The darkness and the unknowns that occupy the limitless spaces within have always frightened and thrilled us. On one level, it seems that the story of our modern lives revolves around an effort to banish the darks by bringing more light to every crack and corner. At this time in our existence, there is more light on the face of the darkened earth than ever before. And yet, is life really any better as a result?
Dreams occur in a state of darkness. Sleeping, at night, we close our eyes and turn out the lights, as the sun is temporarily lost to us and the earth revolves, making her journey through the galaxy and around the sun. Even visionary states that occur during daylight hours tend to unveil themselves behind darkened eyelids.
As this time of the yearly cycle finds us dealing with greater and greater amounts of literal and actual darkness in the space that surrounds our daytime wakefulness, we might become increasingly aware of our dreaming selves. Just as nature all around us expresses its cyclical quality of the seasons, we, in our humanness, also experience a rhythmic circling, ripe with fecund obscurations and well-lit vistas of clarity.
The poet Rilke, in his poem “You Darkness”, celebrates the as-yet-unformed possibilities to be found in the absence of light, whose first lines echo out into the inky blackness of space, You darkness, I love you more than all the fires that fence in the world, for the fire creates a circle of light for everyone and then no-one who is outside learns of you. What an unexpected and perhaps unpopular view this is! Aren’t we usually accustomed to the opposite celebration, of gladdening ourselves when the darkness has finally been banished by the rising flames of a warm hearth at the center?
And yet, Rilke reminds us of another vitality to be found in the limitless possibility of shadow, as it darkens forth its own boundless and paradoxically central quality in our lives. The poem continues, But the darkness takes in everything, shapes, fires, animals and myself, how easily it gathers them, powers and people. These words, carefully crafted, evoke the way that the dreamtime holds us as we sleep, the way anything can happen in the dreaming, and how it all takes place in the, often, frightening realms of unlimited mysteries. Here, the dark itself creates a whole new reality containing potentials, where what is not known can be any way it chooses.
In this time of increasing darkness, nearing the Winter Solstice, waking life might even begin to take on the feeling tone and quality of our dreams. Whether we pay attention to our nightly adventures in the dreamtime or not, the energy of interactions and events of our lives might begin to reflect more of a quality of unexpected or surprising forces. Many suffer at this time from heavy emotions and the return of the old, well-worn and saddening dramas of familial life. Others participate in the disturbed dream of consumeristic happiness at being able to gift our selves, and each other with an abundant display of presents, rather than finding a depth of ability to participate together in the immediate experience of presence. People all over the Western world, at least, seek to light up the night and dispel the shadows that Nature herself is presenting us with as we enter the loamy and still womb of deepest winter. And this year, the Moon is here in North America, creating a wholly lit landscape of reflected solar light amid the darkened night.
While there is something beautiful in all this, the colors and the lights and the efforts to warm our hearts and the hearts of others by shining forth the circle of light, might we not also seek to heed the poets courageous invitation to honor the darks and the wonderfully lit moonscape that finds us here, as well?
Rilke goes on, …and it is possible that a great energy is moving near us, I have faith in nights. Perhaps with a more deliberate celebration of and opening to the dark, in addition to an honoring of the light, we might open ourselves to the blessings of the great unknowns and undetermined quantities and qualities of our lives. When we can allow for a space in which sheer questions exist, it seems we might be able to open more deeply to unseen, dark, previously hidden possibilities of great expansion and the true energies of our lives for drawing more deeply on the wisdom of our dark inner nature itself.
And so it is with dreams and dreaming. For the dreams themselves spring forth surprisingly out of the darkness and involve us in great opportunities that were formerly invisible. We don’t always allow for what’s possible there, as a result of the overly brightened glare of waking consciousness, where the new and unformed possibility could not become manifest, as a result of too much specificity and expectation about the way things should look or be. It is as though, through the ambiguity of darkness, where anything can happen, creative moments emerge that hold meaning, value and content as a result of the loosening of the limitations of the known physical world. By willingly entering the darkness, and admitting the dark to enter us, we may give time and space to the unknowns. And, just as sleep can be a replenishment that arises again out of the darkness, by honoring the need for what is not known, we may find surprising outcomes that we didn’t even know existed.
