“Learning to Walk in the Dark” –book excerpt by Barbara Brown Taylor
Time Magazine’s article on Barbara Brown Taylor by Elizabeth Diaz was subtitled “Finding God in the Dark” on the cover; the index title was “Let There Be Night”. Unfortunately, good reader, you would have to obtain the text yourself to read it. I absconded with the article from my workplace when we got rid of time dated magazines in the waiting room. In a nutshell, this is what we've already lost to light pollution:
"Milky Way no longer visible to one third of humanity".
To give you an idea on Barbara Brown, let’s quote some of her helpful (concrete) living tips:
FOLLOWING THE DARKNESS WHERE SHE LEADS
Everyone will seek the dark differently, but here are some ways to begin.
Walk Slowly at Night: Tread carefully, and do not be over confident. It is about the journey, not the finish. Pause: What do you smell? Hear? Taste?
“How do we develop the courage to walk in the dark if we are never asked to practice?”
Watch the Moonrise: It takes some planning. The moon appears on its own schedule.
“Nothing reminds me I am an earthling like seeing the full moon. Years of Christian training fall at my feet like paper clothes set on fire by sight. I want to dance and shake a rattle.”
Unplug all your devices at night: Phone chargers, printers, digital clocks tablets, laptops, coffeepots, everything in our home glows, flashes or shines.
“How did I ever mistake them for dark? One by one I unplug them all…When all the lights are off, there is still plenty of light left, both inside and outside of me.”
Sit in a Closet: It is often as close to a cave as city dwellers can get.
“Sitting deep in the heart of Organ Cave, I let this sink in: new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”
This is physical practice pointed to, in order to lead into an analogous foray in spiritual terms. Barbara tells the interviewer “we pay a high price when we shut out the darkness”. The author of the interview goes onto state, “Our spiritual avoidance of the dark may be even more dangerous. Our culture’s ability to tolerate sadness is weak. ‘We are supposed to get over it, fix it, purchase something, exercise, do whatever it takes to become less sad,’ [Barbara] says.”
I don’t believe the ever existing state of sadness is fixable anymore. We exist in the Sixth Extinction. I honestly believe, in that sense, as witness to the (it’s only the sixth) –this unprecedented extinction of the diversity and utter beauty of life on earth, -to not exist in an underlying, overwhelming state of sadness is equivalent to denial of reality. To exist in a state of utter, irretrievable loss is to be conscious, -life-conscious.
To me, emergence as an adult was and is emergence into a sense of irretrievable and perpetual loss that has never once abated. The only sense of comfort that emerges for me is the sense of solace I’ve obtained in the darkness, of unknown, of unknown becoming.
The un-remitting ‘sun’ culture consumes all (life) energy in maintaining their artificial light, a culture too frenzied and too desperate to even turn off the lights.
Finding this article was like discovering other spiritual forays deeply akin my own, which was, until this venture, a purely solitary one, solitarily discovered. (So I’m going to have to read the book.)
My hopeful vision of what success would actually mean is to have made that foray an experiential exhibit that is accessible.
Whereas this appears to be a theological integrational approach to the same foray, I’d hope to make that journey an individual one purely through life experience in one tome. With that in mind, I’m going to pull some book excerpts that lived and walked the talk purely on their own initiative, with narry a guide like this to outline the way.
Unplug all your devices at night: Quite recently I was so serious about conservation I turned off all ambient power at night, every night. This ended my ability to phone out at night. Which was OK, -until I experienced an unlawful entry. The trauma lapsed me. (Thank you, sexist-patriarchal culture participant that made me unsafe in my home.) Now it feels like too many devices that could suffer too many problems.
The light pollution is so great thanks to people’s fear of theft and home burglary; every neighbour has a yard light on, every night. I can hardly shut out the light, -let alone obtain a state of darkness/absence of it. If I ever obtain a home, I want it to be where there are no street lights. A culture so bereft it cannot even see the stars unless it drives out of town (-good luck) is normal. The overwhelming light pollution is an integer of fear: fear of not seeing, fear of stumbling, fear of accidents at high speed, fear of home invasion. (A broad danger or rational fear of home invasion is only a prospective problem when extreme social inequity/poverty are acceptable and pervasive to a culture, and an affliction of a high majority.)
The light pollution is in inverse relation to the pervasion of social evil in our world, or our psycho-social overcompensation for it in terms of what we consider adequate safety measures. But safety in the sense of driving is actually just to insure everyone has the convenience of driving fully lit streets 24/7 for the sake of the minority that do, -in excess of headlights every car already possesses. It is a corollary of convenience; -and the desire for freeway speeds. It lost us the starlight and the stars.
We already know this state of unremitting 24/7 light is completely untenable in terms of global energy consumption, yet we cling to our assumptions that it is not a delusive state of unmitigated excess. Shutting things down for an hour tonight is symbolic at best. Our landmarks can be lit in celebration, then it would mean more. It is the casualization of power and excess, doing so on just the sheer ability that we have made seem somehow mandatory.
