By Jim Tolles
Facing and embracing your inner darkness has nothing to do with becoming evil. It is also not an impossible task that will overwhelm and destroy you. It's looking at all you, and only you can embrace all of you.
One of the biggest problems many of you will face comes from running from your inner darkness. Some people go to great lengths to do all kinds of good deeds to try to erase, counterbalance, or avoid their darkness, but wherever you go, there it is. When unconfronted, the darkness thrives. It exists precisely because you don't look at it. That is the nature of the dark. It is the absence of the light. Just start to turn and look at it, and already it is evaporating.
But it may not go easily. It's not because it has to be difficult, but rather, we quickly begin to realize how committed we are to these aspects of ourselves and the expansive system of relationships and lifestyles we've created around ourselves. As such, we soon learn that facing our darkness will bring us into a deeper level of commitment to reality that may involve giving up more than a few things. That's usually when things get sticky.
What Is Darkness and the Nature of Evil?
As I mentioned already, your darkness is simply what you are unwilling to deal with. In ignorance, the darkness grows, and it influences everything you do. It becomes the puppet master, and you are the puppet. If you continue down this path, your deeper sense of suffering builds. The more you suffer, the more it becomes second nature to respond to life from this suffering. That may turn you into a greater and greater victim or a greater and greater perpetrator of painful acts. For instance, the woman who does not deal with her history of sexual abuse may continue to unconsciously attract more and more abusive romantic partners. The man who was badly physically abused by his mother when he was a child may become more and more manipulative of women as he continues on his journey.
If the darkness someone is avoiding is particularly powerful, the person may turn to more and more violent acts. If you put this person in a violent surrounding (war-torn nation, crime-ridden area, and so forth), they then may become the next brutal dictator or mafia leader. Pain builds upon pain until this is the only way someone knows how to live their life, and the very idea of love is a far-off fairy tale. And you don't have to be a dictator to already believe that love is a fairy tale. The "average" person today in Western Society lives in so much daily pain, that many people view love as some kind of fiction, and if this is you, it's time to turn around and confront what you are hiding from.
Hiding, Running Away, Ignoring, and Other Forms of Avoidance
As you see in the above subhead, there are a number of ways to cultivate the darkness within us. It's not just about hurting ourselves. Usually, it starts with a lot more ignorance. The number of people who are so chemically imbalanced that they are cruel and heartless from day one is very, very, very tiny. Unfortunately, popular culture and media like to highlight these people, which further skews people's understanding of darkness. Mainly, the inner darkness we carry has come from fear. It's the fear of seeing something we don't want to see--something that breaks our ego story of ourselves. It's also the fear of feeling something we don't want to feel. So we all got taught by our society how to hide these aspects of ourselves. Oftentimes, these are perceived weaknesses. So people tried to bury these pains by misdirection (focusing everyone's attention on something they're good at), hiding in work, drinking, drugs, sexual promiscuity, and a host of other ways. I encourage you to pause here and write down a list of how you hide from, run away from, or ignore issues of your own because they aren't going anywhere any time soon.
The Courage to Face the Dark
Awhile ago, I wrote a blog post called, "The Dark Night of the Soul," which has been relatively popular. This is usually when all of life is blowing up your ego story. The harder you hold onto the old story, the worse this time period can be. So I encourage you to not to wait for life to explode in your face (and let's be clear, you're fortunate if it does; most people will spend their whole lives in ignorance and perpetuate suffering for themselves and others). By choosing to turn around and see what you are afraid of, ashamed of, angry about, and so forth, you have begun to face your inner darkness. In a very real way, you have already begun to dispel the darkness in that very intention. Some issues will melt away more quickly than you could imagine. Such is how it is with many things; once the light is upon them, they cannot last.
But others will melt much more slowly. They are the crusty old chunks of hardened ice that has withstood numerous summers and built up more deeply in the winters. These tend to break down in layers, and I would encourage you to check out "The Multiple Layers of Healing" for more thoughts on the many layers of darkness you may be sitting with.
