I’m on a roll of outstanding books. I’ve already mentioned Demon, Interrupted by Elliot Parker, and this week I devoured Robyn Peterman’s latest offering in the Magic and Mayhem series, Three’s a Charm. While these books are quite different on the surface—Parker’s book is darker urban fantasy and Peterman’s series is more snarky, sexy paranormal romance—both authors wrestle with the paradox that each of us is made up of both dark and light. In Three’s a Charm, Zelda struggles with the dark magic that has corrupted her witchy abilities; in Demon, Interrupted, Evangeline combats the demon energy hovering at the edges of her soul. Both heroines must confront the lifelong task that to become whole, we must integrate the parts that are scarred as well as the parts that scare us; we must embrace our darkness.
Most of us like to believe we are good people. Most of us, in fact, are. But that goodness does not preclude the less savory aspects of our characters/ourselves. I’ve written before about wanting to be seen and loved, warts and all. And I’ve also written about loving ourselves. Therein lies the paradox of our beings; not quite believing we are lovable but wanting to be loved anyway. Being human isn’t for sissies.
Part of the journey toward self-love and self-acceptance, and the ability to accept the love of others in a true and meaningful way, involves weaving all the threads of ourselves into a gorgeous tapestry of complexity. Because here’s the deal: it’s not the absence of the dark or the sublimation of our shadows that elevates us, it is the ability to incorporate the entirety of our beings into an integrated entity that comprises the brass ring, the gold medal, the highest achievement imaginable.
A poem by Rumi that is read in yoga classes around the world comes to mind:
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
I love this poem. There is no life without the dark. If you think about it, it is the darkness that creates form and distinguishes shapes out of the light. There is no substance without contrast. The dark is always a part of us. And while it is not thrust upon us in one fell swoop as it is for Zelda and Evangeline, we are born with ours, and it will grow and recede like a tide, depending on the circumstances and seasons of our lives.
For me, the struggle is to believe that the dark does not always negate the light. Our society preaches black and white, yes or no, good or bad. We love our labels and our labels define our thinking. Dark is bad and light is good. We apply this truism to our thoughts and to our prejudices. It seems to be ingrained in many cultures that prize lighter skin, eyes and hair over their more pigmented brethren. In our world, more is always more unless we’re talking melanin. Makes no sense.
We teach children to be good. We make many fundamental human behaviors from eating to sex forbidden and therefore bad—except within very specific boundaries—sex between men and women in marriage is good. Any other variation is “deviant,” or dark. Fat people are morally deficient. People who are poor are lazy. We’re all about the labels and the labels always connote good versus bad, light versus dark. It’s often easier to think in categories than to think for ourselves.
Certain incarnations of religion tell us that our goal is to overcome the dark. That we seek to defeat death and sin. I prefer Rumi, who teaches us to embrace the whole experience of life, not just some parts.
And I’m with Robyn and Elliot in believing that our salvation rests exclusively with assimilating our shadows and acknowledging that they are an integral part of ourselves. In my experience, no other path leads to fulfillment and wholeness. If we deny parts of ourselves, if we cut ourselves off from that which makes us whole, how can we be anything but incomplete?
I won’t deny my darkness. And I won’t deny yours either. I will treasure deeply authentic books by brilliant authors like Robyn Peterman and Elliot Parker, and rejoice that there are those among us who understand the human condition in the same way that I do. I am grateful to continue to find so much truth in fantasy.