The Winter Solstice of Our Madness

Enter the Darkness

Enter the Darkness

“Darkness within darkness – the gateway to all understanding.”
Tao Te Ching

The Universe, in its eternal wisdom, cycles through Light and Darkness, year after year, century after century, eon after eon. In our human experience, this has always been and, in our hopes, always will be. Light gives way, inexorably, to Darkness and, in equal measure, that Darkness always yields to growing Light. Today, December 21, 2012, is the Winter Solstice – the shortest day, and longest night – of this cycle. In this night of greatest Darkness, the Light begins to return. It is a Darkness we must embrace.

For many, the Winter Solstice of Our Madness occurred on Friday, December 14, at an elementary school in a small New England town – the kind of place we like to think embodies all we love about ourselves as a nation. And it does. But that day, a black maelstrom of madness and heedless weapons of death ended the young, bright lives of more than two dozen small children and young adults, and exploded our delusion that this kind of Darkness can be overlooked – that it should not touch us, that its existence is an aberration, that this kind of thing is somehow visited on us from somewhere else – that this Darkness is not really “ours.”

Each time, we look for reasons; we try to “understand.” We want to reassure ourselves that this kind of thing can be explained by some particular set of circumstances, if only we can find them. We look for some individual responsibility, some legislative solution, some counter-attack, some set of moral rules that – if only everyone obeyed them – would assure us that this kind of thing could never happen again. We look at each incident as an exception, isolated from all the others… Because we insist on trying to ignore the fearful Darkness that we, ourselves, have allowed to become a subterranean part of our culture – unnamed, and unacknowledged. And the unacknowledged only grows in its destructive power.

All children know this Darkness, and we once did, too. Children are quick to cry out that there are monsters under their beds, hiding in their closets, and banging on their windows, with fangs and teeth and claws. Their instincts are right. And the children call upon us to help them dispel those monsters. And we do. The wise among us do not deny the existence of the monsters; we tell our children how to render the monsters powerless, how to make them go away… And how we can do it through our own will and wisdom, and no way else.

Acknowledgement does not – and should not – suggest powerlessness; it suggests only understanding of what is. The absence of that acknkowledgement is what makes us powerless. This Darkness IS our own, and it will not be ignored. This Darkness is the living hell of the mentally ill, thrown onto the streets or into the arms of families who have no tools or support to adequately help them. It is the Darkness of irresponsible greed, and consequences be damned, of those who promote the relentless sale of almost incomprehensible weapons of death, for their own profit, to anyone. It is the Darkness of our tacitly agreeing to live in a culture that isolates us from each other, that tells us, in a thousand ways, that someone else is more likely our enemy than our brother or sister, our parent, our grandparent, or our child – that we are each responsible only for ourselves, and for no one else – that the others don’t matter. It is the Darkness of our being told that we are somehow “exceptional,” and destined to be better than others, and our so often failing to remember that it is cooperation, and not competition, that allows us to thrive. It is the Darkness of our thinking that we need no help, nor should we be expected to give any. It is the Darkness of our believing that there need be no Darkness, at all, ever, at least not for us…

But the truth is that the Universe is equal parts Darkness and Light, both always moving toward growth and life. On this longest and darkest night of the year, let us sit with our own Darkness, acknowledge it, and then begin to move ourselves, together, by our own wills and the grace of the Universe, once again inexorably toward the Light.


Stuff: Part One


This is some of our Stuff… I’m not quite sure what this is all about, this ridding ourselves of so much of our Stuff… But it’s been going on for almost two months now – drawer by drawer, pile by pile, shelf by shelf. And I’m thinking about it…

I can look back on a sequence and confluence of Events, although being able to name these Events sheds no light on what actually caused them, what they might mean, or how, in retrospect, they seem to have joined forces with the Universe and led to this. Logically speaking, it began when we had to remove a newly-defunct and empty oil tank from our basement. There was a lot of Stuff in our basement – all very tidy, but THERE. The tank couldn’t be taken out until a path was cleared. So that was the first thing the Universe presented, and my good man got right on it… And ordered a dumpster. (As I’ve mentioned before, having a dumpster is every woman’s fondest dream, no matter what you may have heard about red convertibles and pelts of dead animals.) We began filling it up, with two-by-fours, empty paint cans, leftover floor tiles, scraps of carpeting, broken snow shovels, empty cardboard boxes, and so on.

In the middle of this, my husband went to visit a good buddy in Colorado, whose sweetheart had just come to live with him in the house in which he’s lived for his entire fifty-ish years, full of his Stuff, his parents’ Stuff, his son’s Stuff, and more… Much more. Sweetheart arrived armed with a small book by Karen Kingston called Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui/FREE Yourself from Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Clutter Forever. ( My husband – whose intimate familiarity with any Oriental spiritual practice is equal to his personal experience with breast feeding – was miraculously hooked on the entire concept… And we already had a dumpster. We were apparently ready for this. Who can “explain” these things? Sometimes – probably all of the time, actually – the “right” time comes without our really knowing it, and we realize that we are in the hands of the Universe.

