Darkness Teaches Lessons that Light Cannot
New Beginnings Start in the Dark
Darkness embraced me with a bear hug on two separate and distinct occasions upon my recent return from my honeymoon. (Of course, as I write this blog, fewer and fewer hours of daylight have been apportioned to this winter season. So darkness, both figuratively and metaphorically, is part of our lives.) The kind of darkness of which I write was nearly total—life and brightness choked off.
The first embrace was fierce and so complete I dropped to my knees—a quivering mess if there ever was one. I shook with sobs. My face contorted and wet. I made it to the shower for a full-on sob that could awaken the dead. The shower sounds muffle the unwieldy tears.
I had learned that my best efforts as a writer, lover and teacher had failed. The gift of my eBook, You Are All That, during a 3-day promotion while I was away in Hawaii, had been downloaded a paltry 40 times, when my goal for the free promotion was well-over one thousand copies. I had publicly told my Facebook followers that I wanted to give away 1,800 downloads! Egads, how deluded could I have been? While on my honeymoon, I had not known of this monstrous flop. Sales of You Are All That, and my second book, Hooray for You, were completely flat—so flat that ONE sale would have been a winning week!
Though my devastation might appear superficial to some, the amount of work (from conception to writing to publishing to marketing), the number of obstacles overcome and the sweat and attention given over to this endeavor of helping others change their lives and to be a source of motivation and inspiration, has encompassed a twenty-year period of my life. With such love for friends, family and anyone-I-meet, I was surprised by the dismal report. Was I of such little significance to my networks and friends that few would accept my gift? Was my gift and were my ideas meaningless and without impact? Was I not to be taken seriously? Was this work (read: my love) unacceptable? And the most irrational of all questions: Was God displeased with me and my work? Did I not measure up? I quickly blew up the insignificant “facts” (40 downloads, three days and a hefty slew of marketing emails, conversations and many organic Facebook exposures) into proportions that were the size of Mt. Everest. (The complaints took the form of “no one likes me” and “no one loves me.”)
You’ve done this too, am I right? You know this pathetic refrain.
Being irrational, tying my self-worth to downloads was insane, but I’ve never claimed to be a spiritual giant—for sure, a bit short on stature and big-hearted, but never an XXL saint. I suffer in this human form when my ego and chemical predispositions for depression collide.
So instead of slapping lipstick on this sadness, I went downstairs to my wife with puffy eyes and cried some more as I told her about my expectations, disappointment and the cave of doubt and self-loathing I had just entered. I entered the depression like a new initiate, scared, ashamed and humbled. Sitting in the dark, allowing the less-than-loving emotions to come and go, I simply allowed myself to expand. What could happen if I sat deep within and witness the tumult of my mind, instead of engaging my mind?
In this darkness, I let go of any conception I had about how things were supposed to be or were supposed to work. I dropped the nagging feelings and heaping judgments. I got present. So here I am. Here I am…Noticing my breath. Paying attention to my body. Letting the slinging arrows fly past me without putting my body in their way. Watching until things settled. I allowed the disturbances and disruptions to die down and was forced to see that I am not equal to the sales or number of downloads for my books. The external “facts” were cherry-picked by my ego that loves to chastise and judge.
My disturbed mind was, of itself, NOT a negative experience. I didn’t add fuel to the fire with more loathing thoughts. Yes, I suffered for a short period of time, maybe an hour or so. Instead of falling into a deep stupor, however, I relaxed behind the unhelpful chatter. It’s as if I stood behind a screen to watch the drama being played out by blowhard bullies.
I could have asked, “What do I do about this sucky situation? How can I change things?” In the alternative, I stopped and witnessed the babble. My question became “Who am I that is noticing these disturbances? Who sits behind the disruptions?” My answer was (and is) simple. Peace and freedom reside there. They always do.
Darkness Urges Action
My workplace is crammed with attorneys, artificial light and no ambiance whatsoever. Artwork eludes the walls. Gleaming glass or even windows are not to be found. Computers are a good five years old. The room is large and filled with attorneys, screens, documents and the buzz of complex litigation. We, attorneys, do our work with no fanfare or kudos. We keep our faces turned to our screens for 12-14 hours a day.
