Into the Dark
by Jennifer Paros
So the darkness shall be the light, and the
stillness the dancing.
-- T.S. Eliot
When I am writing or drawing, I consistently need to go back to
black – back to internal darkness – in order to let the next new
thing emerge. It is a choice between staying focused on the
activity of my mind, trying to think my way through the creative
process, or allowing my attention to turn inward, listening and
watching, stationed in the darkness that might afford me new light.
Years ago, while taking one of my first art classes, I had a teacher
who had a series of rules we were to follow during critiques. We
were not to share what the work reminded us of, what
we thought it was about, or whether or not we liked
it. We were, instead, to ask and answer this question only: “What
is present in this image?”
The critiques were the best I ever attended because when we stopped
speaking in labels, comparisons, and opinions, we had much better
vision and insight into the work.
In life, everything we “know” we have labeled. We call it table,
doorknob or cat. We call them Bob or Mary and
we move on. These words are useful for communication but there is
also value in experience without them. There is a gift to being in
the dark - not naming a thing - being in a state of not
knowing, not just for writers striving to write something original,
but as the visionaries of our own lives.
“Another way of approaching the thing is to consider it unnamed,
When I was in college, I wasn’t in the habit of exercising - but one
day awoke “inspired” to do so. I don’t remember exactly what I did
but it included some mix of aerobic movement and a few floor
exercises. Then, hungry, I ate some banana bread my roommate had
made, and hurried off to shower. But something was wrong; the water
suddenly seemed offensive, I felt sick, and the next thing I
knew – all I could see was black. I reached, searching to turn off
the water, felt for a towel, and stumbled back to my room.
Not knowing anything about blood sugar or fainting, I didn’t realize
I had passed out without the “out” part. It seemed unlikely I had
Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2011
permanently blind, yet at the time, my lack of ability to see was
compelling. I cried - afraid of the possibility - and lay down
on the floor and closed my eyes, still wrapped in my towel trying to
comfort myself. When I finally calmed down, I opened my eyes and
there was everything I had left behind. The world, with all its
forms, objects and colors was mine again - seen for that moment
brighter, clearer, and with great love.
I had been given another chance to view my life, literally, and I
felt gratitude not just because I could see, but because I
was getting to see all the same old stuff new. Now I was
seeing a room full of gifts - all because I had spent a few minutes
in the dark.
Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.
-- Henry David Thoreau
The experience of darkness in our lives, or feeling lost, is
actually a trick of the mind.
The brain gets busy and fast, worried thoughts gain momentum, and we
become convinced we don’t know what to do. The mind cannot lead us
because it’s too busy making us crazy, and we are forced (or
given the opportunity – depending upon your mood) to look
elsewhere for light and direction. What seems like The End to our
personality is just the end of a definition, one that has run out of
steam in its service to us.
When we go into the dark, a divine thing happens. Because our outer
identity cannot see the way, we are more inclined to become aware of
an identity based solely from within. And we discover our capacity
to “light the room” from inside of us.
When we cannot name “it,” whether it’s the next thing to write or
the next step to take, we have the chance to discover what is
actually present. We get to see the moment new. We have the chance
to know ourselves the way life knows us to be - without name or
explanation. And we recognize that the light we need to illuminate
our situation can, in fact, only shine in us and through us.
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Jennifer Paros is a writer,
illustrator, and author of
Violet Bing and the Grand House
(Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.
Please visit her website at