"You must face the darkness in your own soul, you must understand your own self.
Only then can you be whole again." -Rigall of the Elves
These words are the pivotal moment in the life of Enrick, the last hero of my fantasy book, The Great Mythology. In an epic story of the battle between light and darkness, an ancient, wise elf points out to the young hero that the real issue isnít the forces of darkness without that oppress and enslave millions. The real issue is the darkness in the young hero's own soul But the wisdom of the ancient elf isnít that the interior mission is to purge the darkness or to conquer it. The mission is simply to face it and to understand it. This wisdom councils acceptance of the dark places within our psyches.
I must confess that the wisdom I wrote into the character of Rigall isnít my own invention. Itís an ancient wisdom of the mystic path, including Christian mysticism. Itís also an important understanding of what constitutes true mental health in modern psychological thinking, especially Jungian thought. Karl Jung taught that the only way to be enlightened and not be controlled by the darkness in our unconscious is to make it conscious.
When we seek to walk the Christian mystic path in meditation weíre shoved by ultimate forces into confrontation with the aspects of darkness in our souls. St. Anthony of Egypt, the first great Christian solitary mystic, discovered that his desire to embrace the light of Christ in a life of pure devotion in prayer and meditation required him to struggle with his demons. Lust, hatred, greed and every other vice rose up within the desert hermit every time he sought union with the Divine in prayer and meditation.
Thereís just no escaping this reality. Instead we have a choice which way we will deal with it. We can deny it, refuse to see it is a reality of who we are, and locate it as something outside us. The problem with this denial is that we become more controlled by the darkness than ever and never realize it. Thus while crusading, say, against anger in others and blaming others for the atmosphere of anger that permeates our community, we donít see that we ourselves are angry.
Or we can own the darkness as part of who we really are, embrace it as a good part of ourselves which is just out of balance with the whole. Thus it always is with the way of enlightenment. To be wise, one must embrace folly. To be brave, one must embrace fear. To be hopeful, one must embrace despair. To be a person of faith, one must embrace doubt. Itís only by embracing these negatives that they become redeemed and become aspects of the positive.
This is one reason why the mystic path in practice is not as delightful as the idea of it. Itís not fun to have to face the truth of who we are. Itís not easy to embrace the fact that all the things we despise in others are characteristics of our own being.
But by embracing them we loose their hold over us, we end the distortion that makes these dark aspects of self ďevil.Ē In accepting them and bringing them into harmony with the Divine, instead of in opposition, we also learn compassion. Perhaps that is the most important reason of all for us to face our own darkness.
As long as we are not honest with ourselves, when we deny the darkness in our own souls, itís difficult to be compassionate to others whose darkness we see so easily. We fall into the trap of seeing ourselves as the Holy People and others as reprobates. We engrave ďGod is with usĒ on our belt buckles and become holy terrors with no mercy.
But when we embrace our own darkness and learn to be compassionate with ourselves, we also learn to extend that compassion to others around us. We give up the art of finger pointing. If we do find ourselves having to resist oppression, we find we can do so with mercy and understanding and not hatred. We become like Christ.
Like Christ we can love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and forgive those who seek to destroy us. We may resist them still, but we donít hate them, for we see that in the end that we both are the same mix of light and darkness, hope and despair. We see that if the darkness within us can be redeemed and brought into harmony with the Divine, that the same can happen to the darkness in others, in fact to the darkness of an entire world.
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