articles, I prefer to write brief and simple articles that give only the essence and some pointers for further exploration. In this article, I found myself venturing into a more complex and messy terrain that would require brushing up on mythology, depth psychology, and so on, to do it justice. It may be more appropriate for a much longer article or a book.

This is a reminder of one of the reasons I stick with brief and simple articles: my brain fog. I don’t have much capacity for either reading or editing, so anything beyond a simple and short article – and one that comes directly out of me and doesn’t require any reading or studies – is difficult.

I haven’t read or taken in much information for the last ten years, which is a sharp contrast to my earlier life where I read voraciously – often three books a week. I had plans for writing books, but those plans are on the shelf (pun intended) for now.

There is an upside to this as well. I have to rely on what’s here in me and what I discover for myself through my own explorations. And that’s an invaluable gift.

In darkness we are revealed

In darkness we are revealed.

– The Doctor in Extremis, Dr. Who, aired May 2017

This can mean a few different things, and we all find our own meaning. The meaning that means something to us.

Character testing. It can be understood in an ordinary sense. In dark times, we are tested. Our character is revealed. And, as they say, it builds character. For me, this is an invitation for authenticity. For not beating around the bush. For not being dishonest with myself (and also others).

Dark night. I also have to see it in the context of the dark night of the soul. First, there is often a period of illumination, an initial awakening. All is revealed as Spirit and we live within that, buoyed by the initial excitement and revelation. This may last for a short or long time.

Then, there may be a dark night of the soul. What we earlier relied on – the light, guidance, enthusiasm, clarity, esteem, health, intellectual capacity, health, friends, family, money – may be taken away from us. This reveals the darkness in us.

It reveals the “dark” areas of ourselves, the unhealed, unloved, unquestioned. And it comes with an invitation for us to see and feel it, meet it with love (and see it’s already loved), question the beliefs and identities wrapped up in it, and find healing for it.

In this “darkness”, we are also invited to live more deeply the realization that all is Spirit, including that in us, others, and life that our personality and human self don’t like or want. We may have earlier seen that all is Spirit, here it’s put to the test.

In the absence of the obvious light, we are also invited to recognize more deeply that all is emptiness. All is void. Any content of experience happens within and as void.

Dr. Who. In the context of Dr. Who, and knowing that Steven Moffat is the current writer, I assume it means none of these things but something more surprising and appropriate to that universe.

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Cultivating the light vs meeting the dark

Some people talk about cultivating the light, or meeting the dark.

For me, the two go hand in hand. As so often, it depends on what we mean, and how we do it.

For me, cultivating the light means to cultivate what I wish more of. And meeting the dark means loving the unloved and examining the unexamined. It means healing the unhealed, and examining painful identifications and beliefs.

Already here, we see how they two go hand in hand. I wish to cultivate and become more familiar with loving what’s here, including what’s been previously unloved in me and my experience. I also wish to cultivate exploration of what’s here, and seeing more clearly what’s here, including how identifications and stressful beliefs are created.

This cultivation supports the meeting of the dark. And in meeting the dark, I am supported in continuing with the cultivation. (It inspires me to do so, I see it’s needed, and I get to test and fine tune my approach.)

How do I cultivate the light? Here are some practices I am familiar with:

Kindness practices, including loving kindness, ho’oponopono, tonglen, and also the Heart Prayer and the Christ meditation. Kindness towards me, parts of my experience, others, life.

Training a more stable attention also fits here, since it’s what I wish for and it supports any other activity and practice.

Natural rest. Noticing and allowing what’s here. Noticing it’s already allowed.

Prayer. Prayer for guidance. To be shown the way. For Your will be done.

Body centered practices, such as yoga, tai chi, chi gong, Breema.

Spending time in nature. Spending time in service to life.

Setting the intention to live from love, examine what’s here, rest with what’s here, live in service of life (including my life).

 And how do I meet the dark?

By finding love for the previously unloved. Finding kindness towards parts of me and my experience I have habitually ignored, rejected, or battled and seen as undesirable.

By notice and allow what’s here. Including the discomfort, anger, sadness, fear, grief, and whatever else is here in the moment.

By questioning the unquestioned. Examining beliefs and identifications. Finding what’s more true for me than the initial beliefs. Investigating how my most basic perceptions of deficient and inflated selves, threats, and compulsions are created.

By resting with what’s here. Notice. Allow. Rest with in kind presence.

It can be quite simple and straight forward.

When I use the words light and dark here, it’s mostly to connect with how some use these words. I usually don’t use the words light and dark since they are quite imprecise, there are assumptions about the world behind them that I don’t quite agree with, and I don’t even know how I would use the words so they make good sense. That’s why the use of them in this post feels a bit awkward to me.

Why is love, kindness, examination etc. light? I don’t really know, perhaps just because it’s what our personalities tends to like and prefer. We tend to like sunshine and daylight, and also certain qualities in ourselves and certain experiences, so we use the word light for both.

Why are identifications and beliefs dark? They are what creates what some see as darkness, including hate, fear, grief, compulsions, trauma, violence and more. I suppose some call them dark since they are often seen as undesirable, and they are often what we try to hide from ourselves and others, and keep “in the dark”.

