Of Darkness and Light
I’m sitting in the kitchen on my day off, enjoying a cup of coffee at my own pace. I look out the four-paned window in the kitchen door that faces the neighbor’s house. I notice how the blue of the door frames the scene outside. A breeze blows the still-bare branches of a Rose of Sharon bush that will be flowering soon. The yellow siding on the house next door is illuminated by the sun; the sky over the roof is steel gray. The scene is made more beautiful by the contrast.
I’m very aware of the effect the weather has on my moods—the dark, heavy cloudiness of winters here in the Capital Region of New York make me sad and lethargic, even depressed. It’s called, appropriately, Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. It’s just that my body knows it should be hibernating but my mind has to force it to keep going.
The sunny days, as for most people I encounter, find me happier, more positive, more active. I have begun many new projects in the springtime, just like Mother Nature.
This year, since starting a website and blog, I've been taking pictures again. I’ve always loved taking photos. And I’ve had several incredible drives home from work recently. There are so many beautiful things just in those 30-minutes. It’s been more than 10 years and I notice something different every day.
It’s made me notice the sky again, has me being present as I “see” beautiful pictures everywhere. Most of them never get taken because the “photo” is on someone’s private property, or the scene or lighting changes and the opportunity, like the moment, is gone.
The other day the sun was brilliant. As it began its descent toward the horizon, all the newly green trees, and freshly bloomed flowers were backlit by this beautiful light—I was driving and walking through nature’s chapel. The stained glass I love so well is just an attempt to capture that magic.
There were translucent greens, the brilliant yellow of irises, daffodils and forsythias, and rich pinks and crisp whites of crocuses, tulips and magnolia bushes in bloom. It was breathtaking the way the tops of a stand of trees were made luminous by the sun’s golden kiss. Even the tall grass was vibrantly illuminated, gently waving and alive.
It’s got me thinking about contrast--light and dark, sound and silence, the balance of power and the power of balance between opposites.
I am better able to appreciate a day off, or a vacation, for the contrast with my working days. I cherish more my time with loved ones now that I’ve lost some who were so close to me.
I, being part of nature and so not different from it, need times in the light and times of darkness. And embody the qualities of both darkness and light.
As John O’Donohue says in Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom,
“The world rests in the night. Trees, mountains, fields, and faces are released from the prison of shape and the burden of exposure. Each thing creeps back into its own nature within the shelter of the dark. Darkness is the ancient womb. Nighttime is womb- time. Our souls come out to play. The darkness absolves everything; the struggle for identity and impression falls away. We rest in the night.”
If it is sunny all the time, I eventually need the refuge of shade. If it’s dark too long, I feel depressed and crave sunshine. But in those depressed times I try to remember--that’s when I’m processing impressions, information, emotions. I need that dormant time as much as Mother Nature needs it in the winter. And in that cold gray, I feel the desire to create warmth, color and beauty, whether through colorful winter clothes, decorations in my home, or holiday lights outside.
It is necessary to my soul, for my physical and emotional well-being, my mental health, for me not to be always watched or seen. I need privacy, time to be me unjudged, unplugged. I often spring to life after those depressed times, dark times, resting times with new ideas, stories, projects, with renewed energy and a different perspective.
Much as I need daytime to be active and nighttime to rest, I need balance; it’s not good if I get too much of one or the other. I try to remember it works that way for relationships, too. There is an emotional as well as physical swaying back and forth, closeness, intense connectedness, love and joy, then distance. We breathe in then out. The moon waxes and wanes, the day turns into night turns into day, living things are fertile and dormant, the whole world cycles. I wouldn’t know darkness without light, silence without sound. In Zen Buddhism, it is understood that one implies the other, the head of a coin implies a tail, they are inseparable.
There is always a balancing of power—pushing and pulling and trying to find equilibrium, and the energy that creates--like pistons in a car engine. I see it with labor and management, contrasting political parties or philosophies, light and dark, yin and yang, day and night, sunshine and shadow, destruction and creation—the two poles and everything in-between.
That includes the lighter and darker sides of my own personality. The "positive" quality of persistence has stubbornness on its flip side; kindness has pity; discipline has controlling; protectiveness out of balance can become possessiveness; healthy anger can become rage; life-preserving fear can become a life-diminishing phobia.
As I was washing dishes recently, I took a moment to water the poppy flower plants I’m growing, and that are resting on the kitchen windowsill. I thought about how they need not only the right balance of soil and water, but light and dark to grow. The process of photosynthesis doesn't happen all at once--some reactions take place in the light while others occur in the dark.
I also became very aware of how quiet it was. I’m the only one home, no electronics are on, there isn’t even music. I noticed the unintentional music of the beeping of a truck backing up, followed by the microwave beeping, the roaring of a plane in the distance, layered with the mournful sound of a train whistle, water sloshing as I grabbed a mug to wash, and the dripping of the leaky faucet.
Things and people need to leave room for each other. I don’t want darkness to obliterate light, sounds to drown out silence, other people to dominate me or vice-versa. The silence makes room for the sounds to come to be, life’s music is heard because there are notes and rests, life’s rhythm is created by activity and down-time. Human interactions are richer when there is room for everyone’s gifts to flourish.
The first time I really took this to heart was when I found the beautifully illustrated children’s book, “Good Morning, Good Night,” by Ivan Gantschev while working in the children’s department of a book store. In the story, the bright sun brags about its greatness and the quiet moon explains why the earth needs the break it provides from that sun. They eventually become friends and learn to respect their differences, and the importance of the balance each provides.
When I was a child, I was afraid of the dark. I said this one time when my uncle, Tio Tony was visiting. He had been a soldier in World War II, and said what helped him was understanding “If you can’t see your enemy in the dark, they can’t see you either.” It actually scared me at the time, “What enemies?” I thought. But I understood what he was saying, as in John O’Donohue’s quote; while the darkness can be frightening, it can also be a cloak, a cover, a nurturer and protector.
As I was driving the other day, I was struck by how magnificent the sky was—vast and imposing, beautiful with the sun barely visible, behind and peeking through billowing clouds. It created shadows, shapes, came through in tendrils reaching toward and caressing the earth below, creating a beautiful landscape--a heavenly and sacred atmosphere. It was a feast for my senses, filled me up, left me smiling, silent and awestruck, pulled me deeply into the moment, left me deeply content.
I’ll go out later for a walk and try to soak up some of this precious sun, enjoy the cool breeze. Since it’s sunny and cloudy out today, it creates a nice contrast, so I’m sure I’ll get some good photos. Things are more beautiful in the right light, and I thoroughly enjoy the increased daylight that springtime ushers in. I am learning to bring that light to every day and illuminate it, find the light within me and let it shine through. I will allow myself time to rest and nurture that light so it can continue to burn and sustain me, and I can share it with others.