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Late Autumn 2019 | Exploring Darkness


Late Autumn Part 1: Unraveling Truth & Fear

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And for the readers…

In the northern hemisphere where I live we’re entering the season of darkness. The natural world around us is dying back and every morning we’re waking up to less and less daylight. Just saying these words out loud has me worried I’m going to send you into depression because I know so many people struggle this time of year. I know that long, dark days can lead to feelings of sorrow and isolation. And please, if this season is hard for you, practice good self-care!

As part of this seasonal self-care I invite us into an exploration of our relationship with darkness. Because it’s a complicated topic. Surely we can say that Darkness is a fundamental part of the cyclical nature of life. The season of darkness is the season of hibernation, when creatures and seeds go dormant, when everything is left quiet… From nature’s example we can learn to soften our hearts toward the reality of death. And we can learn the importance of balance between activity and rest.

I’ve been connected to the changing seasons my entire life—I mean, my name is Summer after all—and through my grandmother I’ve always been attuned to the pagan celebrations of solstice and equinox. But this is the first year that I’m diving so intentionally into the full Celtic Wheel of the Year. Which is giving me an opportunity to explore the reality of darkness in new ways. I must admit that I’m one of those strange people that looks forward to the dark days of winter. I love cold, dark mornings. I think I love them because they give me a sense of permission. They seem to invite a slower pace. They allow me to linger under the warm covers just a bit longer and to give in to the temptation of a morning spent reading. When it’s dark outside I have the feeling that the world is still asleep, which allows me to rest easy in my own internal life.

Being outside in the dark is a regular part of celtic spiritual practice. At Beltain, when winter is turning toward spring, we’re invited to sleep outside under the slowly warming sky. And here at Samhain, as fall is becoming winter, we’re invited to walk on our own in the dark. Celtic teacher Glennie Kindred writes:

Who can walk alone in the dark woods, or sit alone in the dark by a sacred spring or burial mound? Who sees power in black but not evil? What does magic mean to you? Unravel what is true for you and what you fear. Turn and face the fear. Release its hold over you.

Reading these words I’m struck by the call to discernment. The line: ‘unravel what is true for you and what you fear’ is instructive. Do you notice that she separated truth from fear. When we’re all alone in darkness, what are we afraid of? We can explore this question through literal darkness. We can walk alone in the woods and notice what fears arise. And we can remember times of emotional darkness in our life. Maybe a time of grief. Or a time of depression. Or spiritual emptiness. And we can remember the fear that accompanied us through those times. When we’re all alone in the dark, what are we afraid of?

Of course, identifying our fear is only the beginning. The next step is to find our truth—that anchor that allows us to unravel, again and again, all the anxiety inducing tales of woe that we magically seem to create for ourselves alone in the darkness of our own mind. The work of finding truth is as simple as pausing to ask ourselves: is this true? It might sound ridiculous, but I’m serious. When you take a moment to examine your fear, you’ll notice that it comes neatly packaged with a whole bunch of stories. Or maybe just one really good story. We interrupt the power of these stories by asking: but what’s real now? What’s actually real in this moment?

The season of darkness invites us into a quiet space where we can hide under the warm covers or sit with the wise trees at night and do the hard work of unraveling and detangling our truth from our fears.

In the Bhagavad Gita, when Krishna is introducing the spiritual discipline of yoga, he tells Arjuna:

“On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little effort toward spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear.” (Bhagavad Gita 2.40)

This beautiful scripture encourages us to have faith that our efforts matter, that our practice of awareness will, in big and small ways, unravel and interrupt the scary stories we tell ourselves in the dark. In the next verse Krishna says:

“Those who follow this path, resolving deep within themselves to seek me alone, attain singleness of purpose. For those who lack resolution, the decisions of life are many-branched and endless.” (Bhagavad Gita 2.41)

When we’re lost in the dark we react to every movement and sound with fear. When we’re stuck in confusion we react to every new decision with panic. Krishna tells us to focus our attention—on him—on truth so that we can find freedom from our aimless and frightening wandering.

In his commentary on this verse Ravi Ravindra writes that:

“…even a fragment of the right dharma will bring a freedom from the frightening darkness of compulsive action.”

He continues by saying:

“all spiritual development consists in moving from reaction to response.”

Our pattern is reaction. Something happens, something scares us or makes us angry, and we react. It’s our pattern. It’s a well practiced pattern. But it doesn’t have to be. Let’s practice something different. Let’s take some time to sit alone in the dark and unravel what’s true from  what scares us. In the cold, dark mornings of this season take an extra minute under the warm covers and put forth—as Krishna says—just a little effort toward spiritual awareness. Ask yourself: What’s real now?

Ground yourself in the truth of the moment and allow yourself to respond to fear with intention.


REFLECTION QUESTIONS

  • What’s real now?
  • When was the last time you slept outside? How often do you spend time outside in the dark? Alone or with others… Is there anything about being outside in the dark that you find frightening?
  • What’s real now?
  • What are you afraid of in general?
    • At work… In your relationships… In your imagined future?
  • What’s real now?
  • What stories do you regularly tell yourself? How do these stories contribute to what you’re afraid of?
  • What’s real now?
  • What’s the difference between fear and worry? Is worry a habit for you?
  • What’s real now?
  • As you look closely at your fears (and your stories) ask yourself: What’s true? What isn’t true?
  • What’s real now?
  • What’s a Truth you can anchor yourself in? Something about your life. Something about Divine Mystery.
  • What’s real now?
  • What will help you ground yourself in what’s true?
    • Remember: “On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little effort toward spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear.” (Bhagavad Gita 2.40)
  • What’s real now?

COMMUNITY COMMENTS

We all benefit from the wisdom of spiritual community. And community means more than one voice, so please add yours to the conversation. What did this week’s sermon and reflection questions spark in you?