CONSCIOUS RELATIONSHIP WITH THE DARK, meditations by James Lawer
The Dark. Rich with subtle sounds: a shuffle of leaves; soft thrum of wings in the air; curvatures of tree nests that feel secure. A twig breaks and the forest is suddenly silent. The dark holds many secrets: delight and danger; the unseen and the unknown.
Knowledge of the dark is a meditation on the unknown, von what is close at hand but unseen, on what sharpens senses to razor’s edge, on our own silence at the edge of awareness, on facing the unsure and our apprehension, and on opening another set of eyes, and even on death….the spirit eyes by which we can see other worlds through which a lit path is laid and on which our other body walks….that body; this body: ours.
The dark is on the other side of the liminal twilight blue, the twilight between day and night. In that in-between space, the edges soften. Bats fly down into the desert, drinking of moon blossoms, just as the color shifts between blue and purple and from thence into the full dark: the sacred realm of Indigo. In the desert, this moment is the feeding of the night. The opening closes; edges become blurred; the dreamworld becomes accessible with all its curiosity as well as its terrors….the cave of the soul we each must enter.
The dark is implicit in nature and nature’s origins…place of dreams, potentials yet to bud, the undifferentiated soup from which all things are created, the next footfall…place of journey to find the medicines to serve the people. First, however, each of us must face the dark—the dark “out there” as well as the dark “within.” That journey has different names, such as “entering the Void.” “Void work” is a specialized form of counseling. And yet, I am inclined towards metaphors rooted in nature: We learn that stepping into the deep dark, far into caverns where black bears with fur on fire have hibernated and have left their sooty mold in the dirt, every step inward, into there, teaches us how to be a human being: we are shown what kind of human we are. The cave of revelations teaches us how to enter the next moment with awareness.
Following are some perambulating notes on what I do as a daily practice for meditating on the dark and implications for entering the next moment (the future), that future which has no past in it until we enter into it. When practiced in a forest at night, the next footfall is how the earth is created under us. When practiced in the city, the next glance past the sharp edges arrives to mind’s perception as if new.
Summary of my meditation on the dark:
- The next moment is dark.
- It is dark because the past is not in it.
- Meeting the dark can be fearful.
- The life force contains the Dark.
- “Deity” includes companionable powers to enter the next moment.
- The Dark is realm of potential, the realm of creativity, and the place of beginnings. It is the Constant Source of Love.
- I have responsibility to consider and then take with me into the Dark the lessons I have learned from my life narrative, my soul.
Perambulations on the seven meditation points:
My morning meditation begins like this: I look out a window to see the sky and movements in the city. Unlike rural areas where I had lived before, there are no birds for me to observe and thereby to know the weather. There are no ants crawling in to tell me that rain will fall in two days. Here in New York City, even the dark is often only a shadow of other realities.
I acknowledge that the next moment is dark, dark because it does not have the past in it. I acknowledge that the next moment is the future; therefore, the entire notion of the future begins with and is always included with “the next moment.” I say this with some caution: the concept of “future” is relatively impersonal and detached, unless our death is imminent, in which case Time itself has profound spiritual value. The next moment, for most of us, is sufficient to consider. Then, as my meditation becomes more generalized in awareness, the future does not lose its immediacy to the present moment.
I have just come out of sleep. Now things, the things of the world, but not the dreams I have come through, are fully becoming distinguishable, one from the other. The dreamtime easily slips away in the presence of the edges. Things have edges. I did not bid them to do that; I did not bid light to craft edges. In this way, as in so many other ways, Nature is not kind. It is merciless in its ability to show our edges, whether we like it or not. It does according to its own being, irrespective of human perspectives.
My own view of Nature’s merciless persistence in being what it is–my view is unimportant. Rather, human importance is a shadow from the dimming light of the past….a past that no longer exists when the next moment begins. But, in my experience of living from moment to moment, I ask, “Can that which is over, truly be ‘over’?” The past can have stubborn persistence. There is always the sense that who I am in this moment has been created by the sum total of my experiences. It is this sum total that I call “soul.” Unless I intervene and foster a new understanding, my soul leads me to expect edges, rather than to experience them, every morning, being crafted anew at the moment of dawn.
