Lessons From the Dark

When I think of the dark, my association is not immediately positive. I don’t often remember the importance of the dark, of down times, yet the dark is a part of dreaming, of the creative process, and often contains insights.

The first time my view of the dark was challenged was when I read M. Esther Harding’s The Value and Meaning of Depression. I read it more than forty years ago; it remains one of those amazing moments when a an idea opens a whole new way of perceiving the world. The need for times of darkness, the idea that darkness can be a source of nourishment, an incubator, a storeroom of nutrients, opened many possibilities I hadn’t seen.

It helped me begin to approach feelings i usually avoided: fear, anger, sorrow, low energy — feelings I’d associated with darkness.

Exploring the depths

The idea that depression could be a natural part of life gave me permission to explore my own depths.

We live in a world that constantly calls for our active presence and engagement. Our electronic gadgets have multiplied the calls on our attention and intensified the need to be constantly on, constantly giving out, constantly available.

All the more reason to spend some time dwelling in our depths and befriending our “dark”. Fleeing from our fears, anger, or sorrow means the insights they offer us and the energy they contain are lost.

If we learn to move toward our darkness it has gifts for us. Sometimes we don’t feel strong enough to do this on our own. Finding the right support is important, whether you build it internally, or seek it externally. You want your encounter with the dark to be healing.

Help befriending the dark

Look for someone who is

  • Trustworthy
  • Experienced
  • Oriented to supporting you
  • Aims to help you rather than do it to you or for you
  • Open to what is (doesn’t have a frozen point of view that all experience fits into)

While these qualities are ones you to look for in an external guide, you can apply them to yourself too:

Trustworthy: Do you trust yourself to explore? If not, why not. What do you feel you need that you don’t have? What areas need more development? What needs to be removed?

Experienced: What experience do you have with yourself or with others? What experience do you need? Are there experiences you need to heal before you start? What’s your track record with this? What patterns and habits help you deal and which ones get in the way?

Oriented to support: What’s your relationship like with you? Is your inner voice more likely to be critical or a cheerleader? Does your inner voice need an attitude adjustment before you start?

Lets you do it: Does your inner guide take over? Acknowledge and appreciate your progress and efforts?

Openness to what is: Are you able to suspend judgment and simply inquire without assuming?

Dreaming and the dark

The unconscious provides material for our dreams and our dreams can express the wisdom of the unconscious.

I’ve recently begun a four-session dream group with Trevor Simpson,and have found the process both fascinating and useful. I am back to remembering dreams and I love the sense that there are riches in dark each night.

Skills for working with dreams, openness and patience, inquiring without assuming, compassion, gentleness toward oneself, and the ability to use focused but soft attention (attention that isn’t trying to force meaning from what you are paying attention to) are useful in many areas, not only in working with my dreams.

The dream work session helped me remember M. Esther Harding and the need to befriend my fears, anger, sorrow and gain a better understanding of times when I feel less energy or interest in the world.

Dr. Jean Raffa is A Jungian Analyst who often references Harding. Her website is devoted to accessing our inner wisdom.

Join the discussion: What have you found helpful when exploring the dark or exploring your dreams?



  1. Hi Lynn, enjoyed your reflection on darkness, thanks. One of my favourite quotes about the subject came from Daniel Ladinsky’s Love Poems from God. “Darkness is a sacred wick awaiting your touch Beloved to become a sacred flame. Light is the cure, all else a placebo.” attributed to St. Francis.

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