“The great James Baldwin said ‘You will never fix what you don’t have the courage to face.’ Perhaps one of the best expressions of courage is to honestly face the ugliness of life.”
Kevin Cosby quoted in http://www.onbeing.org
Unexamined darkness can lead to all sorts of problems. We all want to block out pain which very much inhabits darkness; we all want to run and hide from things, which include coming to terms with ourselves and there is nothing comfortable about this. This is most certainly not about inflicting pain on ourselves but simply doing the face up and being curious.
Richard Rohr says that success teaches you nothing. You only feel good. I wish he was wrong but more often than not the obstacles, the tricky stuff are the greater teachers. Dark places, if you allow them, also teach something.
I know, I know. I also hate the dark places. They are not much fun and usually when I have been there I feel closed in with no horizons and outlook. It’s like a small, dark room where we are held prisoner. Just sheer terror.
What is your choice of terror that expresses itself physically? Palpitations? Sore stomach? Numbness? We all have one and we feel the unpleasantness.
How do we make these dark places wake us up to what is going on, instead of us wanting to shut down? How do we shake the darkness to allow a tiny bit of light in? How can we become curious instead of running a hundred miles? How do we stop and turn around and stay there just for a bit to allow the darkness to actually help us?
We don’t have to be completely certain as we take the opportunity to take the first step. We may stumble and even fall because we are groping in the dark – darn, it’s dark in here – to find the chink of light and part of this entire waking up bit is to become curious about what we are feeling rather than being terrified. Not easy at all – and I know that this is not a short, non-stop flight out of that place in first class seats on the fanciest airline to a tropical island. It’s more like a swamp and mud and smelly water and, just for good measure, throw in a couple of props like crocks and crawly things that bite.
The first thing we will look for are the duckboards so we don’t get into the swamp. You and me both. Why get our feet muddy and bitten, I ask you? The bad news is that we have to walk through it to get to the other side. Trying to use the duckboards on the edge will only get us back into that dark room again. No short cuts outta here. No little walk in the park. I think when we get this on our first step that’s when we start to wake up.
The swamp is the brave part, the facing up, the accepting bit and saying, actually ‘I am OK. I am all I’ve got. Everything is here.’
The swamp is the place that the bully in your head will tell you that you can’t do it. The swamp is the place that says you are not OK and you are nothing and you are not enough. The trick is to stay awake, stare the bully in the face. Grab her or him by the collar and say, ‘Look, buster. You are blocking the path and – sure you have had a lot to say for yourself. Just step out of the way. I’ve got a swamp to walk through.’
And one of those props – maybe an Egyptian swimming cobra – do they swim? Yeah, this one does – will scare the pants off you, but remember that they are only props to scare you and a little dash of bravery – you don’t have to be Spiderman all in one day – goes a hellava long way as you wade through the slush and muck of the swamp.
The bully will follow as sure as the sun rises in the morning. That’s the nature of the beast. Acknowledge their presence but don’t believe a word that they say because they are liars and cheats and thieves and not very nice people. (Funny how we give them entry into our head but we do do crazy things at times.)
Remember this swamp only gets the better of you if you listen to the bully saying you can’t do it. Sure, you will be terrified. I hate crocks too. But they are only crocks – cardboard cut outs – and the swamp is not a great place to be. It’s not a carnival I know but keep walking, stumbling and falling and keeping awake and saying ‘I am OK and I will find the shore and dry land. Gosh, it will be sweet. But first I’ve gotta swamp to walk through.’
Next time, on SchoolOfBlue: what happens when we emerge from the swamp. Hope is much about memory and so it is probably a good idea to remember and to get curious as to why we ended up in the dark place in the first instance – a way into helping us to keep awake, self-aware and open and receptive to our feelings as we make our way on dry land: we do this in the glare of the examined darkness. I suppose it’s part of the process of dealing with stuff that we now have the courage to face.