The Heart in the Darkness

What will we find in the dark?

What will we find in the dark?

I’ve been angry since my sister died last September. And sad, of course. Confused. Broken open in new places (as if I needed more breaking…see, there’s that anger).

Right after she died, there were signs everywhere. I felt her presence. I could hear her voice say, “Karen…”. To me, it was the way you call someone’s name when you want to gently but urgently wake them up.

A couple of months after she died, the signs began to come less frequently. Her constant presence was fading. I started reading a book, Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark. As soon as I started to read the words, I realized that I had been seeking the dark for months, even before my sister died, maybe even as far back as when my grandpa died.

A wise person once said that when the head believes one thing and the heart believes another, the heart always wins.

My heart was leading me out of the bright sunlight, away from the protective arms of positive affirmations, uplifting memes, tenets, rules, steps and well lit paths. A brightly lit world, for all its beauty, is susceptible to fear. It can get to the point where any dark cloud can seem ominous.

“When we run from darkness, how much do we really know about what we are running from? If we turn away from darkness on principal, doing everything we can to avoid it because there is simply no telling what it contains, isn’t there a chance that what we are running from is God?” – Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark

Last summer, I was afraid of all the things I was supposed to be afraid of: standing outside in lightning storms, strangers, carcinogens, alcohol, you name it. But I had grown weary of my self-constructed rules and limitations that had always kept me safe. This went way beyond whether or not I should drink again. It was an entire belief system that I’d constructed to keep me from having to be afraid. I feared the fear.

I decided to do something radical, something that my head told me was potentially dangerous. I prayed for guidance and despite my desire for God to write the answer in big letters in the sky, all I heard was my heart saying, “Trust yourself.”

Trusting yourself might very well mean not standing in a lightning storm, avoiding pesticides, staying away from that creepy dude in the parking lot and protecting your sobriety. It means something different to each of us and my problem was that I had never truly questioned what it meant to me. I tried everyone else’s methods, time-tested formulas and followed the well marked guideposts. If someone said it worked for them, then it was worth a try for me.

I have spent the last few years being open to new ideas and saying yes when I would normally say no. I allowed my mind to be broken open, letting in love and light and beauty. I needed God’s presence to feel safe so that I could go into the dark places that would heal me. I bravely ran in, grabbed what I needed, then ran out again as fast as I could. Whew. Safe again in the light.

This last year, and especially the last couple of months have been different. I don’t feel God’s presence so strongly now. There aren’t as many signs and cool coincidences. I feel like my 6 year old when he resists holding my hand when we cross the street. I know God is right there next to me but I don’t want to be crowded.

I’ve let my eyes grow accustomed to the dark for longer periods of time. I’m living among the mushrooms, the earthworms, the moles. I’m not clawing my way to the surface quite yet. This isn’t depression and I’m not afraid of never coming up again. It’s more like I’m experiencing fear as if I’m its friend and it’s allowing me within its heart. I’m letting it speak without judgment. It courses through my body and while I feel the fear, I don’t fear the fear. It wants to be released from me and I want to be free.

I’m learning what it’s like to seamlessly travel between darkness and light, both places integrated within my heart. I’m not in a hurry to escape the bright sun or the dark night. I trust that we were always meant to be companions.

39 Comments on “The Heart in the Darkness

  1. I have a lot of reading to do to catch up. Funny that I read about light today from you – I’ve been thinking about ‘light’ a lot. But more about windows & paint. We all assume that natural light is what it’s all about. Paint the room light – so it looks bigger and filled with light. Always, I’ve seek to draw the curtains (but keep the windows open in the cold – just a peek of window showing to let in the frigid) – and have cozy dark places. I don’t like being exposed – in the light or the night … but I always feel odd not liking that light everyone seems to crave. Until someone said “you don’t have to paint your rooms light colors, nothing wrong with liking dark/intense colors and dark areas – that’s what lamps are for” …. It made me feel better – I don’t know if it’s ‘right’ or not – but I’m more and more believing that the belief in the ‘right way’ and ‘wrong way’ is really not as cut & dried as we’d like to believe. What if not everything had an answer? What if all the mysteries cannot be solved b/c it’s not a mystery? It just is. I’m not sure there’s a path leading anywhere – or that a path is something we have to walk on. We fit our fears into understandable boxes that we made – but what does it mean? Right? Wrong? Yes? No? Safe? Harm? – I just don’t know. The only thing I know for sure is that twilight makes me uneasy. How’s that for some incoherent rambling?

