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A Light in the Darkness

These are dark times. It's kind of an inescapable truth.

They are of course quite literally dark if you're on the northern half of this ball of water and dirt we call home. We're only a few days out from Winter Solstice after all. The days are short, and the nights are long.

If you're north of the tropics, it's probably cold too. It certainly is here in Wisconsin, although since it's above freezing here in Madison it seems relatively warm.

That's the part where it's a matter of perspective of course. Where you're standing, how you're facing, and what you've been through to get here...all of these factors and others invariably inform your perspective on where you are now.

And yet, for most of us, it's simply hard to deny that these are dark times no matter how you got here. From where I stand, globally, nationally, locally, and personally, these are some of the darkest days I've ever seen.

Leonard Cohen asked us if we wanted it darker before he stepped out of the game, and it seems like the answer was yes, at least here in America.

While, the darkness is no stranger to me. I've come to know it intimately this year. It has grown around my life in deep dark swirls, assaulting my mentality, my spirit, and my being. Of course that isn't the whole story. To know a darkness such as this, while, you have to come from somewhere less dark, and it is a long process to get there. I won't tell you the whole story here. After all, if you know me, you know that I've always kept a line between my private life, my personal experiences, and what I share on the internet. So yes, I will tell you that I've been deep in the darkness, but you can only know the details of that story if you've heard it from my lips.

For those of you who don't know me personally or who I simply haven't shared my story with yet, let it be enough to know that I can tell you what it feels like there in the deepest darks, down there in the pit. I have stared into the abyss, and it truly does stare back, and I have come to understand why those without the fortitude, those who do not know their own light, might choose suicide when faced with that darkness.

And yet, I didn't come here to write this to provide excuses for those who have opted out. It is after all the ultimate act of cowardice and anger to succumb to the darkness in that way. I know that depression can be a disease, and I recognize that suicide is the terminal version of it, but I also know that suicide is an impossibly hateful thing to do to those you love. It is both middle fingers up to the entire world, and for those who loved you, it is the ultimate betrayal. Having taken my own trip to the pit, having seen the bottom, I nonetheless believe there is no excuse for suicide. Even as we can have compassion for those who ultimately could not find a better path forward than to exit, we should also recognize it for being a selfish and hateful act. There is no emotional hurt, no betrayal, no damage of heart or soul in short we can suffer that can ever justify taking our own lives.

You might find it odd to be reading these thoughts here, and I suppose you might find it worrisome that I'm writing about them in a public way. Let me reassure you. You have no reason to worry. I am surfacing some of the darkness here, surfacing dark themes that have touched my life and the lives of those who I love, and I am doing it in the vaguest terms because I do keep a firewall between the actual events of my life and the public eye. Still, I am surfacing them in part precisely because there is no reason to worry, about me at least. In the immortal words of Douglas Adams, don't panic.

Still, I am surfacing these thoughts, these very personal angles on the depths of the darkness because I needed to make this personal. While I will not share my personal details here, I need you (my reader) to understand that the darkness I'm talking about here is not simply a matter of politics, or the the environment, or war, or hate, but rather that it is the intensely personal darkess which is in fact ultimately the fuel that all those bigger darker engines of this world run on.

I need you to understand this, that the darkness is always personal, that the fear and anger, the insecurity and dishonesty which we see writ so large across the world doesn't come out of masses of people, but it comes from inside each individual. Only by recognizing this, staring it in the face, and knowing it truly and personally, can we hope to change anything at all. Only by understanding that these dark days come from the inner demons of masses of individuals, but that they are ultimately summoned forth by them through each person's own particular ritual, can we hope to find a path forward to banish them.

So, "we" wanted it darker. We got it, and unfortunately that goes for all of us. With enough darkness pouring forth from so many, it inevitably surrounds us all whether we called it forth ourselves or not. I have certainly been caught up in it despite my best efforts to ward it off, and I know all too many others who have been forced to endure similar dark times through no actions of their own.

Here is the thing. Here is the heart of the matter. Here is the enduring truth that at least I have found with so much darkness surrounding us. It is a peculiar truth, but it will be a familiar one to those who had looked to the tao at some point in their lives. There in the deepest depths of the darkness, there at the bottom of the pit, there in that place where we are so sorely tested, there is a choice. In the deepest darkest corners of the human spirit, there is also light. It is not always easy to find, and it is not easy to hold onto, because the darkness of the pit is tangible, physical, it is fear, and anger, and all the things that would consume us made solid at least in so far as the soul is concerned. It tears at you, and tries to loosen your grip upon the light that you can find within yourself. Yet even as it does so, it betrays its own weakness. If you can look inside yourself and see the love which lives there in all of us, you can realize that the darkness is powerless against the light. You can see that fear is itself fearful. You can find that those things which lift us up, which make us worthy of holding consciousness, are so much more powerful than a raw will to power, that they fill the self so much more than selfishness ever can.

If you are a geek like me, then think of Frodo and Sam in Shelob's lair. Think of the Phial of Galadriel, because this is metaphorically the light of which I speak. The thing to recognize here is that Galadriel's light is a gift given from her best self, that in her own weird elven immortal way, what she gave to Frodo was in some sense an embodied symbol of compassionate love, a love devoted to sustaining all that is good in the world. It is no accident that the light of the phial shines the brightest when it is a channel for Sam's spirit, for we all know that Samwise Gamgee is the true hero of Tolkien's tale.

I lose myself somewhat in this geekery, but I have invoked it for a purpose. I have drawn it forth because sometimes it is easier to see our truths or to convey them to others through a fiction than it is through the sometimes sordid and painful details of our own lives and our own world.

The point is simply this. We can shine with our own light, but when all is bright, it is drops of water in the ocean. Each drop matters, but they are invisible within that larger mass. However, when all around is dark, even the smallest light shines brightly. When all around is dark, and you can lay hands on your own inner light, it can guide you, and it can be a beacon to others. It can help you see the value of your own self, for that is where the light I speak of shines from in the first place.

The light I speak of is love and compassion, and it is also the light of truth and honesty. There is no singular name for this light of the human spirit, for it contains everything in us that we can mobilize to help the world grow, to make it a better place, to help one another along the way, and to fend off the darkness. If you find that the darkness is threatening to overwhlem you, if you find that it all seems like too much, if it seems like there is no clear way forward, I offer you this small piece of my own light. Hope is not just the failed promise of a political campaign. Hope is the channel through which we can move our compassionate selves when all around us is dark. Love is not just the enflamed passion that moves us to affections. Love is the purest source of energy we can find in ourselves, when we look within and accept ourselves as we are.

If all around you seems dark, even if you look within and have trouble seeing the light, I offer you this light that I carry within myself. It is the light that I am using to guide my way through my own darkness, and the darkness that surround us all. Love yourself. You are deserving of your own love. Even if you've fucked up, even if you've done damage along the way, look inside yourself and see that there is something better in there. Look inside yourself and you will see that your heart wants to love, that it wants to value itself. If you simply let go, even just for a moment of the fears and anxieties that are making the darkness so dark, I guarantee that you can look inside of yourself and see that light.

It is the first light of Hannukah tonight. It is Christmas Eve. It is the time to find the light in the darkness. No matter the darkness that surrounds you in this time, take this moment and find your own light. Find the love within you and let it shine out compassionately on those around you. Make it personal, because the darkness is personal, and the only answer to it is the light that we can shine from within ourselves.