DARKNESS AS A FIELD OF BEING
The women writers all seem to be from Canada. I meet with them a few or two at a time. Each meeting is in another room or window as on zoom, another space, distinct but similar. The ceremonial call is to present themselves and / or the work in the darkness. It becomes clear that their work is unusual and so we are called to this state of being. The dream takes place in the mindset between event and sensation. The point is to create a literary consciousness. The writers are not working in the dark as a metaphor implying being hidden. Rather we are called to recognize darkness as a field of being in the way night is a state not a condition. There is nothing in the field but darkness and the particular women who are gathered here.
In the last weeks as I have been editing my novel, La Vieja, I have had to understand the experience of being immersed in and penetrated by a common field of consciousness. The field is created from the participants and alters them as well. In this way it is dynamic without the sensation of movement. A partial or tentative understanding of the nature of a Field first came to me as I have wrestled with the mystery of all the narrative events that occurred over many years between me and other humans and Elephants in the wild. I could only conclude that somehow our particular consciousnesses melded as one and what ultimately actually occurred between us emerged from this co-existence of awareness.
La Vieja seems intuited or transmitted rather than intentional. There are events or occurrences in it that resemble the meetings with the Elephants. But as it is a written text, I am obligated to try to understand what I am writing in order to take responsibility for it. As I was rewriting it, the dream above came. Because it was about Canadian women writers – or seemed to be – I didn’t until this moment connect it directly with La Vieja. I believe that what follows is influenced by my experience as the writer of La Vieja. The dream seems to add another element or is contemplating the nature of a Field within and of Darkness. (I feel called to capitalize Darkness here.)
The dream implies darkness or other states of mind are or create energetic fields that immerse us or we are immersed in them. In the Field of Darkness, the dynamic of the co-existence of the particular and the dissolved is animated. Everything in the Field in that specific moment is of the Field – so that writers, texts, darkness, remain themselves while they are also of each other. The same can be said of the writer and her work as an individual Field. We can be immersed in the Field and we are altered by it as we also influence it and it is created of us. We are not so much penetrated by the Field and its components as suffused by them – are of them — and then the different forms of manifestation occur through the creative. That is, it/they tone what is already in us, tone, shape, influence, almost as if, let’s say, Darkness is a sound or a piece of music and we become that music and also are existing in it.
Canadian writers respond to the dream:
As our civilization has grown brighter and louder; as its Enlightenment drive to survey (cast light upon, make visible) and manipulate all the opaque reaches of mind, body, civic and private life, Earth, micro- and macro-cosmos intensifies and extends its reach into every conceivable corner, so that the entire world is caught in its gaze like a subject in a padded cell—it seems to me that a Summons has gone out, as if from the spiritual depths of creation, like a great gong sounded. Its call is drawing many of us into night’s field, forming a counterweight, a growing seed.
For years I’ve been powerfully drawn to darkness as a physical and metaphysical state, to the nourishment (physical, cultural, spiritual) that only night and darkness provide. In 2009, Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine, the founders of the Dark Mountain Project in the UK, had the insight to discern that in the darkest of times, balance lies not in superficial corrections but in deeply diving into the roots of our troubles: rejecting the master narratives and myths driving this imperialistic and suicidal civilization. They issued a call to writers, artists, and thinkers to help tell other stories, old and new, to guide us into new ways of being and writing, into a new consciousness. They called for a kind of Nighttime mind.
What informs the stories we tell? What realities do they affirm? More and more, I find myself meeting writers who are consciously shifting their work from the daytime values causing such global depletion, and trying to listen to, enter into, surrender to, a Nighttime mind—even while not knowing where this path leads. This journal, which Lise began without being aware of the Dark Mountain Project, is clearly one example. To me, Deena’s dream affirms a direction gaining shape, where writers are guided by myth, dream, old stories, ancestors and voices from the non-human realms to address the urgency of these times.
the gesture of gestation, what gathers in the dark where worlds grow quietly from seeds. in the dark, something small absorbs water and expands.
to water language in the dark. to water dreams. to water story in the dark, the other relationships before those men came and got us to pretend land and money were the same thing.
to water memory. what we already knew but forgot because we were distracted by all the things that glitter. like crows, we sought all that was not feather. in deena’s circle, it’s our own dark we find again.
you have to find your way by feel, but the darkness offers beads of water, spider threads. the old webbing is still there. it springs back when you touch it. you have to move slowly to feel its presence. you have to leave it to grow. you can’t see the way it expands, but you have to trust that it is expanding. with bright lights or loud noises, the dark could slip away forever. we don’t want that to happen. we’ve been cultivating the dark’s return.
When I hear politicians and pundits, new-age leaders and environmental advocates talk about what needs to be done to save the earth and ourselves, I rarely hear the Voice of Darkness informing their words. The wisdom I hear in the dream is that of council gatherings where women gather in small groups (in the north zone of the medicine wheel) to participate in the rich darkness.
I sense the dream is witnessing the role of this journal and other gatherings that are able to enter and stay fully present to the underworld/dark matter/creative darkness.
