coming through darkness

(journeying into the unknown territory of ourselves)

Gathering my courage, I take off my shoes and step into the dark entranceway of the temple. I hold onto a railing made of large round beads that immediately reminds me of my mala. I take the first steps down the gradual slope. There are people in front and behind me. I hear their soft steps and their breath but in the darkness I can’t see anything. The way is longer than I thought and the darkness is deep.

Finally, I turn a corner and see a soft light shining on a huge round stone with an OM sign carved on its centre. It is breathtaking and amazing! The stone is smooth from the many thousands of hands that have touched it for a blessing. I rub the stone too and walk around it, then continue up to an exit, holding onto the mala railing. Up and up with each step it gets lighter.

I step out into the streets of Kyoto. This is my first visit to Japan. As I visit each temple I am aware of the play of light and dark — the shine on the worn wooden walkways, the soft glow of the dark green moss gardens, the shimmering touch of a golden roof reflected in the deep water.

Often, travel and new surroundings can force us to be a little extra present. By experiencing where we are in our travels, we gain a different perspective on life “at home.” Most of the time our own spaces feel familiar and ordinary. In new places, ordinary daily events are more involving in their newness. We readily enter into the unfamiliar and unknown to learn.

Can we take this attitude into the everyday? Each day we journey into unknown territory of ourselves. It’s important to take in the whole spectrum of life, appreciating the dark and light.

The light can show what has accumulated in the darkness of the mind and heart. We create familiar ways of being in our ignorance. We defend them in the darkness of our self-centredness, cleverness and pride. In a flash of light they become visible like the junk in a forgotten cellar. Once we see what we have stuffed away in our unconscious we can start cleaning it up by bringing the light in. The illusions that keep us from our potential have to be sorted out.

Do you know the uncharted dark places where there are fears, anxieties and judgements? Where do these images and thoughts come from? We can enter in with curiosity and interest. Who is the guide there? What is happening? What is the message? Can you suspend judgement and allow yourself to experience what is there in the darkness?

Spiritual practices, such as awareness through reflection, are needed, especially if life is difficult and when there is pain and disappointment. We are not daydreaming about liberation from our fears but taking the action to search for the Light even in the darkest moments. We know, having experienced the glimpses, we can find the place again. We can practise keeping the memory of Light alive — recall the highlights of the journey and how even the most difficult events can be turned around if we learn about our inner spiritual strength. Each step takes us closer to our inner selves.

It’s amazing to see the transformation as people build a bridge to their divinity after suppressing the pain of abuse or abandonment. The strength of their inner voice gradually gives them a way to begin to deal with the pain.

We need to be ready to take responsibility for ourselves. We need to know we can enter the darkness and survive with the light securely part of us. There are many paths leading us to the spark of Light within. Each culture creates whatever form, image or practice helps us return to our original purpose. Our life is impelled to keep growing and evolving toward higher levels of consciousness.

Returning home, imprints of the experience in Japan stay with me. As I walk into my home it is like a new country. With so many languages to learn, different ways to be, different ways to worship, why do we live the way we do? Can we consciously take the steps that lead us beyond our limitations and be open to new ideas?

The experience I had in the temple, walking into the unknown, echoes the journey of life. We have all walked through the dark times and found the moments of Light. When people study themselves, through yoga, at first there is an apprehension of what they will find, but there is also the hope that the Light will be there. Everybody holds a fear of what they will find on their spiritual journey, but there will also be signposts to keep on. The railing, the guide, the practices. Step by step.

Every day the opportunity is there to step into who you really are. Keep going in. Embedded in each person is this seed of Light that nourishes, vibrates the potential. What is the clutter? What is the fear? Here and now is the time to start the journey inward and keep coming back to that place of Light.

Swami Radhananda is president and spiritual director of Yasodhara Ashram in British Columbia, Canada.

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