For example, when we say, “It dawned on me,” we mean that we suddenly woke up into a newly lit awareness.
When I stand in the dark before dawn, I know (inside the dark) that all edges are soft and blended. It is only because I am aware of other, imaginal forces, of powers of imagination, and of prior experiences that demand my senses have a feeling for completeness—because of those realms of thought, I may feel compelled to fill the dark with a kind of prior-understanding of what’s “there”. Holding in alliance the known with the unknown, to balance the darkness of night with the brightness of day, has this potency in our ordinary senses.
But filling the unknown with understanding is, nonetheless, a projection into the unseen. There is an urge to fill the unseen with meaning. The problem with that, for me, is that whatever meaning I project would have to come from the past, from beliefs formed from my experiences. But if I project meaning, then the next moment cannot be a new creation. And if I project my beliefs, then I walk only into my own beliefs. This is a fundamental problem of the soul.
So, siding singularly with the light without equally acknowledging the presence of darkness–shadows, shades, cloudiness, heavy mists, eclipses–creates a dualistic structure of life. This is a mistake with great consequences. It has lead, for example, to the crafting of certain sun/son, sky-based religions abundant in Western cultures.
Any form of binary thinking is an imbalance in awareness. I chuckle at how the seesaw on the playground teaches our children about binary structures. The problem with the seesaw is that it is a manifestation of either-or. I find it curious that children will play with finding the balance on the seesaw, neither up nor down, sitting still and holding the balance, thus ending the either-or dynamic built into the construction of the seesaw. When I watch children do this, I think that they are playing with the moment of balance. And I believe that this play is teaching awareness of balance in general, in life.
For me, when dealing with problems, either-or is not a choice. One must have at least three or more options to have genuine choice. Most people don’t grasp this at first. It takes a while to wrap one’s mind around its wisdom. This is akin to Druids saying there is no real center—therefore, we think of life as a spiral without a center.
Life comes around again and again on its cycles. Every time you come back again, you are different; the seasons are different in some way; the circumstances are different. This is the imperturbable law of change (imperturbable and change being a contradiction in terms). Perhaps continual return feels comforting, but it is merciless in resisting sameness. The law of change is a law of life. The laws designed to keep things the same are laws of necrophilia. You have to wrap your mind around it to understand the wisdom embedded. Included in this wisdom is an end to monotheism and to binary structures. As an animist Druid, I must hold the Dark and the Light in balance.
Continuing this thread: it is entirely possible to go wildly off balance by choosing sides in any set of opposites—bliss and terror; beauty and fear; dirty and clean; male and female; slave and free; life and death; death and rebirth. Siding exclusively with bliss is a form of denial; siding with terror as all to be said about life is a form of despair. In Christian terms, siding exclusively with bliss is a heresy called Doceticism; desires to avoid terror lead to Savior stratagems. Druids, however, must learn to hold things in balance and integrate both “sides.”
Certainly the dark has moments of light in it: stars, the reflecting moon in its varying wobble around the earth, a flashlight, the sudden sound of a heavy bird flying that pierces the silence of the night. And, as well, the day has moment of darkness in it. I look to see them. I have come to the conclusion that it’s a mistake to employ nature for the purposes of crafting duality, including moral dualities or human binary philosophies and structures, including sexual binary structures. Holding in balance the dark and the light is a foundation for understanding that nothing can be said to exist except that it is in relationship. For me, the correct term is “Relational Ontology.” That complex set of relationships in nature is a web connecting All That Is to What Moves Moves. The web thrums with vitality of relationship.
Second, I acknowledge that I myself am not in the next moment. Nothing from the past is in it. Neither my thoughts about the next moment, nor my hopes, nor my plans, nor my intentions, nor anything else personal to me is there. Actually, nothing is there…not anything. “Future” is an imaginal realm. (For mental play: “nothing” is an empty set. To say that “nothing” is there, is to place “something” where there is nothing.)
As far as the next moment is concerned (inventing paradoxically a consciousness I cannot know), I am the past. From the perspective of the next moment, I am already the past. Nothing that I am experiencing in this present moment is in the next moment. I am a person only because I am in a broad set of relationships, and excited to be so, and within this moment, this moment.
