Into the Dark

by Jennifer Paros

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

                                                                          -- T.S. Eliot 

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2011

Illustration by Jennifer Paros - Copyright 2011

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, unnameable. “                                                                                -- Francis Ponge

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 gone 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. 

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

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