becoming more fully human (hello, darkness, my old friend)

I feel strongly that our unwillingness to face and become familiar with our “dark side” has the unhappy fruit of an inability to move forward as well as an increasing frustration with our sense of impotence where we are stuck. We become as one bound, gagged, and blindfolded. I also think that being stuck in this place, brought on primarily by fear and denial, will land us in increasingly sticky situations in order to wake us up and force us to deal with what it is to be human. Religion is particularly vulnerable to this obstacle in personal growth because of the shame and guilt that can be brought to bear. A careful reading of classic contemplative works will reveal that this facing of our state is an important part of the journey, but this has become lost in contemporary treatment of the walk of faith.

Regardless of our belief systems and the way they may help or hinder us in this process, I think it is one we must all encounter in order to gain a more balanced and compassionate perspective when viewing ourselves, others, and the purpose of existence. If, as a person of faith, you allow yourself to become vulnerable to the whisperings of God when an insight into your nature is being offered, if you don’t flinch and resist the knowledge, the happy result of seeing yourself clearly is freedom. Understanding that you have this potential for all manner of thought and behavior, from the most heroic to the most despicable, frees. It frees! Along with this knowledge, and most probably depending on it, is the need to be a gentle friend to yourself. With radical self-acceptance and love, with the release of judgment and ill intent, comes an increased ability to accept others and show them the good intent and compassion you show yourself. You understand on a cellular level that the most base creature you meet is really fundamentally no different than you. We all hold these potentialities within ourselves and our ability to face our own weaknesses honestly makes us less judgmental of the weaknesses of others.

When I keep my eyes open as I am shown what I am capable of, it brings me joy. I understand that there will be an increase of love in my life, both for myself and for others. The side of myself that I don’t want others to see – the pettiness, insecurity, selfishness, ego-driven side I am careful not to show…when I allow myself to see it honestly, I am released from the hold that unacknowledged things exert. It frees me to see parts of myself that I’ve avoided. This can be shocking at first, but is quickly followed by a gentle acceptance and love, making this process a thing of wonder in its power and paradox. What a mystery it is to be human.

Becoming more familiar with my “underbelly” relieves me of the energy I’ve wasted hiding from anything I don’t like about myself. Denial takes work, it takes attention, it takes creativity, and most especially it takes energy.

I recently sat in reflection, thinking of an instance where I had erupted in unexpected anger. As I considered it, I became aware that underneath the anger was the two-faced ugliness of pride and insecurity. I got up, went to a book of poetry and began to read. Instantly, I was caught up in the imagery. It perfectly described the “mountain-top experience”; that place where the Universe sings, where spiritual insights surprise and engulf me. The place where hope resides. But when I came to the last few stanzas, which spoke of the return to the mud and rocks and damaged undergrowth, I was strongly reminded that after the mountain-top is the desert. After the time of insight comes the fall into the everydayness of life’s challenges, perhaps even into a dark place. I was reminded that the loosening of the knots within requires both the transcendent beauty and the return to the muck and the mire. I felt a sense of rest replace my anxiety and self-recrimination. I felt the gentle brush of hope’s wings and was filled with gratitude.

I suppose the bottom line is the same as it always seems to be for me these days. To dive deeply into life, to revel in the moment to moment miracle of an ordinary day, I must engage with both the light and the dark, both the transcendent and the murky recesses of what it is to be human. Only when I allow myself to rest in the presence of hard emotions and experiences can I fully inhabit the joy and wonder of this precious life. I am learning that this is an important part of what it is to be fully human.