Only when we are spiritually awake, can we really help others. And only by helping others can we stay spiritually awake. But to help others and stay in the light, we must be willing to confront our own darkness.
A true spiritual awakening is more than just positive feelings about God or a higher power. In order to live in sustained spiritual light, we have to process our darkness and turn even that into spiritual wellness. We have to dive into the darkness of our inner self and come out into the brilliant light on the other side. The other side of darkness is always light.
To keep our spiritual life whole, we have to see and acknowledge who we really are, all of it, every little piece of our torn and suffering self. We have to uncover our trapped grief, our hurt child, and release it before we can heal ourselves and be of any real use to others.
In the 1960s folk song, “Pack up Your Sorrows,” Richard Farina sang, “If somehow you could pack up your sorrows and give them all to me, you would lose them, and I know how to use them. Give them all to me.”
The idea that you can use your difficulties or sorrows and focus them into purpose is not unique. Farina is also the author of the novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, which further celebrates authenticity gained through the rough side of life.
Unless we accept ourselves, even the parts we instinctively hide, we cannot be happy, we cannot be whole. That means accepting even the bad, and that involves digging deep inside ourselves to uncover the hidden darkness.
There’s a passage in All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, where the narrator is talking with his friend who is also the governor of Louisiana, Willie Stark. The narrator says, “You did some good things, building bridges, building schools and hospitals, but there was always corruption as part of it. Why did you have to bring in the bad?”
And Willie replies that he didn’t bring in the bad. He insists that the bad was always there, that he used the bad to create the good. “You have to make the good out of the bad because that is all you have to make it out of.”
In another part of the book, the narrator says, “We students of history always learn that human beings are very complicated contraptions and that they are not good or bad but are good and bad and the good comes out of the bad and the bad out of the good, and the devil takes the hindmost.”
Carl Jung noted that “if a doctor wishes to help a human being he must be able to accept him as he is.” In order to do so, Jung insists that the doctor must accept himself. But in order to accept himself, the doctor must confront the most despicable aspect of himself, the darkest recess, and then forgive it.
There is no virtue in seeing just the good and accepting just the good. Praising just the positive and denying the negative is a form of willing blindness. And the truest place to face darkness is within ourselves. That’s where the real work of growth begins. Jung said. “I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”
Our unexamined attitudes, our uncovered darkness, our unhealed grief, all bind into a wall that holds us back from our most authentic self and keeps us small. To awaken, to really grow, we must drag our darkness out into the light where it can dissolve, where it can shrink to a manageable size and haunt us no longer.