Friday, April 15, 2011

Night and Darkness

As a poet, I've long been an advocate for night, darkness, silence, etc. Darkness in our culture is associated with evil; an unfortunate development, and untrue. Night represents ignorance, confusion, corruption, the time of terrors, demons, death. But it is also a very spiritual time. You may lie awake in bed thinking about the things that matter most; there is time and space, few distractions, you are able to center yourself. It is the place of intuition, reflection, thought. Lovers meet, philosophers dream, and all things can rest.

Darkness, silence, emptiness, and stasis all seem negative. They ARE negative, in that, to use a phrase out of art, they are a sort of negative space to the positive space of light, sound, form, and movement. But clearly both are necessary.

Even where there is light, darkness remains. Light is a wave, and contains within it the "off" part of the pulse, the trough of the wave. Sound is the same way. I like to think of all existence as being a vibration. Matter is basically energy, in packets called quanta. Such is one theory at least. Another is, "we work with being, but non-being is what we use." (TTC 11)

Lao Tzu is always talking about the feminine (or yin) as the base, saying "know the male, but keep to the female" (TTC 28). And yin was, I read, originally associated with the north side of a hill (the darker, shaded side). It is the dark side of the Tai Chi symbol. (Yang of course being the male, and the south, sunny side of the hill.)

The fact that light contains darkness in its very form, as a necessary condition of existence reminds me of something that Jesus said in Matthew 6, as he spoke about the lilies of the field. After talking about having to serve either God or money, he goes on to say, do not worry about what you will eat, what you will wear. If you serve God above all, the rest will follow naturally.

In Taoist terms, return to the Tao, and the worldly things take care of themselves. Nothing is done, but nothing is left undone. Be at peace with the emptiness, the darkness. Because money, material things, even spiritual things, like aping the morality of a saint or sage, are all part of the busy-ness of life. They come and go, on and off. But the emptiness, the space, the Tao, exist everywhere, foundationally. The infinite surrounds and infuses the finite; darkness dwells within the light, poverty within the wealth.
Colors blind the eye.
Sounds deafen the ear.
Flavors numb the taste.
Thoughts weaken the mind.
Desires wither the heart.

The Master observes the world
but trusts his inner vision.
He allows things to come and go.
His heart is open as the sky.
(TTC 12)
So you see I'm not just trying to be iconoclastic in talking about darkness. Or maybe I'm being iconoclastic, but in a much different and bigger way. In the stillness is born the true moral stance. As I said, poverty within the wealth: one in that mode will not use wealth as a weapon, but as a blessing. If you go for the money, the light, first, and only afterwards go for God and darkness, you're too late. Light sees only light, never darkness, which sees both.

If you start from ego, everything you do is going to have failure in it. If you start from God, from Tao, from darkness and stillness, what you do and what you are will be pure. Which is why I loved the line in Kazantzakis' book The Last Temptation of Christ:

When what is clean touches what is unclean, the unclean becomes clean!


  1. Just as I posted acomment on RT's latest, and I thought I was first out of the gate, there was your reference to this post. This mind-meld thing is freaky; how I wish you could join me on my next China trip to meet some of the "real deal" Taoists.

    Note one thing: yin and yang, the taiji, is not Tao...Tao is the unity behind those concepts, behind the wuji, what is thought of as the primordial yang. This is complex; we live in a yin/yang manifestation that appears dualistic; the Tao is non-dual, something underlying darkness AND light.

    Taiji (tai chi, the yin/yang symbol) can be understood as a term that means infinite. And remember there is always yin in the yang, yang in the yin, and what is yin in one context may be yang in another...and vice versa.) And speaking of sunny sides, you surely have noticed the image on my TAO 61-The Yang Side blog. That was intentional.

    Your reference to optics and acoustics is interesting; there's something more bizarre. Consider smell (and its cousin, taste). We really don't understand that one at all (although there is some interesting research on smell reception underway...but really, it's weird stuff.)

  2. I was waiting for you to call me out on that. I agree, of course, the Taiji is not a symbol of dualism, and there is no real seperating the yin from the yang. Perhaps I should go back and examine my wording. I guess in my post I'm being an advocate for balance in a yang-centric world, if that makes sense, in order that the dualism of the two may be transcended. Seems Lao Tzu was saying it's easier to apprehend non-being from a mind centered in yin, stillness, or as the Buddhists say, emptiness.

    Also, to deny or ignore the yin side is to make it dangerous. Ignored energy is energy you can't defend yourself against; and that, I believe, is why night, emotion, intuition, etc were considered demonic by the yang-centric, male dominated Church, as they focused on God's light only. Even to this secular day and age, the same underlying current remains.

    As for the image on your blog, I'd noticed it but not its significance. Nicely done. :)