A meditative journey through the power of darkness
Creativity has its roots in the power of darkness. Orpheus may have been an extremely talented artist of very ancient times, but he also became a powerful archetype in the ancient Greek and Roman imagination. He was venerated as the greatest of all poets and musicians. As a hero, he visited the underworld and returned to the world of the living. He was an augur and seer who was also credited with several other gifts to mankind, such as medicine, writing, and agriculture.
The most famous story about Orpheus involves his wife, Eurydice, archetypally his Muse. At their wedding, she was attacked by a satyr, a mythical creature symbolizing raw and untamed creativity and sexuality. In her efforts to escape, she fell into a nest of vipers and suffered a fatal bite on her heel. Her body was discovered by Orpheus who, overcome with grief, played such sad and mournful songs that all the nymphs and gods wept. On their advice, Orpheus traveled to the underworld. His music softened the hearts of Hades and his wife Persephone, who agreed to allow Eurydice to return with him to earth on one condition: He should walk in front of her and not look back until they both had reached the upper world. Orpheus set off with Eurydice following. She must have been unsure of his commitment and sought reassurance on their way to the upper world by trying to get his attention, maybe even feeling more at home in the darkness of the underworld. As to Orpheus, as soon as he had reached the upper world, he immediately turned to look at her, forgetting in his eagerness that both of them needed to be in the upper world for the condition of her return to the living to be met. As Eurydice had not yet crossed into the upper world, she vanished for the second time, this time forever.
This archetypal story sheds light on the fact that creativity has its roots in the darkness of the unknown, not in the light of consciousness. No seed germinates in the sun. Creativity and healing go hand in hand because both thrive on multiplying connectivity within the embodied brain and between innumerable mindstates we are capable of. Fostering creativity and healing requires the courage to travel to the darkness of the underworld, which has generative and creative power. The deepest depth of the underworld is meaninglessness, forsakenness, and nothingness, the darkness of which contains the timeless source of all existence. It can never be brought to light, but only to flourish into its myriads of forms through our transparency towards the invisible and uncontrollable unknown we can only receive through openness. Eurydice is thus bound to belong to the underworld as the great muse and mother giving birth to the many facets of reality through Orpheus’ consciousness.
Mindfulness meditation is not just a technical activity, but like playing an instrument, it uses a precise technique to harness the creative power of its instruments, the brain, and mind, for the purpose of healing. How can anyone ever expect to penetrate the depths of our inherently creative healing power without walking through the shadows of the valley of death? The pervasive pitfall I see many meditators fall into is the illusion of being able to heal and escape pain and suffering from the comfort of their couch – without having to leave the comforting light of their familiar ordinary waking consciousness. The adventure of awakening is bound to begin with a plunge into the uncertain darkness of the unknown.
There is a scene in the Amazon Video series ‘The Great’, where Catherine The Great and her army commander in chief argue about going to war. This by the way reminds me of Arjuna and Krishna arguing about exactly the same thing in the Bhagavad Gita. Her commander (like Krishna, and by the way Jesus also in several Bible passages) argues for the importance of going to war: “I suggest going to war, not because of a lust for blood. I feel for the soldiers lost, but I also understand war is a place where men are found. They look at death, they understand life deep in their marrow. They are asked questions with impossible answers and yet find them. They embrace the dark in themselves, and so understand the light. And the country, well, it’s the same for it.” To which I might add: And your mind, well, it’s the same for it.
Then the dialogue proceeds:
Commander: “The war will define us!”
Catherine: “Not going will also define us.”
Commander: “I just know it is my faith, that battle. I have known it forever.”
Catherine: “Perhaps I will bring you a new fate.”
Commander: “Wouldn’t call it fate if there were new ones.”
At that moment a crocodile crawls into the room, a beast the whole court was looking for because it had attacked members of the court. People did not know what kind of animal it was and in their ignorance fantasized it to be some kind of mythical dragon with wings that had come as a bad omen for the fact that Catherine had usurped power from her emperor husband, who initially was a complete, ignorant brute. Catherine is trying to bring reason and compassion into people’s lives and the following exchange ensues:
Commander: “Now we kill it?”
Catherine: “No, not the animal, but we do kill the idea.”
This dialogue speaks for itself. The war metaphor is widespread in spiritual literature. Taking on the mind is the most difficult thing you will ever embark on, and it often feels like going to war against deeply conditioned, stubbornly tyrannical, and hopelessly misguided beliefs. To this end, we must turn away from substance and concreteness (‘not kill the animal’) towards the elusive nature of process and meaning (‘kill the idea’). We must also face the darkness to find the light, the way I have written elsewhere we have to face nihility to find the liberation of emptiness. This archetypally male war metaphor is as important as the archetypally female one impersonated by Catherine, who advocates for attunement, compassion, and reason. Surprisingly, war and compassion are the two sides of the same coin of awakening; both have to go hand in hand, which is why Catherine and the commander get along so well.
What if, as we do in the Mindsight Intensive, you could start simply, with a review of technique that allows you to go to war successfully, knowing your weapons and how to use them? How about learning the art of less effort for greater gain? Then, you would open your vista on the landscape of consciousness, awareness, and reality by having the necessary skill and expertise to properly examine your constructs and delusions. You then would gain access to three different awareness modes, the field of ordinary waking consciousness, of nihility, and of emptiness. You would proceed by first reviewing the sitting meditation process: Dynamic alignment and its four aspects; how to use the tools of intention, attention, and peripheral awareness as you deal with the wandering mind; the embodiment of the attitude of COAL (D. Siegel: curiosity, openness, acceptance, and love); describing and not explaining as you use the sensorimotor vocabulary to make sure you focus on conduit process rather than construct content; the intricacies of working with the breath and decontracting with each out-breath; and how to properly end a formal practice.
The Power of Darkness
As you master the technique, components of reality as revealed at first by the field of ordinary waking consciousness, later by the fields of nihility and emptiness, come to light: Pain and suffering; resistance; impermanence; spaciousness; duality and the nature of objects of the world and the observing subject of ‘me’. You would discover how the familiar field of ordinary waking consciousness is limited and biased towards substance, seeing the world as a collection of things, rather than processes. In this field you would also find the fundamental question ‘why are there things rather than nothing in the universe?’ You would be able to allow your meditation practice to lead you to this field’s limitations as you learn to embrace the inevitable dissolution of everything through impermanence – meaninglessness, forsakenness, absurdity, nothingness, death, spacelessness, timelessness, and namelessness, thereby opening your view onto a contextually broader field of awareness, called the field of nihility. Embracing nothingness is a powerful healer, you would discover, allowing you to take the last step towards the most encompassing awareness mode, the field of emptiness. And you would embark on this incredible journey for the simple reason of finding deep abiding peace and serenity independent of circumstance. How about that?
Copyright © 2021 by Dr. Stéphane Treyvaud. All rights reserved.
Our unique approach to mindfulness »