"City of Light" Acrylic Painting by Srimati
“In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.” –Francis Bacon
This last 4th of July, for the first time in the almost 10 years I have lived in Mount Shasta, I drove to the lake and sat in the dirt and rocks and watched what we call the “big fireworks”. These are the fireworks the city puts on that are lit off by cannons. Normally my family just hangs out at home and barbeques while lighting off or watching some street fireworks. But this year we decided to go all in for the yearly adventure that thousands of people travel from all over America to witness.
The crowds were relentless. We parked on the free side of the lake at the side of the road where 100s of cars were lined up and squeezed in, bumper to bumper. We then hiked a half mile or so to the lake front. Although we brought chairs, once the fireworks started, we jumped out of our chairs and moved in closer, away from the obstruction of pine trees, towards a small cliff. My brother was perched just a few feet in front of me, at the edge of the cliff, on top of a rock. He had the perfect view and I found myself, in between the blasts, watching his figure as the light poured over him. I wish I could have taken a picture; it made for a striking composition.
It was here that, as I sat on the jagged cliff side overlooking the lake amidst the crowds of people and the fireworks popped and blasted dazzling and ferocious bursts of light into the darkness, I was reminded of a very important truth. That is that the light is not beautiful without the darkness. If it weren’t for the dark sky in contrast to the brilliant bursts of light infused gold and color, these fireworks would be pointless. The view of my brother watching the fireworks from the edge of the cliff would lose its dynamism.
On the other side of this, imagine the darkness without the light? Just like how the darkness enhances the light, the light enhances the darkness. It is the contrast between light and dark that make the two so extraordinary. It’s what makes the stars appear as if they are twinkling in the sky, it’s what makes a full moon so energetic and enlivening, it’s what makes a dazzling city so breathtaking once the light of day has faded.
On a microcosmic level, experiencing darkness is what makes the light—love and joy—so extra beautiful and sweet. Imagine the inside of your body as a dark void. You are sitting in the void for a long time, and all of a sudden, you see speckles of light dancing and twinkling all around you. Imagine the feeling this elicits as you watch the gorgeous light show. This is the feeling experiencing love and joy can bring during a period of immense suffering and darkness. How could we even begin to appreciate our light side if we never knew the bitter taste of darkness?
It is this duality, this yin and yang, that keeps us experiencing life to the fullest. It’s what keeps us living, and I do mean truly living. It’s the spaces in between the light of day that give us the most hope, the most beauty, and the most appreciation for what’s to come and for what has been and, most importantly, for what is. The wisest of people have a keen understanding that we are made of both light and dark, and that in order to most deeply experience one, we must experience most deeply the other. They have a keen understanding that life is about being fully present in whatever moment you find yourself in, whether that is light or darkness or some magical space in between wherein you are ascending into the light.
“…if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure, then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor, into the season less world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears…if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires: To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night. To know the pain of too much tenderness. To be wounded by your own understanding of love; And to bleed willingly and joyfully…”—Khalil Gibran “The Prophet”
“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. It is far better take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.” –Carl Jung
“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.” –Helen Keller
“Because we were orbiting the earth faster than earth spins on its axis, we went around the earth 16 times a day, an earth day, which meant 16 periods of lightness and 16 periods of darkness in 24 hours. Every so often you'd look towards the earth, and often you could see lightness and darkness together, and dawn and sunset were spectacular.” –Helen Sharman
Come storm or sunny day, or dark night of the soul, all of our experiences contain a bit of magic. In the Sikh tradition, they say “Wahe Guru” which means “Oh the sheer ecstasy and joy of going from darkness to light!” But we could not experience this wahe without first descending into darkness. From this darkness, we experience our own enlightenment. And that’s where wahe guru comes from.
It’s easy to forget just how truly meaningful every moment we are experiencing is. It’s even easier to delude our emotions and tune ourselves out to painful moments, rather than allowing our hearts to remain open in every moment. This is the work we are all doing in every moment, often without realizing it. We have no idea that behind of all of the darkness and all of the light, behind all of the ups and downs and boring moments, our true purpose is to simply be. To be present in every moment and experience the beauty of opening ourselves up from the darkness of our closed buds.
Oh What is Light without the Dark?
What is a star’s light without the nothing of space?
Or the glow of the moon without the empty sky?
What is the sun without the night?
What is color without the depths of shade?