Saturday, March 14, 2015

Too Much Light

- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

Now that we have moved into Daylight Savings Time, most of our waking hours are spent in the light.  Yesterday as I sat on my patio in the early evening, everything was still illuminated by the bright light of the desert sun. In some ways I like the extra daylight, yet in other ways I miss the extra time for sitting under the night skies. 

It struck me yesterday that sometimes there can be too much light in our lives. Like all animals, human beings cannot thrive without both darkness and light in our lives- our body rhythms depend upon light as well as darkness. We also need the shadows for our mental and spiritual health. 

The other day, I came across this interesting observation in a local newspaper:

Human beings need the shadow world, those things that cannot be easily explained,
those things we suspect or imagine but do not know,
and all those other areas of our lives that are defined by their gradation of uncertainty.
Such ambiguity plays an important role in human thought and perception.

We often talk about a spiritual journey as "walking in the light."  Christians refer to themselves as "children of the light." Buddhists walk on a path of wisdom seeking "enlightenment."  And yet, there  is a lurking  danger inherent to walking a path of light.  Sometimes there can be too much light, so much light that the path seems obvious and simple-- doctrine and dogma carefully illuminating the truth, easy formulaic steps to properly meditate and achieve enlightenment. 

The interesting paradox about walking as "children of the light" is that you cannot walk a path of light without also walking in the darkness. You can never walk toward the light without entering into a world of mystery, uncertainty and ambiguity. 

Saint John of the Cross, the renowned 16th century monk and mystic, teaches that a spiritual journey involves a "dark night of the soul." He suggests that bright and clear answers about "God" are more often substitutes for "God." In fact, the farther along one travels on the spiritual path the more one understands that he or she knows "nothing" because God is an unsolvable riddle, an incomprehensible mystery. 

For John of the Cross, once you have come to the point where you are able to move away from the bright light of certainty, you are only then on the shadowy path of faith. He says this about the spiritual path: 

If a person wants to be sure of the road he treads on,
he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.

I love basking in the bright light of the desert sun but I also cherish the growing shadows of sunset; and I relish the great mystery of the brilliant night skies when I stand in awe at the flaming cosmos so far beyond the control of my own little self. It aways humbles me to think I am a part of it. 

Saint John of the Cross also says:

We are never more in danger of stumbling
than when we think we know where we are going.

Sometimes there can be too much light. 

Listen to my podcast: "Desert Wisdom"


  1. Dear Paul

    I believe you have captured well the subtlety of recognizing and valuing the darkness for its separate gifts, just as your beautiful photograph does. If you look at the picture and only see the well-lit parts you may miss the feeling entirely, the time of day, the contours of the hills and the depth of the canyons, the height of the palms.

    Although I live near Seattle, I was in Indio last week visiting friends. We shared a dinner in La Quinta (at Lavender Restaurant) and went for a hike together up Palm Canyon -- which I bet you know. There, too, beauty could be found out of the blazing sun beneath the palms, in their shadows, their oasis and sanctuary.


    1. Thanks for the comment Dan.. I live in LaQuinta, right up at the edge of the mountains and so I very much know the area you describe. Peace my friend.