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  2. Pingback: What Happens Next (and an update of sorts to My Hard Truth) | Mended Musings

  3. You touched on some primal fears. For many of us, darkness symbolizes death, the ultimate unknown. I’m terrified of complete darkness. I always have to have a sliver of light on when I sleep. Sometimes its hard to escape the shadows and as you said, we have to go in, get what we need, and return to the light. Its where most of us are comfortable.

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    • I agree, most of us are more comfortable in the light and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve had to teach myself to be resilient so that I can appreciate the highs and lows of life. Gratitude is a big part of that. 🙂

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  4. I often feel like, after a tragedy, it is so much harder to feel God’s presence, and I don’t know what that is. I wish that weren’t the case – it feels like we need him so very much more at that time.

    Also, was listening to a Thich Nhat Hanh meditation CD and he talks about the same things you are talking about here – you are so wise. Do trust yourself. He talks about, for example, treating anger as you would an upset baby. You would sit with it, hold it, try to understand it. You wouldn’t push it away. And it sounds like that is what you are doing in the dark. You are so beautiful. Thank you for sharing your journey.

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    • Treating anger like an upset baby…yes, that sounds right. My 5 year old is going through a tantrum phase and I find that if I don’t resist her anger and just comfort her, she resolves it without so much frustration. I don’t know if I’m wise but I feel like an old soul. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I have a feeling that I’ve lived these same lessons many times! Much love to you Marie. ❤

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  5. Reading about how your sister’s presence stayed with you is so reminiscent of when I lost my father. I felt as if he was right there with me, holding my hand. I am so sorry that you have lost your sister. I am so happy for you that you are still connected.

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  6. Karen I had to tweet this blog post its just inspiring and thought provoking. I used this line as a separate tweet because it is so profound. “A wise person once said that when the head believes one thing and the heart believes another, the heart always wins.” Thank you for your courage in sharing with us.

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    • Thank you so much! I wish I could remember who said that line. We can try to talk ourselves out of feeling a certain way but the heart will be persistent in the truth.

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  7. Without the light there is no darkness. I’ve learned that I have to embrace both sides of the coin in order to understand it’s true worth…no matter how much that scares me.

    Brilliant post (as usual).

    Sherry

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  8. I’m a recent follower, so I didn’t know about your sister. Very sorry for your loss.

    There is so much emphasis on being positive all the time. A whole market has sprung up on the positive thinking trend – books, retreats, life coaching, etc. We are told to avoid the darkness at all costs. But it’s there for a reason.

    “It means something different to each of us and my problem was that I had never truly questioned what it meant to me.” – this is something I also recently realized. We need to do the work and find it for ourselves. Self-help books and mentors/life coaches might put words in our minds (for a price), but unless we really feel it, it’s not going to sink in. There are treasures to be found in the darkness, if you journey there with an open heart.

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    • Thank you. That is so true! If you buy into it, we should never feel anything but happy and fulfilled. I think that’s why so many people numb themselves. I do tend to “look at the bright side” of things but it only rings true if I’ve acknowledged how much the situation sucks first. Sometimes the bright side is really dim and that’s ok too.

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  9. So much in common. That light and darkness weaves its way in and out of my days/weeks/months constantly. I’m learning how to recognize the curves and peaks and valleys and to not make more of it than it is. Each phase has something to teach me and I am trying to be a better student. I tend to be an “all in” kind of person which is difficult on the dark days, because I think I pull myself further down with the whys and how comes. I need to just learn to accept me for who I am that day. Lovely, insightful words Karen. And can I also say, you have a way of writing about God that I connect with. It feels believable and honest. I actually enjoy reading about the way you believe, which isn’t often the case on the topic of God for me. xoxo

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    • Thank you Dawn! I totally relate to what you’re saying, especially not making more of it than it is. I realized recently that so much of what makes me unhappy is self-imposed. It’s usually me thinking that I’m not doing “it” right based upon my own rules of what is right. When I give myself permission to question my rules or change them, I can soften to the situation/emotion.

