The Third Step: Darkness
1. Why Darkness matters
Some ask about how to discover their True Will? And some think of this as a natural byproduct of achieving communion with their HGA. Now, let's not mix up all the things shiny on the mystical path. To gain conscious communion with your HGA doesn't mean you will know your True Will. At least not straight away. As mentioned in the doctor-patient-camera metaphor: it's kind of hard to explain the purpose of the operation to the camera? It's brainpower is just horribly limited. Not because it's stupid but because it wasn't meant to 'understand' the process but just execute specific parts of it...
Rather than trying to understand our True Will, let's start by understanding everything it isn't. That is to identify all the vicarious desires and false projections we have built up out of desperation. Getting rid of everything that isn't our True Will is a huge step on our journey towards communion with our HGA. Not because it necessarily reveals our True Will in the end, but because it will make us much calmer, self-sufficient and authentic. All three things are essential to hear the voice of our Guardian Angel more clearly in our own minds and hearts.
So this is what we will strive for in this phase, called Darkness. It is about becoming Saturn's best mate for a while - or at least distant aquaintance. It also is about staying calm and carrying on while dear things might falter and die within and around us... Well, to be honest, it never was that bad for me. There is a lot of exaggeration out there about the influence of Saturn once you invite him to take a place in your life. There is a big difference between Saturn knocking down your front door because you tried to keep him out for too long - or us opening the door and inviting him politely to the table. Because that is what Darkness really means: It means withdrawal from the things we normally keep ourselves busy with and freeing some seats at the table of our life for all the scary strangers we tend to keep locked out.... This phase is essential for success in making contact with your HGA and there is no substitute for it.
Just as it is important to fully emerse yourself into this phase, it is also important to define a clear start- and endpoint for this experience. You really don't want to get stuck here. So some structure and guidance will be required if you try to walk through through the dark all on your own. A guiding light that you set yourself. A statement of clear intent that is. To kill all the things that distract your focus, that create detours in your life... It is the permission letter to the doctor to get straight down to business with you - and take the camera inside the body of the patient where it is most needed. This can be an area full of disease to be uncovered or it can be an area that has proven to be immune. We don't know until we get there, but in either case we give permission to the doctor to take us there. Once it is given, there is no turning back. Just like with all things Saturnian: grey is not a color that he tends to paint in, but things will be rather black or white, ready to blossom or ready to decay.
To be honest, this part of the journey was the one I had to train for for almost a decade. Not because it was so demanding or horrible, but because I wasn't ready to really let go and to give permission to the doctor in the way it is required. Many people like me have taken long detours at this point. Saturn smells flaws in our intent ten miles againt the wind. In which case he either doesn't bother to deal with us at all. Or - worse - Saturn does bother and wipes out the flaws of intent with strong strokes of fate leading to the painful yet necessary self-insights before we can take another try.
So, darkness - what does that mean? It is an archetypical image, an archetypical place of imagination. We die and we are born in darkness. It's the light that comes and goes. It is in the darkness of the womb that we are conceived and it is to the darkness of death that we return. Darkness is the space that dissolves all shapes and forms, that blurs the lines between the inner and outer realms. It is darkness that can embrace us like a soft blanket or a cold coffin. Often the line line inbetween is all too fine. And it is this line we will be exploring...
Here is the specific aim of this phase in the Everday Path: For a limited amount of time we will expose ourselves to darkness and create a conscious space in our lives for the things we fear. By doing this we are forced to give up filtering life based on our personal preferences but to accept all sides of it - wether we chose to admire or abhor them. This process will tear down a lot of things we built in desperation and with the only (subconscious) intent to shield us further from our fears. Expect all these things to be taken away.
Yet, this phase is not (!) about gaining control over your fears. Forget any ideas of summonening your fears like demons, subduing them and banishing them. For this type of work this would be a dead end street that many have taken before us. In this work we don't aim to control, but to acknowledge our fears. We even welcome them. After all we share the same time, land, house, we even share a body with them. So we better get to know them personally, learn their faces and names and languages... They will teach us that life first and foremost is not about fulfilling our desires but to discover the job that we were meant to do. They will teach us lessons in detachement. Lessons during which we will heavily lean on and harvest from the two previous things that we have learned: Trust that is as well as Joy.
Just remember this: To face our fears it doesn't take fearlessness. It takes trust and joy from within. You definitely want to explore these chapters in depth before embarking on this one. Just saying.
2. Exercises in Darkness
Let's start this by making sure we take all the necesary safety precautions. When dealing with our fears we want to ensure they don't tip over the scales but stay in balance. Thus before diving into the following exercises ensuring a few stable points in your life will do good service: First of all, at this point the motivation to proceed towards communion with your HGA should not come from escaping your current life but to simply enrich it. Thus take time in your magical diary to write down all the positive aspects of your current life, all the wonderful things that give you pleasure, joy and a sense of belonging. Whatever will come next these aspects of your life will still be there; it might not be time for them to take center stage but they will be present in the silent background and act as importan sources of life and power. Second, ensure you will still have sufficient social touchpoints while embarking on the journey to come. There should be some people in your life - might it be in your social life, on facebook or through a magical group you belong to - with whom you feel comfortable to discuss your forthcoming experiences and challenges. In my case this was only one person, but a wonderful friend indedd. I decided not to talk to him for most of the time I immeresed myself 'in darkness'. However, when I returned he was an important pillar of stability, reflection, integration and acknowledgement. And just knowing he was there made all the difference while dwelling in darkness...
