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My Sanctuary of Darkness

December 6, 2012

By Jacinta Hin

In our quest for happiness many of us often strive to be positive, to look at the bright side of life, but what about those moments when life does not feel so swell? When, despite our best efforts to be cheerful and upbeat, something is dragging us down?

It’s easy to say “cheer up, be happy,” but sometimes we must be braver than that and admit to ourselves that something is not working. Sometimes we need to dig a little deeper, and turn to our gloomy side to find out what is blocking us.

A current health challenge is compelling me to do just that. Recurring back pain is threatening to become chronic, and is literally forcing me to slow down and review what is going on.  It is making me realize I must pay an overdue visit to my inner darkness, to learn what is making me sick.

My dark, shadow side is a sanctuary for my deepest secrets and most painful feelings.  It is a place where I face regrets, doubts, fears, flaws, and concerns. Importantly, though, this is a place for me only.  I am safe here, guarded from any judgment but my own.

When I visit this dark side, I know I must be careful not to dwell too long on what I find.  How easy it is to feel inferior here and incapable of what I want to accomplish, or to become self-absorbed with grief and sadness about current or past events. How tempting it is to put on the veil of victimhood and sit in sorrow.

Yet, in these dim chambers I sometimes find answers to my most challenging and self-revealing questions.  If I enter with an alert mind and a learning attitude, as well as a little bit of distance from my capricious ego, I can often return to the light side of life with new insights and renewed strength, ready to make changes or to look at reality with different eyes.

Life is not a journey of eternal bliss and happiness. Our path is full of challenges both from within and without.  The goal of our efforts at self-discovery is not to fall in love with our flawless and happy-go-lucky selves, but to find and face who we truly and wholly are, including the darker and imperfect parts of our being.  At least that’s how I have come to look at life and its mystery, and how I’m able to accept again and again, albeit often reluctantly, difficult moments and setbacks.

I used to think that once I found my path of truthful living, my life would be a continuous celebration of joy and delight.

It is not.

There is always something that needs be addressed: a boundary issue, difficult emotions blocking progress, an unexpected turn of events. In reality, when life seems smooth and in balance, it isn’t long before a new challenge comes my way, forcing me once again onto the path of change.

We have to accept that part of life too. It is our only way forward. In fact, this is where some of our biggest growth opportunities lie.

But how do we become comfortable and eventually more skillful in embracing our dark side and down moments?  How do we know when to tap into our pain, shame and worries and start listening to what they are telling us?

Light and darkness go hand in hand, the one cannot exist without the other. We must be willing to learn how to love both equally. There’s nothing to be feared in darkness, neither anything to be gained by always living on the sunny side only.

Carl Jung said it well:

Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.


About the author: Jacinta Hin was born in the Netherlands and has been living in Tokyo, Japan, since 1989. Her professional background is in human resources, career management and coaching. She is passionate about helping people, herself included, discover new perspectives of possibility, move to embracing and working with their transitions, and designing and realizing changes aligned with who they truly are and what they truly want from their lives.
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