5 Tips For Facing Your Inner Darkness
You probably won't be too surprised at my 5 tips for facing your inner darkness. Mainly, the big thing is to start. If you really don't know where to start, then you can begin with my step one.
Get an outside perspective. Many people are so mired in their beliefs that they have no perspective about themselves or how they influence other people. This is good time to ask for outside perspectives from friends and family. You will also have to learn how to listen to criticism, which is always a worthwhile spiritual practice.
Journal. Yep. You saw this one coming if you've read this spirituality blog at all. Now, that you have some more perspective, it's time to sit down and consider what people are telling you about how you act and how you treat others. Why do you act that way? Why do you treat others the way you do? These are some starter questions to get you going.
Keep breathing. Especially when some old pain and trauma starts surfacing, it's easy to let the ego-self convince us that we're being overwhelmed and can't handle it. Keep breathing. Focus even more on your breathing the more intense the emotion coming up. Emotions are always in motion, so they will pass, possibly making space for a new self discovery.
Find help. If you really are struggling, this is why spiritual healers, therapists, psychologist, psychiatrists, and spiritual teachers exist. Asking for help can be a really important step in facing things that feel too frightening to look at on your own.
After the First Steps, The Gloom Darkens
As many of you know, I don't sugar-coat anything around here. I speak the truth. When I talk about the light and the amazing levels of love and connection, that's not sugar-coating; it's the truth. With the darkness, it's much the same. Many of you are going to go into very dark places, which is why having your spiritual practice to sustain you is so important. It is--at the very least--a powerful coping tool to handle all the emotional fear, the biochemical responses our bodies do when scared, and the dysfunctional mental thinking that can come up when we go into the dark. It's a lantern when all lights are going out, and there are truly some places only you can go.
But it is doable, even though it's not really a doing. It's more of an undoing. You are looking back into all the ways you believed you were in pain, and you are learning to let them go. You are looking at the rape, physical abuse, emotional abuse, or whatever, and you are letting that pain go. You are letting go of the fear of being hurt in a similar way, and with that fear, a whole huge system of beliefs and actions that have defined your life start to fall apart. With that falling apart, your life is creating space for you to be reborn. This is usually when people say they're having a dark night of the soul, but this is simply the messiness of rebirth. And a lot of stuff has to go if you are going to grow more naturally from a space of your own true love.
Relying On God and the Divine
Whatever your belief is in a divinity or particular deity, you'll need it. Not because you need beliefs, but until you truly and unequivocally connect to that divine flow that is all of life, the belief in a divine consciousness can be an important thread and guiding light especially when it seems that your own light is going out. God is always here for you. And I know that many of you have had confused relationships with God because of how God has been related to you by other spiritual religions and traditions, so I can only encourage you that now is a time for a new relationship to God. For some thoughts on what God is, I encourage you to check out this YouTube video: What Is God?
With that connection to the divine, you will find new levels of strength and courage that you might not have suspected you'd ever had.
The Dissolving of the Dark
As you continue to look at the darkness in your heart, body, mind, and spirit, things change. Not everything hidden in the dark is evil. Many forgotten gifts have languished back there. Those of you who are great speakers may have left that gift in the dark because of a fear of expressing yourself. Time to dust this off. But much like a rusty old tool, it probably won't work perfectly at first, so have patience. Take your time getting used to speaking and sharing your expression. Some others of you may have no choice but to dive headfirst into these gifts. Sometimes your forgotten gifts are the only way out of very difficult circumstances, and there may be no time to waste.
But as you go, you may find that you feel more and more courageous. You may find that the paralyzing fear you once had of going into these dark places and seeing the whole truth about you may now have evaporated. As I said before, this type of work tends to go in layers, but it is all you. Now that you're looking at all of you, it's up to you how far this work goes, how much darkness you allow to linger, and how much you simply dissolve into the light…