If I am dead to this moment, or dead to relationships, then I cannot be said to have existence. From the standpoint of the next moment, I do not exist. This is also true: as soon as the next moment is stepped into, the past is already being filtered. Whatever one might want to hold onto for a “complete” sense of the past, that desire is an illusion. The past qua past has ceased to exist when you enter the next moment. So, whatever may be said to be “me” or to have been “me” or might be “me” truly does not exist. As far as one can see into the future, that “me” is only within potential. I have no form there, not until I step into it and exist within the set of relationships that I create there.
This means, yes, this means that the calendar as a procession of orderliness; that cycles of life, as if there were a beginning; that a new year’s point in time each year…..none of these exist beyond this moment. We levy the past onto the unknown.
If I imagine that something from the past, including this singular moment or my calendar book, if any of that necessarily enters the next moment, I am already attempting to fill the future with something that is not there. Perhaps I want something to be waiting for me, some consistency or some lingering hope or some sense of continuity. Perhaps I have made commitments, and my ethics require me to fulfill them. In that way, I set up expectations, which may or may not be fulfilled. I can’t actually know. I might trust that some of what I want will be there, but there is no assurance. I may want others to accept me as a reliable person. I can do the best I can to craft continuity, but there are so many unknowns, sudden accidents, upswellings of mythic or archetypal forces, revelations and insights I don’t now know, forces at work that are hidden that will show up later (maybe, but I can’t be sure about that, either).
The only balance I know for myself regarding my own nonexistence is the value of trust. Not trust in anything, certainly no trust in any belief, but trust in the flow of the life force. (Yes, also love, but I’ll get to that later.) Curiously, everyone I have asked tells me that they do know where that place of trust is in their physical body. Finding that place inside themselves was one way I helped people on hospice, helping them practice how to die. And since that is not a physical property per se, we must turn to qualities for how we stand at the border of the next moment, including love.
Because the future is dark, I am inevitably poised to be able to make a different choice than I have made before. I can change my behavior; I can change the habitual route I take to work; I can change how I see circumstances, look at them differently; I can consider ways to become unattached to the present so as to meet the future without being dragged back by roots leathered to our past, remote or immediate. I can certainly change my personal narrative. I can even change my gods.
In general, the structural framework for making choices comes from the past, from my previous experiences in choosing, my mental structures because of neural patterns that have been created and are now embedded in those places I call my brain-body. But these are not necessarily predetermined. Choice is not predetermined, when we become conscious of our relationship to the dark.
And yet, in my experience, the only way I know how to hold this awareness is to achieve stillness, a quiet in my being, a simpleness of being hollow, holding onto nothing, letting everything be taken away, so that I am nothing. Only then does my emptiness meet the empty (non-infused-with-past) moment. The subsequent relationship of stillness and emptiness becomes the soil of inspiration. From this perspective, any creator would have to have achieved utter stillness to meet the (potential of the) dark, make relations with it and from that relationship let emerge the created orders as an expression of what happens when holy hollowness meets the dark of the next moment. Even our gods.
Marcus Aurelius in his “Meditations” said that the present is, so to speak, the seed of the next moment. Things in the present can take root and grow from moment to moment. However, even though that comment can be witnessed in nature as we watch over time, that is not a statement supporting predestination. Infestations infect forests; volcanoes suddenly rumble to life; earthquakes are only roughly estimated; an illness pops into our body. When there is choice, when other options may be just as likely, any belief in predestination is a trap.
Third, I also acknowledge that meeting the dark can be fearful and even an occasion to experience terror. If I don’t know what’s “there,” it’s entirely possible to be shaken by approaching the unknown, since I may not know or recognize its face. Because experiences of terror are in my own life experience, my daily meditation must include the possibility of terror. And so I stand at the window finding a way to balance terror with trust.
I am not always successful in this balance. Terror can overcome even my firmest resolve. Trust can be a fragile companion. Terror can, however, dissipate with the softening of my gut and the relaxing of my shoulder. And no matter what anyone says about love being the structure of the universe, it has its dark side, too. Love does not belong only to the light and what we see: it belongs equally to, equally within, the dark.
