Friday, October 31, 2014

Breathing into the Dark

"Hello Darkness, My Old Friend"
- Halloween at the Desert Retreat House -

It was about 4 o'clock yesterday morning when I suddenly woke up from a sound sleep - something was wrong, it was all very disorienting.  I then realized that somehow our electric power was off.  I hadn't before realized just how much light there was in our house during the night hours - lights from alarm clocks, a kitchen light, a bathroom and a hall night light. But now there was nothing, only pitch-black darkness along with the wailing sounds of coyotes howling in the mountains. To be honest it was actually kind of scary, even our "brave" dogs were snuggled up next to us in the bed. 

I decided to go outside to see what was happening and I discovered that the whole neighborhood had been affected by the blackout, it was total darkness everywhere, until I looked up into the desert skies.

The skies at night here are always amazing, but without any ambient ground light, I was able to see those night time skies as I never did before- a breathtaking, brilliant array of cosmic delight, so powerful that I could barely take it all in, and there wasn't even a hint of fear in the night. 

I remembered something I had read in Barbara Brown Taylor's book, Learning to Walk in the Dark. She recalled her childhood memories of being so fearful of the night:

No one had ever taught me to talk back to the dark or even to breathe into it.
The idea that it might be friendly was absurd.

Yesterday, as I stood outside my house when the night was as dark as dark can get, gazing up into that "starry, starry night," I was indeed breathing into the dark, making friends with the night.

Today people everywhere are celebrating Halloween. When I was growing up I don't remember it being as big a holiday as it is today. But Halloween now seems to be somewhat equal to Christmas and Thanksgiving. Stores are all decorated for Halloween, parties, parades, adults as well as children all dressed as ghosts and goblins, zombies and vampires. 

Actually the origins of Halloween can be traced back to the ancient Celts who believed that this time of year was a "thin place"-  a time when the veil between the living and the dead was lifted for a night, when the spirits of the dead would haunt the earth. So the people would dress up like ghosts - they would dress up like the spirits of whom they were most afraid.  

I actually think Halloween is a great time for facing our own demons and making friends with the night. 

There is darkness and there is light in every single one of us. We walk through life with our better angels and we are also accompanied by the demons that come to us at night - our greatest fears, our weaknesses, our deepest doubts, angers and lusts, our times of despair, our sadness and our secret sins. 

And yet, we often hide from these demons or just pretend they aren't there - even though they are always walking alongside each of us in life's journey.  

So Halloween is a good time to "dress up like the demons," to acknowledge their presence and tell them that we aren't afraid of them. And when we do that, the demons are transformed. They cease to be wild beasts that scare us in the night. They can even become our friends. 

I think I'll turn off all the lights tonight and look up into the desert skies: 

Hello darkness, my old friend!


  1. When the power goes off it is quiet. No refrigerator hum. I often find myself turning on the lights only to remember when nothing happens that the power is off. But I like it being so quiet that the only sound is the breeze through an open window or rain drops splattering and making eruptions of dust in the bare spot in the lawn where the dog lays each day and the purring of the cats who do not know the power is off.

    1. Just little pleasures that are forgotten to exist when everything is 'normal'.