Saying Yes to The Winter’s Darkness
To Those of Us Seeking Depth & Mystery, Wonder & Beauty:
We Must Say ‘Yes’ to the Inward Descent & Darkness of the Void
Soul Adventures & Ego Ordeals of the Inward Descent:
Cultivating the Feminine Receptive Principle Within
Opening to the pull of inwardness and downwardness, to the life-giving descendent principle of soul within us – this is what gives birth to one’s unique and individuated path. The pathway to the bliss that can only be ours requires yielding, softening and surrendering to what is – beyond our personal wishes, fears and hopes.
We must learn to soften our being, in order to tolerate the letting go into (and joining with) the sense of what is eternal and everlasting. We yield, we let go of a control, we surrender our personal will – and only then can we go beyond what we already know, or beyond any knowing for that matter – or of even knowing how.
We soften to accept our limits and experience our binds, revisit our old stories. We yield over and over into the peace to be found within the dark “no-thing-yet-ness” of a current obstacle or ordeal, which is beyond all human understanding.
Paradoxically, only out of this depth of spaciousness, surrender and dark unknowing can we eventually come to know a renewed sense of vitality, purpose and meaning. Something always inevitably becomes born anew out of the void of the unknown, if we can only bear the uncertainty and vulnerability of opening to it.
We all, sooner or later, seem to understand that we need to grow up, even if we don’t really want to. We come to accept and comprehend that there is something to be obtained from this developmental process of becoming adults, if we can endure the letting go of our child-like ways.
Knowing that we need to grow up is one thing. Understanding that we also need to grow down is another.
Accepting that we need to be taken down and taken in, in order to give birth to new life, is a different kind of worthwhile challenge. To transform our being, we must learn how to go deeper inside, to go into the darkness and depths of unknowing, and stay there until we can gradually recognize, value and find meaning within the spaciousness of an authentic inner life.
During our Hero’s Journey ® Wilderness Intensives, we use both the metaphor and the lived experience of the underground cave to embrace this deeply feminine principle. If you have never been under the earth in any natural and sustained way, the shift from one reality to another is immediate, stark, mysterious and potent.
Going down and under the earth, you at once leave the world of light and color, where everything is in fluctuation and has contrast. As you go down, transitioning from light to darkness, the sensate shift is immediate. The year-round temperature is in the mid-50 degrees Farenheit, and it is always damp under the ground. Color takes on shades of grey. The only sounds to be heard, if there are any sounds at all, are the hollow echoes from dripping or trickling water.
Mostly, what one encounters in a natural, underground cave – when not moving about and navigating with a flashlight – is a disorienting and liberating darkness. This is accompanied by a pervasive coolness, spaciousness and silence. One feels enveloped by a hollow, captivating sense of timelessness. It can be sublime to experience the environment all around you in such a stark and unavoidable way. When underground, one is thrust inward.
The experience of emptiness and darkness vascillates between tomblike and womblike. It takes a little while to acclimate not only to the conditions of the cave, but also to the conditions of paying attention to the immediacy of one’s interior in such a direct and undistracted way.
You can easily feel swallowed by the emptiness and darkness, even haunted by it, especially if you are by yourself with it. It feels a lot like swimming out into the depths of the ocean for the first time. Yet you can also feel enchanted by such an encounter as well, even enthralled by an ever-present sense of mystery and vastness, an experience which is deeply internal in a way that feels both very impersonal and very intimate at the same time.
What we have to practice, from the perspective of the everlasting soul’s journey, is adapting to the experience of stillness as one descends inward – as opposed to the sense of movement upward, such as is encountered upon a climb. T.S. Eliot understood the value and purpose of darkness, and the soul’s need to descend into the womb-like abyss of the dark void which gives birth to all new life. But first, we need to work through the tomb-like nature of this element, which detaches us from the world of light.
I said to my soul be still
And let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God.
Wait without hope,
For hope would be hope
For the wrong thing.
Wait without love,
For love would be love
for the wrong thing.
There is yet faith,
But the faith and the love and the hope
Are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought,
For you are not ready for thought.
And so the darkness shall become the light,
And the stillness, the dancing.
– T.S. Eliot
Here we make a transition from any defensive form of movment and activity which takes us away from going and growing down. The heroic act of awakening requires us to develop our capacity to yield into silence and stillness, in order to join with something larger and deeper than the ego self.
This kind of surrender is very different from (and often confused with) submission. Type of yielding is a deep giving over, not only to something larger than one’s self, but ultimately to something larger within one’s self.
This wayof letting go is like the giving over of a water drop to the larger pool. As the water drop enters and dissolves into the pool, it joins with the pool and appears to have disappeared from existence, at least from a tangible, material perspective.
However, from the mystical point of view, the water drop is now identified with the pool. The water drop is now the pool. Rumi says that not only is the water drop now within the ocean, but the entire ocean can be found within the water drop as well.