Behind the surface expression of these “dark” qualities and experiences is a desire to protect the self, and deep caring and even love. A worried and confused love. That’s one reason I often avoid the word dark about these things. It only addresses and highlights one level of understanding. There is something different behind it.

These words and ideas themselves can be taken to inquiry. Any ideas of light or dark, or cultivation or meeting, or love or inquiry, or anything else that comes up, can be taken to inquiry.

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The word darkness can refer to a few different things.

(a) Something that’s hidden, unknown to us.

In a conventional sense, we know that we – as individuals and civilization – know only a small fraction of what there is to know, in any area of life. In a deeper sense, we cannot know anything for certain.

(b) Something that’s seen as undesirable, bad, or evil.

What I see out there is a reflection of what’s here. Any story I have about life, people or anything “out there” also applies to me, and I can find specific examples of how that’s true.

Also, any ideas of undesirable, bad, or evil are ideas. They can be taken as real and reflecting something inherent in reality or life, and this creates stress. They can also be recognized as ideas, as an overlay of words and images.

(c) Darkness as part of a dark-light polarity that’s seen as neutral, necessary, or enriching.

This is an extension of (b). Darkness refers to what some label undesirable, bad or evil, yet it’s seen as contributing to the richness of life. At an individual level, if embraced with some wisdom and love, it’s what makes life whole, full and rich. If it’s rejected, we are at odds with life and ourselves.

(d) Part of the divine play.

What appears as light or dark, through our overlay of ideas, is all the play of life and the divine.

I see all of these in my experience of the dark night of the soul. (a) It’s dark because there is a hidden or unknown process at work. Which there always is, it’s just life. (b) I sometimes see it as undesirable and bad. (Loss, health problems etc.). (c) I recognize these experiences as part of the universal human experiences. They are part of the richness of life. (d1) I see that my ideas about the dark night, and the label itself, are all an overlay of ideas. They are not inherent in reality or life itself. (d2) And it’s all the play of the divine.

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 Dark is defined as:

– with little or no light
– hidden from knowledge, mysterious
– ignorant, unenlightened
– of a period of time or situation characterized by tragedy, unhappiness, or unpleasantness

Also, a dark night of the soul may be called a dark night because:

– situations happen that goes against our shoulds, wished, identities and identifications
– wounds, trauma or other unpleasant experiences surface
– there is a darkening of our faculties – the will, intellect, morals etc.
– what’s really happening, what it does with us, is obscure and hidden

In darkness, and especially a dark night of the soul, there is an invitation to recognize the apparent darkness as also the divine.

Any content of consciousness is consciousness itself. It’s all awakeness. It’s all already Spirit, the divine. Any ideas of light or dark are words and images, a temporary overlay which may be held as real and true, or recognized as words and images.

Any reaction in us, including the apparently “dark” ones, is from love and is love. Fear, anger, sadness, grief, wounds, trauma is all from love and is love. It’s all confused love. (In recognizing this, there is a healing of our relationship with it, it’s allowed to be as it is, and – even if this is secondary – it may even heal in a conventional sense.)

Any situation that goes against our shoulds, hopes or identities brings us face-to-face with what’s left in us, our remaining identifications. It’s an invitation to examine these. To give it all over to the divine. To live from authenticity. To find love for what’s here. To recognize it as love, awakeness, and Spirit. There is also an invitation here to deepen as a human being, in humility, receptivity and gratitude. There is an invitation to see, love and feel the universality of this. And there is an invitation for each of the three centers to open and deepen further, seeing all as the divine (head), loving all as the divine and love (heart), feeling all as the divine (belly).

There is also an invitation here for rest, as in a physical night. To rest with and as what is. To find patience. To find a deeper trust in life and the divine.

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Forms of darkness

What do I associate with darkness?

When I look at what I have learned from culture, I find that darkness often means something difficult and undesirable. I can go through dark periods in life. There may be something dark in me and others. A person may be dark and gloomy, or even scary. World War II was a dark chapter in European history. Hitler was a dark figure. And so on.

Here are three ways to understand the metaphorical darkness, from a view of light and dark as opposites, to darkness as stepping stone to the light, to appreciation of light and dark as they are.

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Forms of darkness

How do I perceive darkness?

How do I experience literal darkness? Does fear come up? Do I welcome it? Does it feel safe and nurturing? Can I find more comfort with it?

How do I use darkness metaphorically?

Do I use it to describe something that is undesirable? A dark period in life I would rather have been without. The light good guys vs the bad dark guys. The whiteness of heaven and angels vs the blackness of hell and the devil?

Do I use it to describe something that appears undesirable but has something of value hidden within it? I may go through a difficult period and come out of it with more clarity, humility, strenght and compassion. I may own my shadow and find the gold within it. I may go through a dark night of the senses, soften identification as a me, and find all revealed as God. I may go through a dark night of the soul, stripping away the remaining identifications – and in particular the identification as an I.

Do I use it to describe something of great beauty and value in itself? I may get to a point where I recognize difficult situations in life, the shadow, and the dark nights as of immense beauty and value in themselves. I may recognize that dark and light – in any sense of those words – are equal expressions of life and the divine. I may recognize that the velvety luminous blackness (belly soul center) is as essential to life and the divine as the brilliant golden luminosity (head soul center).

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