into the darkness

My body has started to remind me how old I am. My knees pop when I get out of bed. I can pull a neck muscle sneezing. And the thing that frustrates me the most is that my eyes are not what they used to be. I need reading glasses to read anything: my phone, books, and instructions on prescription bottles. But the thing that is the most cumbersome is that I can’t see in the dark. When I was younger, my eyes would adjust in the dark, and I could walk around my home comfortably in the middle of the night. But now, even in my own home, I stumble and must walk slowly from room to room at night. If there is a chair pulled out slightly or a lone shoe on the ground, I trip and stumble.

These lessons my body are teaching me in the dark are lessons that I have also learned in moments of spiritual darkness. When darkness comes in life, and it will come, we must be able to adjust, move slowly, and be ready for its surprise.

“The human ego prefers anything, just about anything, to falling, or changing, or dying. The ego is that part of you that loves the status quo – even when it’s not working. It attaches to past and present and fears the future.” ~Richard Rohr

We love familiarity. It feels safe to practice the same practices and read from the same teachers. I do believe having a practice is vital to one’s spiritual life and sticking with that practice even when it is difficult, but we must also learn when it is time to adjust or change our practice. Is this practice still producing fruit? Do I see my soul being comforted or moved toward growth? Is my practice shining light into my darkness? If I answer no to some of these questions, I know it is time to adjust and find a new practice.

“Sometimes, I think there are only two instructions we need to follow to develop and deepen our spiritual life: slow down and let go.” ~Oriah Mountain Dreamer

The reminder of slowing down is one I need again and again. When life becomes difficult and the soul feels dark, it is especially hard to remember the importance of slowing down. I want to move from the discomfort quickly and fix what is causing me pain. I have learned so much from the dark times in my life. I see now that slowing down and letting the hurt, fear, and pain guide me is the first step in finding healing.

Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity. ~Henri Nouwen

Kicking a chair leg in the dark, half-asleep is not a fun surprise, but neither is finding yourself amid a dark season. They don’t usually come with a warning; the death of a loved one, a broken heart, or even the usual and small disappointing surprises in life. But if we receive the surprise with curiosity and compassion, we can usually help ward off self-loathing and despair. When darkness surprises us, if we welcome it and ask what it has to teach us, we can navigate through instead of wallowing in despair.

I love the gentleness and kindness John O’Donohue gives darkness in this quote from his book, Anam Cara

“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 impressions falls away. We rest in the night.”

~John O’Donohue

Dark times come for each of us. How do you cope with the dark seasons? What are some of the lessons they have taught you?

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