Most of us were at the office in our chairs, under the lights on Christmas Eve day. The office closed “early” at 4:00 p.m. Everyone was gone at 3:59.
Except for me.
I awakened from a complete black-out covered from head-to-toe sweat. My clothes needed to be wrung out. I was splayed out in my swivel chair, head tilted back, arms and hands limp at my sides. I was all akimbo!
One eye opened. A lit screen in front of me with characters, a keyboard, cords, a black box, my name, green tea packets. The other eye opened making things come into focus.
I didn’t know where I was. Where was I? What was I doing or supposed to do? Who was I? Why did my mouth feel like it was sagging? My chair swiveled. My leg had moved and turned me slightly. Still with head and arms of a broken doll, I swiveled round. Once. Twice. I saw more work stations. More names. Who do these name tags belong to? Do I know them? Why am I in this place? Why am I alone?
Am I dreaming?
Something pulled me to rifle through my canvas bag. I couldn’t make sense of what I saw in the blur. A Kindle? A brush? Pens? A notebook? Coin purse? Black canvas bag? I opened the last item and looked at the instruments within. I manipulated the items inside the canvas case mechanically—test strip, pin pricker and glucometer. A number appeared on the meter: 3-2. 32. What is this? What am I doing? Isn’t this number significant? Why is it important? Yes, yes, it is, came a faint thought. Fainter still was another thought, “sugar, sugar.” What came next was the body’s natural movement toward survival and the ability to do so.
I tasted grape on my tongue within seconds after popping the top of the glucose tablets container. My head had fallen to the desk. I “came to” with a sugary taste in my mouth. I could also taste salt on my lips from my perspiring face. My hand wiped at my cheek. Hmmm, sweating and chills. Grape. I looked at the clock on the screen above my limp head. 4:47.
The internal general took over and gave orders to any body part that would listen. Your body is in diabetic distress. This is grave. Listen up and do what I say! Stabilize with sugar. Determine damages. Call wife.
I had learned later that I had been unconscious for more than two and a half hours! Life had shut the blinds and was trying to close up shop.
Darkness had visited me for the second time in less than two weeks with two distinctly and opposing lessons. The first one followed my depressive response to a perceived flop. I was instructed to stop all the poisonous internal chatter that was based on illusions. Instead, I was to remember “who I am” at my center, which has nothing to do with my ego. The second involved the blackness I fell into while experiencing a serious diabetic episode. The darkness brought forth a different lesson. I was urged to action, to put in place strategies for healthier living. (One of them included telling my colleagues that I was a diabetic. Although I might have appeared drunk, I assured them that alcohol and drugs were NOT my problem!
I must have craved the dark in order to wrestle with the ego and the body. Sometimes I need to have my lights snuffed out to keep me secure from my own wandering off and crazy experimentation! St. John of the Cross, a Carmelite priest and Spanish mystic from the latter half of the 16th century, exhorts us to beware of our over-confident egos. He claims that we are never more insecure than when we think we know where we are going! (Indeed! This is when God laughs a big belly laugh!) Perhaps, my efforts need to take on a different path or timeframe? Maybe I need to be taking alternative steps? I may not have learned this without the smack-down and break-down!
The same can be said for the nearly fatal diabetic episode in an empty office building. Neither of these lessons could have been learned as viscerally and completely in the light.
New life begins in the dark, whether it’s the kicking kind in a mother’s womb or the radish seed pushing through the loamy, wet soil or the midnight hour of decision and great inspiration. Change for the better can and does happen in our darkest hours, for it is there that we are open, ready and vulnerable. Light, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, can actually cheat us of these opportunities. The klieg lights, with which we illumine our personal stages, can blind us as we have overblown expectation of ourselves. The intensity can make us overconfident, and that, can be disastrous.
You are strong and marvelously made, so welcome the dark and be not afraid. Life does happen in the dark and can be extraordinary. Look up into the sky and see the canopy that stretches further than our telescopes can reach. Befriend obstacles and challenges. Learn from your other senses and your intuition. (We are more than our sightedness.) Know that “who you are” is always present and at the quiet center of your soul. Watch the negative internal chatter without comment. Get behind the thoughts you have and notice the stillness where you stand.
THAT. IS. YOU.