Fourth, when I call up the Awen (aka chi, “the force that through the green stem drives the flower” and many other names), I acknowledge that the Life Force itself contains the dark. It doesn’t bring up unchangeable stability, thus perpetuating the known past into the next moment. Awen lives from moment to moment. It’s not a doctrine, or a belief, or a mandate stipulating what “must” be. From moment to moment every tree, river, blade of grass, feather on spring migrations of birds, and so on, enters the dark and has to deal with its ongoing interactions with everything else in nature.
Fifth, when, in my ongoing awareness, I pray to my “gods”, I acknowledge that the deities with whom I have chosen to be aligned are those who seem to have more experience in entering the dark of the next moment, because they have been around so much longer. In seeking them, I acknowledge that I am asking for their enduring companionship as we both live at the edge of the dark.
Therefore, I seek to live with honor and its constituent parts of compassion, generosity, and loyalty. Devotion to my gods necessarily holds me to a life of honor as I look out my window or any other moment of every day.
My memory contains experiences that have led me to understand that consciousness is an ever changing, enfolding process. Consciousness is not linear; it is not bound by our current thoughts about physics or even our current knowledge about the forces of nature. In my own lifetime I have seen how our comprehension of the workings of nature have altered radically. Now we understand how plants hear, see, feel, taste, touch, move, explore, react, and learn. We are hearing other natural explorers saying the same about water, though (as with all things) persistent investigation may or may not ultimately support that. On the other hand, water being a core feature of nature, then why not? But when I was a child, this was nowhere in any human’s perception—at least in the Western culture into which I was born. And now mushrooms have been moved from the plant to the animal kingdom.
I acknowledge that the Dark is an undifferentiated “soup” from which all things are created. It is, the next moment is, realm of creativity, of everything always being born anew. Because I am always at edge of new birth, the Dark is a rich potential for what may yet come into existence. All to say, the next moment is, or can be, the place of beginnings.
Looking into the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, I recall that at the beginning of Genesis the words used in the first verse suggest that creation was not made ex nihilo (out of nothing), but that there was undifferentiated “soup,” and that spirit moved over the “waters” and from that inspiration came all of what we now see. Likewise, in the letters of Paul in the Christian scriptures, he speaks of how “in Christ” all is made new, that each morning is a new creation, and that in Christ the binary structures of society collapse. In Christ there is neither male nor female, neither slave nor free, and so on. Each new dawn, therefore, is the moment of new creation. The undifferentiated soup that characterized the beginning of all things (in Genesis and in St. Paul) characterizes how at each dawn of every day the light creates edges out of the blurred edges of night.
In those scriptures there is a larger force or power at work. One of the questions each of my apprentices must answer is, “What/Who is larger than you?” That question is answered in scriptures by talking about deity. Having said that, I would go on to add that however we might define “deity,” our understanding ought to include the chaos of undifferentiation. Therefore, I would say that the Christ of Dark is balanced with the Christ of Light, or The Light of Christ implies The Dark of Christ. In Druidry, this anthropomorphized deity can also be the Dark Lady. And in my experience, to make a devotion to the Dark Lady means that she will take everything from me (and has), and her taking everything is necessary before new life can emerge (from her all destroying/all creating womb). Once everything is stripped away, the balance of powers can emerge. Being neither one nor the other, the whole is subtly influenced by even the slightest pressure anywhere. In other religions, the various forces are ascribed to different deities who interact via their ongoing relationships, the Hindu religion being one of the more complex investigations into natural forces then denoted as individual deities. In these many ways, there seems to be a search for the balance of elastic aspects (associated with the fluidity of the Dark) and rigid aspects (associated with the defined edges of the Light). The architect Buckminster Fuller called this relationship “tensegrity.”
I hold the view that the beginning is not in the past, completed, done or finished in any way. Things are always changing, so it makes sense to me that change implies continual creating. Any notion of continuity cannot include believing that the past is forever cast in concrete. There is no security in the past. Our memories filter and retain only what serves our personal narrative. The Dark erases many, many details. The edges blur; the undifferentiated soup of potential absorbs the past, puts it all into the swirling pot of potential and makes it available for inspiration.