In the book my solitary trip moment that was my discovery of ‘dark’/peace has been edited out for breadth’s sake. That was my first try of psilocybin, and a product of the demure sleepy urban environment I lived in, -a place where the doors were never locked for over twenty years. –Quite an impossibility in the here, now, where the hum never stops and the light never subsides. It was in my hometown I experienced the pre-dawn light from its barest trace as an incipient green glow that crept to light ever so slowly, (the green glow that seems the very light of life), experienced light in the dark, and knew there was hardly such a thing as pure dark.
Having now experienced the dawn in Vancouver, the pre-dawn launch of that city awakening is awe inspiring in its intimidation, the behemoth energy hum that is merely the launch of its daily grind.
Having lived in the wilderness proper for a sufficient period, you glean the insight it is possible to adjust to the dark, though perhaps more than foolhardy to assume you could adapt, as falling down unseen crevices was a danger in broad daylight. Nonetheless there were nighttime forays in grades around 60% or more performed in the full forested dark without a trail. That night at least it was adaptable, and the forest was such that a sense of pure dark was attainable.
The ability to lose the fear of solitude and darkness is in engaging it. There the fear of the forested dark and what might happen is genuine, as the genuine sense of peace, trust, self-assurance, faith, -the integrated sense of all around you that one must exist in to walk out of the ancient forest in the pure dark without the use of the flashlight you carry, and make the drive home in full confidence you need no headlight.
Walk slowly at night: -there, it’s been covered. But living in the wilderness provided moments where this was not only ‘achieved’ accidentally as a group, where hike journeys had to be finished in the dark, but deliberate. One memory of doing so as our little pack of children/young adults, -we purposefully walked to the waterfall on moonlight only. The use of no light sources was deliberate; we weren’t the only ones.
Watch the Moonrise: We did this as a group beyond count over twenty years ago. The natural forays in city as opposed to wilderness were night forays as opposed to day, and surprisingly constricted socially as time went on. (The police began monitoring public places on the express intention of there being no existence in them at night.)
The book confines itself to one moonrise wait done in solitary in November in the Walbran wilderness, an epiphany of divergence and reconciliation and sheer unbounded wonder that stood in its own right, dancing barefoot on the rock, a sojourn from rise to set.
Do I do it now? The environment makes it seem less worth it. I love it when I happen to see it. I don’t get out much, writing, etc. I can count the times since coming here I’ve done so deliberately on one hand, sad to say, -and I’ve lived here the second longest of anywhere I’ve lived on this earth.
There’s no doubt, then, that it’s meandered many directions off the track (why I need an editor). It is bitter, battered by the world. Its existential throes are almost impossible to convey, the infliction of solitude, the infliction of guilt for ever foraying into or identifying in the dark. It was not engaged with gratitude often.
The cave foray I’ve never done, nor have I meditated in a closet. Did I ever just sit in the forest in the full dark? Oh probably, -rarely. In our little domicile where generators and solar were the only minuscule power sources, I surely did. But not with ‘moment’ deliberateness or I’d remember.
Does this convey the existential foray into darkness? Oh hardly. It is my hope that in combination with the interior forays, it might accomplish this. -These were initial moments. –How ‘bout attending a rave and managing, after being the only one there in all black, to dance in solitude in the narrow darkness imparted behind black curtains, and the sense of satisfaction of being the existential darkness in solitude? –Perhaps. The point is by this time that sense of satisfaction was emanating from the spiritual growth of the interior foray into darkness and manifesting outwards as the point in a room that felt most natural to exist as a participant.
The harder part of me molded by the ‘sun’ world as it imparts its vast isolation (a refinement of mettle harder than you will ever know) wants a good deal more for the book than this just convey this experiential foray into darkness in a world so permeated we can barely see the light though we’re lit 24/7. By being an ‘is’, existential rather than theoretical, it is seeking to establish through transcendental existence what would otherwise be the purely subjective interior foray into darkness; the book wants to assert that these paths are viable ones, that they are vested and deserving of vestments, that most of what has passed is merely to see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12). It was through the darkness that love was seen and love was known, -that love appeared as Word.
The darkest foray in all of existence is the process of being reborn. You may arrive in the light eventually, but to be reborn is to accept at some stage in the process a walk through the valley of darkness, that you are not alive at all even if you may inhabit this body. It is that integral integer of darkness that throws into relief what it is to be ‘born again’. –But the process exists in the throes of the assumption of never entering the light evermore, if it’s in earnest. And if you cast all moorings and all reference, who or what is to say you may ever re-enter, or even be capable of identifying rebirth? What’s to say there will be light to appear in the tunnel, or what the light will be? It is only acceptance that allows any emergence to be thrown into relief; it is the embrace of the darkness that allows identity to even begin. Perhaps it is time to test the mettle of what this Mystery (being “born again”) means, or can; though it is the mind state claimed by every believer, it is only claimed in terms of light.
And with that, I’ll put my kiddies though ‘lights out’ this evening, and perhaps a little more than what the participation means, -experientially, anyway.
To create, to begin, is to exist in the unknown. Only beyond definition can you form what has not been thrown into relief already. When existent in relief (or light) -you are fulfilling the idioms of everything that was ever formed. They are your definition and their is no escaping their emulation.