Why True Spirituality Embraces Dark Moments And Doesn’t Spin Them
Western cultures often misinterpret Eastern spiritual practices, likely due to the ingrained inclination of Capitalism to prepackage any object or idea’s essence for mass consumption. A process of trimming mystic elements delivers a treasure chest stuffed with mindfulness techniques, deep breathing practices, chakra alignments, yoga poses, and meditation tactics that prove empty in spirit.
Rather than reflecting ancient teachings of Taoist and Buddhist texts, American methods closely resemble Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and other Western concepts and philosophies.
“Many people swear by positive thinking; few are helped by it.” -Srikumar Rao Ph.D.
Westernized variants lack an existential dimension which suppresses entire portions of our inner world and outer experiences. Perhaps it is because this darkness doesn’t quite fit into the narrative of a positive psychology movement. But an infinite night is not to be transcended but integrated. So, the inspirational Instagram posts marked by glittery crystals and superficial quotes about gratitude become trite.
A continuing inundation of spiritual practitioners – especially with social media providing accessibility for anyone to contribute to the dialogue – is problematic. Not everyone is equally qualified to offer an opinion. When frustrated I don’t feel better after drinking lemon water or waking up early to meditate, I need to recognize perhaps I blindly believe the articles and advice on my screen. Are they all empirically valid theories? I shouldn’t feel bad because my attempts at making myself feel better and lifting my heavy load fail consistently regardless.
The necessity of darkness
The reality is, Eastern spiritual practices I’ve explored as a novice encourage embracing ever-present darkness- even when it suffocates you. The first stanza of the Tao Te Ching reads:
Darkness within darkness. The gateway to all understanding.
When people are in particularly dark times, practices such as meditation and positive thinking can do more harm than good. Fall into your darkness instead of grasping at positivity straws for once and I bet you’ll find a little bit of light peaks its head through without trying. Eastern culture teaches us that the universe is indifferent to our suffering. So, life lies precisely within a crack in the sidewalk, where the dirt falls but does not cease. If you feel stuck in darkness, remember peace comes from independently adapting advice into thoughts, practices, and a lifestyle that resonates and helps you. At times the most oxymoronic behaviors are the most healing because they acknowledge the darkness inside.
After his lover Kamala’s death, Siddhartha learns of his son’s existence and takes him to be raised within the ascetic principles of his Buddhist world. Young Siddhartha (they had the same name), having never known anything but a life of wealth and riches, coupled with the death of his mother, lived there in fury and agony. The more his father tried to greet him with compassion and peace, the more obstinate the child became, unleashing poison darts of hate everywhere he could.
Siddhartha, the most enlightened Brahman in the world, could not heal his own son’s darkness. It was selfish and empty even to try. His son would never be happy living in the woods, fasting, and meditating. And finally, Siddhartha realizes: “This love, this blind love for his son, was a passion, something very human, that it was Sansara, a murky source, dark waters. Nevertheless, he felt at the same time; it was not worthless; it was necessary, came from the essence of his being. This pleasure also had to be atoned for; this pain also had to be endured; these foolish acts also had to be committed.”
Not everyone can step outside, enjoy the beauty of nature, and “just breathe” to feel better. And that’s ok. We don’t have to push down our darkness because that takes away from the richness of our lives. We need to start facilitating more inclusive spiritual ideologies that are less reductive and more individualized and radical. Isn’t that the fundamental reason most of us gravitate towards these practices in the first place? Can you decide to live with your darkness?
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