Here is a song from my album, “Yoro Yoro” with Ben Leinbach which is a celebration through sound of the emerging mystery of the darkness.
And here is the full poem from Rilke which you may choose to enjoy as a call to entering the darkness courageously and fully while giving greater spaciousness to dreams and the great unknowns of your own life.
You darkness, I love you more than all the fires that fence in the world,
For the fire creates a circle of light for everyone,
And then no-one who is outside learns of you.
But the darkness pulls in everything, shapes, fires, animals and myself,
How easily it gathers them, powers and people.
And it is possible a great energy is moving near us,
I have faith in nights.
7 thoughts on “Dreaming in the Dark”
Travis, This is so perfectly said and so needed in our culture of eternal “light.” As Monika Wikman says in Pregnant Darkness, “Cultivating a living relationship with the mysteries of psyche and psychoid depends on our ability to go into the darkness, dim the light of the ego, and attend to what appears.” She further warns that when we avoid descent into the dark, we risk being pulled involuntarily into realms we must then learn to handle without conscious intention…personal crises, illness, depression, and loss of other kinds. I cherish the Rilke poem you’ve included here, especially the line, “and it is possible that a great energy is moving near us, I have faith in nights,” and your interpretation of the poem as a whole. Also, the music is sublime…perfect for honoring the Mystery. Wishing you and those you love the experience of all the big and little miracles surrounding these days of Shadow and Light as we approach the New Year and beyond. Much love, Jenna
Thank You Jenna, for your thoughtful and kind words – as well as for your inspiration to share this piece, and for taking the time to read and comment. I am feeling quite connected through Wikman’s beautiful and rich work… there’s so much there and I’ve been reflecting and appreciating and heartily influenced by her writing and offerings, as well as your own.
May the unknown riches of the darks eventually take shape in wonderfully supportive and helpful ways for you and also for your loved ones during this time and all those that flow from it, cherishing the vital waters of the font! xo <3 Travis
Oops, not ‘without’ conscious intention…rather, WITH xo
Travis and Jenna–you both speak to my depths! The darkness is so powerful, and so rich. Ironically, even though I’ve been a burrower-in-the-dark all my life, this year I’ve been longing for the rebirth of the light. I treasure the small flame–its glow fed by the vastness of the darkness. Dark and light are essential to one another, and ultimately define each other. In my dreams, I find images of cool darkness and warm light, and also images of warm darkness and cold light. The paradoxes of this season delight (de-light) me!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the richness of darkness as the source of creativity. From nigredo unwards to albedo, opposites unmade, shadow and consciousness embrace each other and colors (creativity) form: citrinitas and rubedo.
You darkness, I love you more then all the fires that fence the world, Rilke’s invatation towards creation and inner growth, the acceptance of our dark sites and our losses.
This has been a year of loss for me, but I also have gained many things I am very aware of that. I am in the middle of the process Rilke describes, accepting my current situation and cherishing the memories, finding the colors that grow out of the darkness.
Thanks for sharing Travis, much love,
Many Thanks to You Susanne, for reading and reflecting – may those colors blossom and bless, guide and lead towards ever-renewing fountains of depth, mystery and wisdom, and may the darkness and the light returning give the true gift of healing and wholeness.
Much Love to You also Dream Sister! Travis
Yes Kirsten! De-Light-ed to receive your words here… 😉 We had a littel Solstice gathering last night in our home and along with this heartening experience, the words and responses of folks to the post and the poem have graciously brought this wonderful sense of the returning light, so much so, that I really woke up today feeling the sun had been reborn for us in a vital way.
Thanks so much for your helpful and wise comments, as always! Much Love, Travis