      To me, God is like my very breath. It’s easy to take for granted until my heart races and I remember to breathe. ❤

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  10. This is so powerful and since I have inhabited this place you write about, I understand your message. Being willing to stand in the dark places, especially when others are cautioning you to get out, and some are trying to pull you out, takes courage and the willingness to go for it all, which is wholeness.
    I applaud you and your marvelous journey. Keep walking sister. You are an inspiration. ❤

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    • Thank you Brenda. I’m so glad someone else understands what I’m talking about! I sometimes wonder when this season will end but I know that for now, this is where I’m supposed to be. 🙂

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      • I hear you. I was in a place of shadows for quite some time. It was a painful place yet I felt a lot of peace because I knew it was a place I needed to be.
        Now, a couple of years later and after the fact, I am very grateful I stayed put. People told me I was filled with negativity, that I was too dark, that I needed to be positive and “let go” of the intense pain that I was processing. These were not people on the street…these were conscious people. I wanted to listen to them but it’s like I was glued in place and I had to sit still and let it all process. I had to see it through all the way to the other side.
        You’ll be glad you stayed put when you get to the other side. I’m thinking of you and applaud you for your willingness to keep walking and to honor the process. Hugs, Brenda ❤

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  11. Hmmmm….I need to read this again. I’m so lost right now. Not in a horrible, terrible, very-bad-way…just lost in a g-dammit, I lost the freakin’ map and the GPS won’t grab kinda way.
    THIS: “I’m learning what it’s like to seamlessly travel between darkness and light, both places integrated within my heart. I’m not in a hurry to escape the bright sun or the dark night. I trust that we were always meant to be companions.”
    I am so far away from being in this spot. Vague fear paralyzes me on some days and I have no explanation.
    I have felt the calm in your last few posts despite the heaviness of the content. You’re amazing and you inspire me.
    I have something I need to do, but just can’t make myself do it. I know how good things could be “on the other side”, but I’m afraid of the canyon I’ll be leaping over. It helps knowing that someone I love, trust, and admire can do it. I’ll keep trying – thank you for this. Your timing couldn’t have been any more perfect. xoxoxo

    PS: Dani and I had an AWESOME time yesterday. You are both so dear to me.

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    • I struggle when I lose my map too. I like constants and routine and sometimes not having those things throws me off balance. I’m discovering that a little sadness, a little confusion and chaos aren’t going to kill me. Now that I’m pay such close attention to my body, I’m finding that so much of my fear begins with a physical reaction then snowballs.

      No one and nothing can make me do something until I’m ready. When you’re ready to make the leap, you will. xxoo

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  12. Karen, I don’t pretend to understand the exact spot you’re at. I don’t. I will say, however, that I’ve had a long-lasting relationship with fear (Michelle and I chatted about this a good bit yesterday when we met face-to-face 😉 ). Fear has kept me safe at times, sheltered at others. It has held me in silence, as a lover does, and also broken me out and up. It has held me up and back, then breathes…lessens its grip…and sinks into the couch next to me. There is that comforting exchange of heartbeats there, the same that exists between friends and companions.

    “…I’m experiencing fear as if I’m its friend and it’s allowing me within its heart. I’m letting it speak without judgement.”

    There is something truly sacred about this statment.

    I will continue to hold you in heart as you move through these stages. Because if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that grief is not linear and it’s a…completely.singular. experience.

    Revel in the darkness, love.
    But always find your way back to the Light.

    Under the same sky,
    Dani

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    • I would’ve loved being there with you and Michelle! A big piece of this for me is not being so eager to escape the dark places, as if the sole purpose of being there is to get back into the light. I’m seeing a continuum and not such harsh opposites. You’re so right about grief. There is absolutely nothing linear about it. Thank you for sharing yourself with me. As always, you are a gift.

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      • ” I’m seeing a continuum and not such harsh opposites.”

        YESSSSSS!!

        Breathing this in, Karen.

        *chest rises and falls*

        Breathing it all in.

        P.S. It was such a special time for me and, hopefully, for her, as well. I hope to squeeze you in person one day, beauty. Until then…this space is a tender and sacred option ❤

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  13. This is so beautiful, Karen and it truly speaks to me. As I was reading it through the first time, I kept wanting to highlight a few pieces of what you wrote, to comment on them specifically and then when I finished I just sat there with my heart beating quickly and holding my breath. There is no one part to comment on. I’m being held by the whole piece. Much love to you. And thank you.

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