Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Kindling a Light in the Darkness


Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Within a man of light there is light and he lights the whole world. When he does not shine, there is darkness.

- Thomas

Often, too often, we resist the bringing of the light of consciousness into a neglected area. Depth psychology shows us that we all have unlit parts of ourselves, a personal unconscious content—things put so far back on the back burner that they have been forgotten, or never known. It is human nature to not simply neglect these areas, but to actively neglect them.

In neuro-psychology there is a class of disorders called “neglect.” They are the result of strokes or other forms of injury to particular areas of the brain. The result is a magnification of the “blind spot” phenomena. The blind spot is an area in your field of vision that you aren't actually getting any visual data about from moment to moment. The process of “seeing” is one in which the field of vision is constructed and the blind spot, apparently, eliminated. If we merely didn't see an area in our field of vision and didn't care, it would be neglect in the ordinary sense. However, the process of making the blind spot disappear to the point of being absurd to consider it existing—is neglect in the neurological or active sense.

In cases of neglect, not just a small spot, but an entire side of the visual field can be missing and filled in so that it seems like nothing is missing. In one case, the left side of the world faded entirely from consciousness: only food on the right side of the plate would be eaten, people approaching from the left were seen to suddenly appear, even the left side of the mirror image was lost, unnoticed to consciousness. Yet in every other respect, the left side was sensed, involuntary responses could be triggered from the left side as easily as from the right. All the while the individual would argue that there was some cause that they were consciously aware of, rather than a cause in the neglected area that they weren't aware of.

This is the way our mind-body works in something so seemingly ordinary as “seeing” and constructing our sensory world. If there can literally be a rhinoceros about to charge someone from the left side, while they are be giving a detailed analysis of why their anxiety is caused by the current economic situation—what does that say about neglect and unconsciousness in the everyday psychological realm?

To bring the light of consciousness into a new area of ourselves is most often experienced as being painful: there is both stress and anxiety, because what is unconscious has been invested with more importance and made to seem a bigger vulnerability than it is. When it is actually the tension of keeping something unconscious, of the active neglect, that is the cause of the anxiety and stress: the suffering was there, it's just that it wasn't conscious—it seemed to be a part of the situation, not a part of us. Bringing something to consciousness makes it a part of us, and both the suffering of keeping it unconscious, and the original suffering that made it unconscious are brought to awareness for the first time. The light does not inflict the suffering, it reveals it, and in time heals it.

In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says that there is light in the person of light, and it lights up the whole world; if it does not shine, the world is in darkness. The darkness isn't important, the light is. Consciousness is very precious, true light is very rare. We are the stewards of a seed of light, and of the field in which it can grow; we are also both. It is in the dark earth the seed grows, and it is in our own dark and neglected places that the seed of light grows. Focus on the light, not the darkness. Kindle the light in every dark place within yourself, that it might shine out and into the world.

Life has often been compared to a candle: it burns for a limited time, and is extinguished or burns away. The world may focus on the candle, let us focus on the light. Others may focus on what is in the darkness, let us focus on the transformation that light can bring.

The light of consciousness is not the only light, but it is the light that is ours to kindle and shine, in the darkness which is ours to shine it in. This is where the real process begins, though we cannot know now where it may ultimately lead.

Readings for the Day

1 comment:

John said...

Many thanks for this excellent posting! In considering the seed analogy, there is a time for its dwelling in darkness for, as my spiritual director once said, the light of the Sun can be too much until such time as it is ready to receive of that light. In considering the teaching of the seed thrown on good soil, we have another intimation that all that is needed is within the darkness as well as within the light for does not the dark soil contain all that is needed for the sprouting of the seed?