I remember how deeply altered my state of awareness becomes when I am inside a cave. I used to visit the unexplored parts of a public cave as an adolscent, and returned there repeatedly in my college years. I was fascinated by what happened when I was outside the boundaries of the natural light of day, and could be swallowed by the dark, like Jonah into the belly of the whale.
Crawling, being on all fours, using arms and legs to traverse – this alters something in our brain chemistry, activating the reptilian brain from which we have evolved.
After being active in this four-legged way, I would rest in the stillness of the dark.
Being silent and still, I would begin to dissolve like a water drop entering a vast dark pool. No thoughts would come – none at all. Only my senses were active. Sight, smell, taste, touch and sound engaged in the midst and mystery of a dark and silent void. Eternity was right there, alive and outside of time, in a mind-expanding kind of ‘no-thing’ way.
Enveloped by the cave, I would begin having vivid memories of early childhood life. Feelings of grief and awe would spontaneously surface, taking me back and forth between them as I slowly opened up inside. I would feel on the edge of my seat, wondering what would well up next into awareness from the dark well of my unconscious. At times, the sense of the deep, dark, eternal would become almost unbearable. I still can’t say for certain what was truly more unbearable – whether it was the rapture of such vast mystery, or if it was the fear of such a dark void.
Years later, while sitting alone in a dark cave, I remember the first time I understood the last lines of Eliot’s poem. And so the darkness shall become the light. And the stillness, the dancing. I remember putting my hands directly in front of my face, feeling exquisitely the feeling of motion through my limbs while rooted on a sitting pad. Then I realized that I was also seeing as well as feeling my hands, in complete and total darkness!
They were darker in appearance than the total darkness of empty space. It seemed that matter, being more dense, was darker than empty space. I couldn’t believe my eyes, or comprehend that I was seeing. I would move my arms around, watching them move at the same time I could feel them move. It was strange and exhilarating to experience.
Then I gradually realized I could begin sensing open space in the cave, as opposed to the solidness of the ceiling, walls and floor. I was not as blind in the dark as I thought. A new sensing awareness was taking place. To this day, I marvel at this awareness of light and movement taking place in the darkness and silence of underground cave spaces.
What I have come to appreciate far more than the literal experience of seeing in total darkness is its metaphorical signficance. As I continue to practice letting go into the unknown void of unconscious internal space, I am endlessly surprised by my recollections of dream states, spontaneous insights or memories of significance. I have grown ever-increasingly fascinated by the mysterious power of mythic imagining, and how it is born anew, again and again, out of the darkness and silence of the void.
Eternity – All We Need is in the Here and Now
Ultimately, when we embrace the soul’s adventure and the ego’s ordeal as being one and the same, we enter the state of being present in the Eternal Now point. The everlastingness of the Divine world is born anew in each moment that consciousness can be fully present and engaged with what is.
By accepting the knowledge that the universe has the potential to re-create itself in any given moment or conscious encounter, we are given more motivation and incentive to stay present to the here and now, and bear witness to its unfolding – regardless of how painful or pleasurable it may be for us. Gradually, we come to see for ourselves that all we need can be found again and again in the here and now – and in fact, it will be found in no other place.
The striking recognition that our own capacity for being aware shapes the unfolding of reality around us is indeed a profound awakening to the light. It is the beginning of awakening to true ‘hero’ potency and potentiality – to the realization that the ocean of Divinity is indeed active and present within the little water drop of humanity that we each embody.
Wendell Berry, the clear-eyed, plain-speaking Kentucky tobacco farmer, thinker, essayist and poet, conveys this recognition. As always, he gives us the experience of nature as a simple and deep reflecting mirror into our truest self:
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.
When we awaken to the realization that we don’t need the world to change, but instead, we can ever change within ourselves, we have entered the heroic realm of today’s soul adventurer.
What we need is already within us, waiting to be birthed from us. The universe itself, Campbell said, is conspiring towards this very aim. It needs and wants more soul to come forth on this planet, as it wants to know itself, here and now, where the gladness of eternity can meet the needs of the world.
This is the evolutionary call to adventure that we must come to understand, learn to appreciate, and become actively engaged with: living fully into our earthly experiences now, as best we can.
So once again, the adventure is found within the ordeals of living, and the ordeals of living can awaken within us a dynamic aliveness of the adventure.
That’s the deal.
There is eternity ever waiting to be discovered within our own depths, while we are here now, living more fully into our timely, uniquely specific incarnation on this earthly body. What we need to step into is the track that is here waiting for us – the journey of awakening to the heroic, godlike presence that will take us to eternity within. It can be source from which we are of service to the needs of this world.
We are the ones who can bring this aliveness on the earth. Let’s not wait for the end of our lives to do this, and have regrets on our deathbeds. What we need is here, now, in this world. Let’s all keep awakening to this reality.
– Michael Mervosh