Creation stories provide a feeling of belonging to the earth. Whether humans were made from corn, or made from mud, or emerged out of a navel from another realm onto this earth, or stepped out of dream time: those stories craft our relationships to laws of nature and the cosmos, telling us we come from “somewhere.” They imply that by becoming aware of the larger powers at work, we can align with them through various techniques, such as breath work, prayer, dancing, singing, and so on. And yet, as I work with people, I am mostly aware of how true it is that many of us are still eager for what may yet be. I mean that the place of beginnings is not in the past, but is waiting for us. The place of beginnings is in the future. The place of beginnings is in the next moment into which we are yet arriving. Aligning to that which is greater than us shapes how we enter the next moment.
Seventh, I acknowledge that I have a responsibility to know what lessons I have gleaned from the past so as to enter the dark with possibly-enduring values (such as honor, trust and love), all the while knowing that even those values may be shaken. The concept “endurance” is confronted and limited by the unknown of the next moment.
The most frequent statement in my mind is “I don’t know.” Also, “I don’t know yet.”
My most frequent quality in facing the dark is curiosity. “I don’t know what’s there, but I am willing to find out.” I am sometimes reluctant, to be honest. Sometimes I just want to be right. On the other hand, I do try to remember that curiosity has component parts of play and laughter. Curiosity is in the moment.
Shall I not let my curious six-year-old self out to play with the other boys, face the next moment with glee?
Shall I not let my connectivity weave threads with other men and women?
Reluctance is the shadow of the past. Facing off curiosity against the presence of reluctance can be an unrelentingly fierce and ethical engagement, pitting commitments against free-form desires. Nevertheless, one must still choose how to enter the next moment. There is no escape from this existential necessity. The next-moment-is-dark can be a great clarifier.
“What Moves Moves” is a pretty good definition of deity.
“Sitting down into the mud of life” is a pretty good description of spirituality.
“Honor” is one of the qualities that helps face the dark future.
Impeccable choices neither eliminate nor decimate other options.
The Dark is not evil. Neither is it morally good. It simply is.
The Light is not morally good. Neither is it evil. It simply is.
Any anthropomorphic figure associated with the dark (such as the devil or the Prince of Darkness) is an idolatrous* projection not found within the dark itself.
Any anthropomorphic figure associated with the light (such as any son of god) is an idolatrous* projection not found within the light itself.
* (NB: “idolatry” in Druidry means to live off balance, and is not an imputation of immorality to anyone’s devotion to their various gods.)
Those are some thoughts about how I live consciously with the dark. This is life at the edge. Or, as I once had printed on T-shirts and gave to friends, we are “Edgewalkers.”
I have primarily described my morning meditation. I look out the window when I do this. I may see the clouds moving. I see shadows creeping, shifting in response to the rising sun. I am aware that everything is in motion, changing, altering its appearance in relationship to everything else. Even people are constantly changing, walking, looking somewhat different.
How shall we live with constant change? How shall we get used to the lack of our presumption to permanence? How shall I, from day to day, not make an assumption that this moment is necessarily the same and neither a continuation of the last one? And how can an awakened mind, awakened to the cycles of nature, help?
Thus I awake attentive and alert to what is moving now. If I happen to compare to similar movements in the past, I can learn lessons–not just apparent consistencies and erratic surprises–, but also notice even fairly regular behaviors among animals, since they are reacting to their own perceptions of what is moving. Hence, watching the flight of birds for weather and climate changes; or knowing when the ants start moving into higher ground because rain is coming in two days….and so on.
I don’t go through all these seven acknowledgements either in that order or necessarily with all those words I just wrote. But I am aware of those acknowledgements, some feeling of each rises to craft something like a complete sensation….though there may be more. Entering the dark is as much about listening as it is about curiosity. Rather like identical twins–curiosity::listening.
That’s a start.
I haven’t talked about how I use this when dealing with problems. And I haven’t dealt with how my own view does not include either passivity or quietism. Certainly, this awareness is not a capitulation either to despair, to depression or to denial. Nor have I talked at all about my devotion to the Dark Lady and how that has altered my awareness, or how my devotion to Her has altered over the years. I have not touched much on the link between spirituality and behavior. There are many ramifications that have been left unexplored here.
And I left the question of love, in facing the next moment, to another essay.
But, perhaps this serves to answer, in the immediate, your question about how I work consciously with the dark.