Light and darkness in dialog
I listen to NPR a lot. I’m a conflicted liberal. I grew up in a liberal household, listening to NPR all the time. I love This American Life, All Things Considered, and Prairie Home Companion is nostalgic. These days I’m a little less liberal and hold NPR in a bit of skepticism as I listen. But I still love listening.
Today when I was making lunch there was a talk show on. The speakers were addressing the recent violence, and in the context of “darkness” and the solstice. Actually, this was a remarkably creative take on things, for this kind of talk show, which tends to be overly factual, overly dry.
At one point, a caller made a point about the solstice, which is today, being a time for quiet contemplation. According to him, and it seems reasonable, this was in many cultures, a time to go into the darkness, to settle down, and contemplate the sadness and pain in one’s life, maybe in general. He made a point of saying that this time of year was not just about hope, or about light. It was about finding the light in the darkness.
This was fascinating.
Here’s what I liked about this: the idea of solstice and winter, even, as a time of contemplation, and the idea of working with darkness (shadow maybe). I liked the emphasis on not jumping to hope, or to light. Not making things artificially positive.
What I didn’t like: the insistence on hope, and light, the assumption of what one would find as the result of contemplation. As an avid reader of Chogyam Trungpa, hope always rings false with me. There are arguments to reconcile VCTR’s hopelessness with hope, but usually when I hear people going off about “hope” it seems a little aggressive and desperate, a little flimsy. Then, the bigger problem is suggesting that one will always find light in the darkness.
You might not. I think insights will always happen, but they might not take the form of light. I also think, and this has been born out by how many Buddhist teachers present the dharma, that you can’t tell someone what kind of insight they’ll have if they reflect. You might find light, or further chaos, or you might discover all sorts of things. Until it’s actual spontaneous insight, it’s not very helpful or useful. It’s someone else’s insight. An encouragement, maybe, but maybe also a way to avoid actually doing it oneself.
Then again, the duality of light and dark. Somehow this also bugs me, as a Buddhist, the duality. Then again, there are ways to make it work.