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Darkness, The Great Illuminator

This morning I walked outside and relished the feeling of fall in the air. Chilly wind touched my skin and I smiled as I thought of the season to come -- the one in which darkness descends early, and we are invited to slow down and spend time inside, both literally and metaphorically.

For the chronically ill, the season of darkness can feel familiar and long. And, unlike the predictable fall, this season often comes out-of-turn and without warning.

Illness often creates a life of before-and-after. Life-before-the-symptoms-began...and after. Life-before-the-diagnosis...and after. One day life is progressing with all its distractions and tedious demands, but within a healthy body. And, then -- sometimes suddenly, and other times gradually -- a completely different life emerges. The after. A new season arrives unbidden. A reality emerges that no longer resembles the one that existed before. One with unfathomable challenges attached to bodily processes that were once only background noises taken for granted.

When this season entered my life several years ago, the darkness swallowed me. I couldn’t see where I was going or how to move forward. I collapsed into a vortex of terror and despair. It seemed as if light disappeared over night and would never return.

So often we avoid the darkness. The shadows. The places were mystery lurks. We assume what is inside is menacing, frightening and intolerable. It’s that familiar feeling when you’re a small child in the dark knowing with certainty that there is a monster in the closet, and a hand ready to reach out and grab you just as you fall into sleep.

This is how the dark season of illness felt when it enveloped me. Like an abyss void of light where there was nowhere to hide and everything to fear. If you find yourself in such a season, you know that the terror found in this place moves beyond time, space, and words. But, friends, in this place I cursed with furious grief, I found everything I didn’t know I’d lost. The space I thought would kill me actually revived me. This place of complete darkness ultimately revealed itself as The Great Illuminator.

We all begin life this way. In a womb. In the dark. Alone. You’ve done this before. And, though you likely don’t remember what it was like, you know how it ended.

With light. With birth.

We see this across nature. That caterpillar who becomes a butterfly didn’t get there without painfully dissolving into goo and reconfiguring all-that-it-was-and-now-is. We witness a beautiful creature emerge, but what we don’t see is the excruciating metamorphosis that happened in the dark.

No wonder we are so afraid. In our culture, we tend to skip over this part. The undoing. The breaking down. The reconfiguring. The death. All that icky-ugly-mess that occurred before the beautiful picture you saw posted on Instagram.

In this dark place, it’s understandable to long for a path. But, friends, this is not a time to despair, but a time to trust -- In this womb…this cave…this chrysalis -- That you DO know how to do this. In this place I learned that fighting only leads to more fear. That struggling creates more opposition. That the only real option is to surrender, be still and listen.

But to whom? With what?

This is where the darkness became my dear friend. Because it was there I found my essence. My voice. My True Self. The light placed deep inside this body by the loving intelligence who created me. When I found her, I could barely see her. I had covered her up for so long, and that little light was looking quite dim.

For stretches of time, I tried to borrow light from others. This doctor, that doctor. This friend, that friend. This expert, that expert. My husband, my mom, anyone who could just tell me what to do and where to go. It’s so scary here in the dark! Help! And, help they did. As best they could. And nevertheless, I remained in the place of darkness.

So I let go. One white knuckle at a time.

I stopped trying to see my way through the dark with my mind, and found that the light I sought was never out there. It was inside. It was in my heart.

At first she was hard to see. This once-illuminous intuition who had been carelessly discarded and demoted below the prized position of intellect. I found this little light patiently waiting for me to stop trying to snuff her out so she could show me the way. And, while I still couldn’t see the path, I found direction. I learned to feel into this moment until it became the-next-and-the-next. And, sure enough I saw that as I trusted this little light she grew brighter. The darkness wasn’t so dark anymore.

When I began to look around, I was amazed at what I saw.

Held in the darkness were the parts of me I had denied. Suppressed. Forgotten. Where the hurt, the trauma, the pain all stored up like an attic filled with the saddest memorabilia you’ve ever seen. Though riddled with pain, I was grateful. This place of darkness wasn’t actually empty! It was quite full. And, there was much sorting to be done.

At first it was excruciating. Where do I even begin? How do I do this? But, that little light inside was growing stronger every day, bringing not only illumination, but warmth. I began to see that in this place where I had hidden my pain, I had accidentally stored away my Joy. My Creativity. My Life Force. My Treasures. And, one-by-one as I reclaimed them, that light started to glisten like a diamond in the sun. The darkness that had once descended with terror was giving way to light ascending with love.

Friends, I’m not here to tell you that the darkness is comfortable or to pretend that it's enjoyable. I'm not even here to tell you I'm out of that cave. But, what I want to share with you is that it does not have to be your nemesis. Let darkness be The Great Illuminator. Wrap yourself in its black velvet as you learn to stop looking outside and instead look deeply inside for that all-that-is-you. Be still and rest in the knowing that inside you is a flame that never dies. And, it can show you the way.

There is impeccable peace in knowing that whatever my body does in the end, nothing can ever snuff that light out. No matter what symptoms I face in the morning, I can wake up with indescribable healing living inside of me. It’s so bright. It’s so beautiful. And, it’s inside of you too.

Don’t be afraid of the darkness, dear friend. Let it illuminate You.

**The picture of the cave above was taken this summer at Hanakapiai Beach on the Na Pali Coast Trail in Kauai. Sitting in this cave was a very spiritual experience for me, and I was brought to tears holding the knowing of all I have written about here today. Nature has a profound way of capturing a healing journey without words but with complete perfection.


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