Friday, June 12, 2015

Summary of a Workshop: Embracing the Dark

 I gave a workshop (three actually) at the 2015 Heartland Pagan Festival. It was a great experience (check out my friend, Molly's blog here) and eye-opening in many ways. I formatted my workshops as discussions (yes, all of them), and each of them went in a different direction than I had predicted. But it was wonderful!

I am attempting here to summarize, with a bit of additional commentary, what the discussion ended up being for my workshop: Embracing the Dark

The Dark

Close your eyes and picture yourself in a bright, sunny place. See the brightness around you.

Now turn around in your mind. You now find yourself in a dark place. There is just enough light to see shapes, but otherwise it is dark.

Think about the differences in how you felt about each location. Think about the emotions and the level of comfort in each place. Most people see the dark as restful, while the light is energetic. Fear or concern is also common in the dark place.

Most people know about sun-bleaching, where you leave something in the sun and the color fades out of it. The reason this happens is because the sunlight actually destroys compounds and sterilizes. On the other hand, life thrives in darkness, even if that life is gooy and icky. Photosynthesis is a balance of using radiant energy without being destroyed by it. Skin color is a protection from light.

This doesn't mean that light is bad, any more than dark is bad. Our defense against light provides us with nutrients. Light allows us to see and sunlight provides food and warmth so that we can function during the day in ways we can't at night. But the night provides many opportunities for us to challenge ourselves and grow.

And the night isn't just the time when the sun goes down. Think about times in your life when you've been sad or stressed. Do your memories change with those moods? Mine do. I have periods of time in my life when I've been unhappy, or just passively going through my life. One of those times, I was pregnant and just getting the stuff done that needed done. Memories of those times have very little light. I think that reflects the darkness and restfulness of that time.

Nighttime is often where we have huddled together against the animals and elements that would do us harm. More important types of questing, such as rites of adulthood, have often involved being away from the tribe or village overnight. It isn't about proving that you could find food. These quests were usually only a few days long, not long enough to starve. It was about facing the dark


What is it that the dark holds which challenges us so much that we have used it for proving spiritual and physical maturity?

I think the dark holds fear.

The Dark of the Year holds the fear that we will never see the Spring again. Spring brings food and warmth, the ability to travel with less danger, and even brightness and joy of spirit. The Dark of the Year causes us to constrict and enfold ourselves and our kith and kin into a ball of protection.

In the movie, The Croods, they call it the Family Kill Circle, which they would form if someone even said the word "NEW". They were so afraid of new things, they would try to destroy something new before they could learn about it, but also before it had a chance to kill them.

The Dark Goddesses hold fear, too. Kali, Hel, Tiamet, Baba Yaga, Sheila na Gig - Goddesses of death, destruction, blood, disease and pain. But blood, disease and pain are closely related to death and destruction. And death and destruction are different words for something really new (Family Kill Circle): transformation.

Transformation. That's another thing the dark holds. We just don't like the idea of transformations that are out of our control, which is how all really good transformations work. We don't control the way we transform, how much we transform, or what we transform into. We have to let go and hope that the ooey gooey stuff in the deep dark cave will give us a miraculous new life-form, and isn't going to give us a disease.


I call the fears in the dark of my mind my monster. It is the nemesis to my ego's hero, and it knows where the kryptonite is. The green AND the red (for you Superman fans, out there).It can cripple with fear or break with anger, and it doesn't even break a sweat to do it.

There are a lot of common themes in people's monsters, in the things that they fear. One that often trips people up in understanding is the fear of success. Yes, I mean that people are afraid of being successful in something. This fear isn't about the actual success itself. It's about the things that come with having success.

For example, if you successfully pull off a presentation or workshop, you are probably going to be expected to do it again. Just as well. Holy fish sticks, batman, that's a lot of pressure, particularly if you tend to be creatively inspired and pull stuff out of your ass. What if you can't pull anything next time?!?

Or what if you get your book published? And you never get another book or story published EVER?!? The only thing worse than failure is pity for being a one-hit wonder of success. You would be the child star who grew out of their talent. That's a pretty intimidating fear.

I just read an article that beautifully describes the fear of success that I suffer from. The fraud fear. The author says:
"I feel bad about people paying for my work because I think that the people who buy and even those who appreciate my work are somehow being duped. I keep feeling that at some point I am going to be found out to be an imposter.  I feel bad when my work is considered valuable."
 In trying to explain my own feelings of this, I posted this: "I feel this way about writing and workshops. Like suddenly everyone is just gonna turn around and be like "gotcha! your stuff really sucks!" "
I sometimes think he
underestimates the "try".

The thing is, fear of failure makes sense. And it is common to have a fear of failure. But fear of success is just weird, and yet so, so often it goes hand-in-hand with fear of failure. That's why there are so many people who talk about doing, but never do. You have to face down that monster and move past it so that you can even try.

Facing the Monster

Probably the most common question I get about facing the monster is "How do you do it?" Unfortunately, there is no template for this. Each person is unique, with unique experiences, perceptions and variations on fears. The form and function of your monster is different from the form and function of mine. The way you handle your monster depends on that, as well as the path that you are on.

The point is that there are so many variables, I could never get it right dealing with someone else's monster. I can only figure out my own. However, I can tell you some ways to prepare for it, and for finding your monster.

First, you have to do the dirty work. Hunt down your flaws, wherever they may be. I started by investigating my natal zodiac and looking at the negative aspects of those signs. I picked them apart until I was sure that I understood each one within my own life... than I went through them again and again. Then I found other things to hint at my flaws: the Meyers-Briggs and other personality tests, workplace evaluations, even minor complaints from friends and family about certain of my actions.

I strove to be radically honest, but not brutally honest; I wasn't trying to judge myself or beat myself up over these things. I wasn't a judicial authority passing a sentence or laying down a conviction. I wasn't even a lawyer, making a case for or against my flaws. I was nothing more than the crime scene investigator, collecting evidence and analyzing it for the data. I made a list. Nothing more.

After a while, I stopped having to fight to see my negatives objectively. I could look at my flaws and say "well, there it is". This took a long time; more that a year.
I think I made
a wrong turn at Albuquerque...

Than, one day, I was meditating. We were supposed to go into a cave and meet someone who would help us learn a lesson, or something like that. I promptly fell into a pitch black abyss and was suddenly being hunted by my monster. Once I realized what it was, the fear left me. I'd gotten used to looking at the evidence of this monster without judgment, to searching for evidence of the monster without flinching. I turned and faced my monster.

Some monsters end up
being these guys...
In a way, it was the hardest thing I've ever done, and yet it wasn't particularly difficult. It was the doing that was hard, not the it. I'm reminded of the movie, Monsters Inc, where the monsters are terrified of touching a child. It's the fears of what could happen that is the problem, not the children themselves.

The hardest part

I wish I could say that I faced my monster, destroyed it and that was the end. But this is not a movie or a quest. This is a journey, and the monster is not the destination. My monster changes and grows, and I face it down every once in a while. This is because I am still living and, to a degree, that means there's always something to fear, negative behaviors to fall back on, stressors that trigger the growth of a head on my monster. But it's never as daunting as it was the first time. Still hard, but not daunting.

I know that it is time to go back when I see my life becoming stagnant. I stop conquering obstacles and start sitting by the wayside. I start behaving in ways that frightens or intimidates people, or I let people walk over my boundaries. I stop being awesome-ish and start being eh-ish.

And that's the point of life, I think. To be more often awesome-ish.

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