That same week, I was in Idaho with a very dear GF, who left her expansive Long Island home a year and a half ago, moved herself, her sweetheart, and Splash, the Wonder Dog, into a thirty-four-foot RV, and has been happily living in it ever since, all over the northern half of the Western Hemisphere. (See my earlier post, Eight Days at Blackwell Island.) She used to have quite a lot of Stuff; now she doesn’t, and she’s more than fine with that. I liked it, too.

So those are the Events-That-Took-Place. But what was really happening? For twenty years, we’ve been pleasantly and regularly accumulating Stuff. We’re not particularly hoarders – except, maybe, for my collection of more than a hundred plastic souvenir snowballs; have to ‘fess up to that… Overall, we consider ourselves pretty tidy. We make our bed almost every day; we dutifiully and punctually recycle every possible thing; and rarely does a dirty dish sit in our sink for more than an hour. (I guess this makes us QUITE tidy, actually.) So why have we now suddenly found ourselves seriously compelled to rid ourselves of so much of our Stuff, and right this minute?

One of the most intriguing things about Kingston’s little book is that it addresses the reasons we accumulate our Stuff. “Just in case” is first on the list, followed by all kinds of other motivations like self-identity, status, territoriality, using a ton of Stuff to bury feelings of insecurity, and so on. No amount of trying to convince ourselves that all those magazines really should be neatly arranged on the coffee table is ever going to trump any of these emotional powerhouses – especially if we’re not even aware of their existence.

Instead of thinking of this as some reiteration of perpetual “tidyng up,” both of us began to consider how we really felt about our Stuff. What had each of us, without much thought, brought to our shared life from our individual former lives, living in different places, with different people? What were we hanging on to for no reason other than the fact it was there, and we were used to it? Were there things we’d never really liked in the first place…? Indeed there were. Major life transitions – divorce, moving, death – often necessitate this sort of reconsideration of Stuff, but this was coming from none of those. It was coming from the great Somewhere Else…

Interestingly enough, we started with the bedroom – the room where we spend that third of our lives, where we are most intimate in every way, and where, each night, we release ourselves to the still, dark, and mysterious unconsciousness of sleep and dreams… The most private place seemed the best place to start. We considered every item in that room, one by one. We switched closets. Bags of clothing we hadn’t worn for years went to the thrift store. I finally confessed to my husband that I’d hated his alarm clock for twenty years, and we got a new one. I told him I never really liked his nightstand, either – or my own. He kept his; I got a new one. Three paintings that no longer meant much of anything to either of us disappeared by mutual agreement. It was a fascinating project – especially for two people who pretty much thought they knew everything about themselves, about each other, and never kept secrets from either…

We’ve worked our way through desk drawers, bookshelves, file cabinets, kitchen cabinets, piles of things that had sat on the stairs for years, waiting to be transported to some long-forgotten destiny; overburdened horizontal surfaces all over the house; the linen closet (Why did we have almost two dozen adorable little guest towels, when we hardly have that many guests in a year, and, surely, not every guest needs his or her personal and unique hand-wiper…?); two china cabinets (Five sets of wine glasses? Four corkscrews?); and even my studio closet – an Ali Baba’s cave of treasures and trash of stunning magnitude. I had to really work my up to that one… And I began to seriously ponder the fact that I had chosen to make the unseen part of my personal “creative space” a repository for anything and everything of mine that had no place else to go. I had stuffed away quite a lot, without even thinking about it… The hidden clutter may be even more nefarious than the Stuff that’s right in our face.

So what are we doing with all that Stuff that we didn’t consider dumpster fodder…? My sometimes-awesomely-brilliant husband came up with the idea of a holiday “Good Karma No-Tag Tag Sale.” We’re having a two-day party, and giving everything away. Free. Whatever it is. No matter how “good” it is – things that were once “good” for us may now be “good” for someone else. The choices weren’t made on the value of the objects themselves; they were made on the value of the connections we have with them. Whatever’s left over will go to that same thrift store, just in time for the holidays – theirs and ours.

We had the dumpster for almost six weeks – until we realized, with a newly-familiar combination of chagrin and enlightenment, that even the dumpster, like so much of our other Stuff, was threatening to become a permanent fixture in our lives, simply because we had gotten used to it. So we called to have it finally, filled to the brim, taken away. We weren’t here when they came to get it, but we’d already said goodbye to all of it.

For those of us whose lives have allowed us the great luxury of being able to accumulate so much, it takes quite a bit of time, energy, and conscious thought, to move toward a state of greater emptiness… But that seems to be what it takes, if that’s what we want. Ask any Zen master. Ask yourself.

“We are not committed to this or that. We are committed to the nothing in between…whether we know it or not.” John Cage