This brings us to another point we should clarify in preparation: At some point during your experience of darkness you will think you have lost all of the above. Actually, you won't think it but you will know it. The presence of loss of life and pleasure will fill your body. You will drown in a lake of sadness and its bitter waters will make you choke. Tears might follow and sleepless nights. That is okay. That is the way this process works, but testing our limits. And by testing which structures we had errected in our lives will falter and which will stand the test of time.
Always remember: it doesn't take fearlesness to face our fears. It takes humility and trust. At no point force yourself to go further than you are prepared for at this point in time. We can return into darkenss whenever we want. In fact this is one of the veils that we will lift: that the line between darkness and light, between isolation and fulfilment runs straight through our heart. Only when we return will we know both are enclosed by the circle of our hearts at any time.
I) Give up habits of pleasure
Okay, this isn't really the first step in getting to know your darkness. This is more like taking your keys, your wallet and jacket before leaving the house to embark on the actual journey. Still it is a good point to start this phase: Look out for habits that you have built for pleasure. For the intent of this work it doesn't really matter wether these are guilty habits or not, however, your mind and body will be thankful if that's where you start your action... Set a specific duration of time and alter your habits. Stop eating sugar in any type or form for a week, no cigarettes or alcohol in the following week, no television and internet for leisure in the third and all of the before in the forth week. It's just a single month of effort and the combinations you could chose could be anything similar. Yet, if they come easy you haven't set the bar high enough from where you started. Be demanding, push the boundaries of what you think you can do - but do ensure you never over-commit. Once you have set your mind to the task you cannot fail. Draw on the resources of Trust and Joy that you have learned before. Allow these things to fall away from your life for the period defined, accept the empty space they leave. Look what offers itself to fill it and be witness to how it will change your life. This is why we have come here. Now you need to proof the courage it takes to cross this bridge. Ever period of abstinence, every drug not consumed, every deflection not followed will increase your connection to your HGA. This is why we needed to built Trust first, because at this point you yourself cannot notice how these experiences are changing the relationship with your HGA already. And there is nothing I can write to prove that they do until you experience it yourself at a later stage. Yet, then it will be clear like standing in front of your door, with a cup of coffee in bright sunlight. This is why it is called trust.
II) Read about darkness
As you get closer to your darkness within it might be a good point in time to start reading about this subject. There are entire libraries you can chose from. However, if you have started this work with integrity it is likely that books have come to you already - or are ready to do so. Often at this point we come across books that have been waiting for us to be ready, to not be occupied by TV series, newspapers, internet or social chit-chat. Deep books that is that will contribute to changing us and tearing down what we have built in desperation. For me these were the following books. I am not listing them here because they have to be relevant to you but to give you some ideas of potential starting points:
- Robert Müller-Sternberg, Die Dämonen (German)
- Tsultriam Allione, Feeding Your Demons (see below, point VI)
- Martin Lowenthal, Dawning of Clear Light
- Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, Übungen der Nacht (German)
- Verena Kast, Vom Sinn der Angst (German)
- Verena Kast, Der Schatten in uns (German)
The general goal of this exercise is to map out the blank spots of your personal map of darkness. Often this is done automatically by the books that will find you. They will aid to expand your vocabulary and knowledge about the things that can be experienced in your own darkness. Some of these books will become friends; others will leave us once they have done their job on us.
III) Meditate in darkness
The next step is to meditate in and with darkness. It's easily done: Set the clock for a time you are normally asleep at. For most people a time between 2 and 4am works well. Get up and go to your meditation place. Immerse yourself in meditation and invite the darkness to approach you. She might come and wrap you in her arms or sit before you. Then look at her and listen to her. Become completely silent and simply listen. What are the things you can hear from here, what are the stories that normally go unseen when you are drowned in sleep?
My darkness spoke about death and sickness. How it would affect my life, which fears it would release and which ones it would take away? My darkness spoke about my fear of becoming the father of a disabled child, of losing my wife, my dog, my job. My darkness spoke about many things I hadn't spoken about in a very long time. And while I listened to her I didn't do anything actively. I simply sat there and allowed her to tell me all the stories I normally kept away from me. I invited them to sit next to me in darkness and be present. The silent presence of all my shadows sitting quietly next to me. After I had allowed them to visit me for several nights I became used to them. Some of them didn't come back and others returned like animals who would always return to their same sleeping place at night. Some of them I sheltered and others sheltered me. They took away pressure to resist them, to guard them off, to defend them. We sat there in silence. Until after a few weeks nothing more had to be said.
