Today’s blog post is written by Margaret Fletcher
It’s dark for long stretches these days, here in northern New England. So the seasons go. I begin my morning commute in the pre-lit minutes just before dawn, and drive home in complete darkness. At night as I approach home, coming up over the last hill on the highway is like driving toward the heavens. My fellow commuters are around me, their cars creating companionable pools of light, keeping a safe yet comforting distance around me for the most part. Beyond those pools of light, there is pure darkness. My car feels like its own planet, in an orbit that takes me close to those other car-planets. Deep darkness surrounds us. We are together, journeying through a particular, and particularly dark, place-time of the unknown.
Being in these dark kinds of moments on my daily journey evokes a variety of inner experiences. I sometimes feel an unexplainable thrill. At other times comes a weight… a sense of mystery… or dread… and sometimes a kind of bleak emptiness. I’m alone with myself. If I’m lucky, the radio is off and there’s the opportunity to really have the moment, without distraction. This is critical to knowing The Dark. To really know the dark, time must be given, to combat the lifetime of habits I’ve cultivated to rush past those discomforting sensations that can arise in a moment of darkness. But with a good enough window of quiet, I can receive the whole sense of heart-in-throat, or extra gravity acting on the belly, or whatever it is that I might come to label as “wonder” or “trepidation.” The feelings come, pure, without an event to discount them against.
The poet Wendell Berry offers good instruction for dark times. He writes:
To Know the Dark
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
– Wendell Berry
from Farming: A Handbook (Counterpoint, Berkeley, CA 1971)
This is that time of year for much of the Northern Hemisphere – our opportunity to know the dark. I love to bring the twinkle lights out and string them around the house these days. But if I throw light around too much, it depletes my environment of the potential available only through taking up the dark. Granting attention to the literal darkness at this time of the year opens me to the inner gifts of darkness. I learn about myself, and life, much that I want to know and carry with me, and what is only found by abiding, wakeful, in the dark.