We live in a world that is frightened of the darkness. A world that doesn’t understand and therefore is frightened of the darkness. As a consequence of holding the fear at bay, that fear gets distorted into hatred of the darkness, denial of darkness, scapegoating of the darkness. And in scapegoating the darkness, we also scapegoat anything or anyone that triggers in us memory of the darkness–memory of a conscious or unconscious experience of the darkness within us that needs to be explored, healed, and transformed. We live in a time where we are all going through darkness in some way communally and individually. Just like anything else, this passage can be misused and abused, or it can be used well and for magnificent good!*
We live in a culture where darkness is not tolerated. It’s not tolerated physically: there are lights on twenty-four hours a day! It’s not tolerated emotionally: many people will do anything to get away from pain! It’s not tolerated mentally: so many use their minds to manage and control what are too often thought of as dark or negative emotions–the painful emotions people try to get away from and get rid of! And darkness is not tolerated spiritually: too many people use the spiritual–prayer, chanting, meditation, etc.–to get away from and transcend the pain we need to go through rather than escape. Responding in this way to the darkness, we perpetuate a duality that splits us apart, within and without, and keeps us from integrating, from becoming whole. Responding so to the darkness, we deprive ourselves of the riches it has to offer: among them wounds reaching to be healed, strengths calling to be discovered, gifts longing to be developed.
A long time ago, before I even wrote Power Abused, Power Healed, I sent out “snail mail” newsletters. In the very first issue, I shared a story. My version of the story was a recreation of another, written by Richard Proescher. Recently, I have felt called repeatedly to offer the story as a help to people I work with, individually and in groups, as they move deeper and deeper in their journeys. It is time to share it again with you, as together we descend toward the darkness of the Winter Solstice, and as individually we descend, each of us into our own inner labyrinths of psyche and soul.**
A woman is prepared for her initiation by the crones*** in her community. She is lovingly and sacredly bathed, fed healthy foods to purify her body, prayed and chanted over. She is taken into a cave, told she will be left alone there for seven days, with ample foods to sustain her body. A boulder will be moved to cover the opening into the cave. Her task: to find her way through the dark cave out into the light.
They kiss her goodbye and bless her for her journey, leave, and cover the entrance. Excited and frightened, she sits where she has been left, with her back to the opening of the cave. She prays for help, and lets her eyes–inner and outer–adjust to the darkness. Soon she sees a tiny point of light in the ceiling of the cave, right above where she sits. “Hmmm!” she thinks. “That’s my way out.”
Looking around in the darkness, she sees to her left a huge pile of rocks. Pulling herself up, she heads toward the pile. One by one, with great effort, she moves rocks from their pile to the ground of the cave directly below the point of light. By the end of the first day, tired but well satisfied with herself, she has begun another pile that is now thigh-high. Giving thanks, she eats her dinner and goes to sleep.
The second day she rises, once again praying her thanks and asking for help. By nightfall she has built a pile waist-high. Filled with hope, she sups and retires, asking for the strength to continue and be guided as she works.
Day-by-day, our initiate’s work continues. By the night of the sixth day, she has used every rock in the pile. Her “ladder” to the light is very high, but not yet high enough to assure her of her success. Resting for awhile to gather strength and courage, she prays for help; she prays that she will be able to stretch herself to reach the light and find her way through.
Then carefully she climbs. At the top she stretches and reaches. She’s so close! But all of a sudden, she loses her balance and falls to the ground, where she lays hurt, still and unconscious until the crones return the following night.
They find her there, beside the pile she has spent her time so carefully building. Gently they check to make sure she’s okay, and then tenderly lift her into their loving arms. You would think they would carry her out through the entrance. But no! They hold her with their backs to the opening, and then carry her slowly, reverently leftward, moving past the point where the rocks had been piled. Moving deeper and deeper into the dark cave, the procession walks sure-footedly for almost one-quarter of a mile. At that point they round a bend and move from the darkness into a passageway that becomes lighter and lighter… until at last they leave the cave and come into the brilliant light of the full moon right at the shore of the ocean!
As they gently lay the initiate on the still-warm sand, the woman in the group who is truly the crone’s crone sweetly asks: “When will we learn? When will we learn that we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted or frightened out of the truth? When will we learn that we must go all the way into the darkness within us in order to find our way through and back out into the light?”
May this article be helpful to you in going through what’s in and around you rather than trying to escape it or defend against it. May the riches on the other side be plentiful!
* Examples of the darkness we are going through are all around and in us: suicide bombings, wars, sexual wounds and wounding, distortions in our relationships with money, abuse in the home and in the workplace. They are coming out into the open and can show us–both the outer manifestation and our inner and outer reactions–what is emerging from the darkness to be healed.
** The story is written about a woman with wise women. It could just as easily be written about a man with wise men. If you are a man reading this story, please let yourself do what you need to in order to be open to the wisdom it offers.
*** Often when we think of the word “crone” we have a negative connotation, as when calling a woman an “old crone.” Originally, however, the term “crone” meant simply a wise woman. It is in this spirit and with this meaning that I use the term here.
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