IV) Go into darkness
Now, I do recommend not to start at this exercise until you have gathered experience with the previous ones. I did and I failed perfectly several times at this exercise. Here is how it goes: Look for a place in nature that is so remote that you can spend there 48h undisturbed. I life close to the Bavarian mountains so for me this would be a place in the mountains. It also was a remote desert dune in India on a trip in 2001 and it was a deep, pitch black forest in the Allgäu. Many places can serve this need but in most cases you will deliberately look for them. Once you have found them though, the hardest bit is done. The next step is to free a weekend, take a sleeping bag, some food and a torch and to stay at this place any time between 12 to 48 hours. However long you decide to stay there it should include at least one full night, including dusk and dawn. Once you arrived arrange your place and simply sit down. Then meditate as long as you want to, observe the nature, go for a walk, return, sit down again and observe more. Even sleep if you have to for a few hours... You are not allowed to speak though during this time and obviously you are not allowed to phone or text anyone. Stay in complete isolation from other human beings. Allow the darkness around you to approach you and talk to you. When you return home, be prepared for a long entry in your magical diary...
If you are afraid to approach this phase in achieving communion with your HGA don't walk away. There are wonderful resources to be tapped into. For example the School of Lost Borders can help you in creating an experience like the one described above. We are never on our own - even not when embarking on a journey into our own darkness.
If you cannot find any remote place in nature - or cannot afford to travel - due to your personal circumstances here is an alternative. You can also use a room whose doors and windows have been sealed off. I did this as well and the experience is quite different from being out in open nature. The effect it had on me was actually very soothing and calming. I stayed for 48h in a locked cellar room only equipped with a sleeping back, a bottle of water and a plastic bin to pee into. As mentioned above, it is not really a true alternative to being out in the open yet it can be a wonderful stepping stone to get there in the long-run.
V) Give your fears a face
This really is an extension to the practice described above. If spending a day and a night in open nature isn't enough for you here is something you might want to consider: take an object with you that you can charge with your fears. Whatever object you chose it needs to be from natural material and flammable. What I can generally recommend are wooden demon masks that you can buy for a fair price in ebay these days. Make sure that the mask or object you chose doesn't have preconceived connotations for you; you will need to be able to use it like a blank surface. Also if it is an object that comes second-hand, make sure you strip all previous influences and attachments off it before you use it for your own purpose. Then take it with you into nature.
At your remote place put the object up in front of you. If it is a mask set it up in a way that you can fix your gaze on it while in meditation. Maybe even light a candle behind it to highlight its features during dusk and dawn. Once you are in meditation and allowed your darkness to come forth make it enter the object. Collect all fears that come up in this object. Transform it into a prism of darkness, an astral lens of your personal fears. Once it is saturated and fully charged just sit quietly opposite it. See if it wants to talk to you and what it has to say. Try to not get involved emotionally if possible. If you are filled with sadness or fears yourself at this point, push them into the object further until you become free of them. Then see again if it has something to say to you. Or maybe you have a message for it? Again, try not to make this an emotional encounter but an encounter of realization, insight and acceptance.
When you are done, burn the object or mask at the remote place in nature. Don't bury it or leave it behind. Burn it. The flames will set all your fears free again, yet it will also purify them... Here are some snapshots when I tried to undertake this exercise for the first time - way before my time was right.
VI) Feed your fears
Tsultrim Allione has written a wonderful book about "Feeding Your Demons". The technique she explains is taken from the ancient Tibetan Chöd practice and adopted in a way that we can easily practice it on our own. I have explained the core steps here and you can also find them outlined online on Allione's own page.
I strongly recommend gaining thorough experience in this highly uncommon approach to dealing with fears. You might need to tear out some old Jewish-Christian stereotypes about the balance of power and service in order to be able to apply it successfully. It is a truly feminine take on how to deal with the tormentors inside or outside of us and how to use our inner resources to transform them from obstacles into allies.
“External chod is to wander in fearful places where there are deities and demons. Internal chod is to offer one's own body as food to the deities and demons. Ultimate chod is to realize the true nature of the mind and cut through the fine strand of hair of subtle ignorance.” Milarepa (c. 1052—c. 1135 CE)
VII) What not to do...
Well, this seems to be the type of chapter where it might make sense to include a final word of advise? I have been through all the experiences described above, most of them several times. As mentioned before I failed miserably in many of them.
It took me many years and a lot of work on myself to finally understand that the trick that turns these exercise either into emotional horror-rides or moments of quiet insight: Don't try to conquer your fears. Don't make this an exercise in personal strength, power or silly ideas of manhood. Because that's not what it is. Rather it is an exercise in openness and in building a more trusted relationship with the darkest aspects of yourself.
Welcome them as good as you can. When it gets too much - leave before the time has come. At the end of the day these exercises aren't tests of courage at all. They are tests of readiness. And often it's not on us to decide when the right time has come. You just cannot speed up the harvest.