The mindset between ‘event’ and ’sensation’ feels like the imaginal realm where I received the snake-guided meditations. Very real body sensations were stimulated by what unfolded in the imaginal realm, not my immediate surroundings. Perhaps this is what Deena is suggesting with the phrase ’to create a literary consciousness,’ one that is guided by what wants to be born in and through creative darkness. Within this space, ego has little or no traction. Nor does a re-working of spiritual principles. Darkness as a field of being has its own voice, its own rhythms, rules, and images.
To speak in the darkness is to speak unadorned; to create in the darkness is to birth. Awareness of the dark surrounds and unites, light birthing darkness, dark birthing light. A night dark river of the north, deep motionless long winter river, a dark field, the liquid drum where rhythm begins.
Gestation/generation always happens in the dark. An amusing Sufi teaching story describes a devout Hasid who goes to see his Rebbe because his seeds aren’t sprouting.
“Tell me what you’re doing,” says the Rebbe.
“Well, every day I plant and water,” says the man. “Then at night, I go to sleep, but in the middle of the night, I wake up and get worried that the seeds might not be growing. So I go outside, dig them up and, sure enough, they’re not growing!”
“I think I understand your problem,” says the Rebbe.
* * *
I believe—I hope, I trust—that we are the generation planting those seeds without knowing where and how they will germinate. We are working in darkness, as we always do, but all growth starts there. I love this line from the dream: The ceremonial call is to present themselves and / or the work in the darkness. A ceremony held in the dark! I’m reminded of the Kogi people of Colombia, who train selected future priests in a dark cave for the first nine years of their lives. What kinds of dreams, what kinds of spiritual knowledge, must come to such children? We too are in darkness, aching for light, yet called to this stage without which no light is possible.
Our light can shine and be revealed only in the darkness. We can’t see the flame of a candle when the sun is shining brightly. I believe we are asked to shine our light amid all the darkness. Essentially, conjure up strength and courage to connect with that inner light that shines through in perpetuity and allow this Divine light to shine through expressions of compassion and empathy even towards those who commit atrocious crimes against our precious elephants.
The dream feels generative, suggestive, as the darkness itself does. It arrived in the midst of an intense week. I’ve been part of a small group of writers, led by a woman from the West Coast, Shaena Lambert, whose most recent novel is a beautiful fictionalizing of the life of Petra Kelly, one of the founders of the German Green Party. Shaena has a history as an activist from the ’80s and she gathered a few of us and said, we must do something. As a country we are so remiss in our climate targets. So a few of us drafted a letter, calling not just for stronger targets but actual plans in transparent language, and in 48 hours we got over 160 writers to sign on to the letter, including people like Margaret Atwood; the letter was presented to the Standing Committee and published in English and French. https://changingtheclimatestory.com/
It was intense work. One morning in the midst of it, a pair of barn swallows appeared at the door to the old schoolhouse in the country where I live most of the time now. They hung around for a day, tried to move into the vestibule. I looked up what barn swallows symbolize – blessings coming out of the woodwork; continue to visualize your future. The swallows felt like a blessing in these days of the future indefinite. And their timing, like that of your dream, feels like a gift.
She dreamt of darkness as a field of being and I thought of the meditation teacher saying eyes closed look behind you without turning your head what do you see use your hearing and your sense of space, and how hard this was but when I managed to do it even just a little bit my brain grew quiet.
And the yoga teacher who kept saying the back body the back body as Westerners we are always leaning forward go-go-go but if we can learn to live more in the back we will root ourselves down connect to earth… The back body is the seat it’s the driver but we don’t even see it it’s like dark matter or the autonomic nervous system or the service elevator which was how were delivered to our back doorstep the furniture the appliances and the help.
About the Authors
Writer and teacher Sharon English is the author of two books of short stories, Uncomfortably Numb and Zero Gravity. Her essays have appeared in Dark Mountain (UK), CNQ and Dark Matter. Night in the World, her first novel, is forthcoming from Freehand Books in Spring 2022.
Larissa Lai has written eight books, including The Tiger Flu and Iron Goddess of Mercy. Recipient of the Duggins Novelist’s Prize, the Lambda Literary Award, and the Astraea Award, she holds a Canada Research Chair at the University of Calgary where she directs The Insurgent Architects’ House for Creative Writing.
Andrea Mathieson has been a writer, musician and intuitive counsellor for twenty-five years. Her deep listening skills within the imaginal realms, particularly in her recent publication, The Book of Snake, provide critical wisdom for our times.
Shirley Graham, poet and psychologist, lives on Saltspring Island, BC with writer and zen teacher Peter Levitt. Her most recent book was Shakespearean Blues.
Patricia Robertson‘s third collection of short fiction, Hour of the Crab, was released earlier this year. She lives and works on Treaty 1 territory and the traditional territory of Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene Peoples, and the homeland of the Métis Nation. She teaches at the University of Winnipeg.
Sangita Iyer is a National Geographic Explorer, multiple award-winning nature & wildlife filmmaker and broadcast journalist, biologist, the Founder of Voice for Asian Elephants Society (vfaes.org), and the author of her forthcoming book, Gods in Shackles – What Elephants Can Teach Us About Empathy, Resilience and Freedom.
Catherine Bush is a writer and educator, most recently the author of the climate-themed novel, Blaze Island. She is working on a new novel inspired by the life of Rachel Carson.
Lise Weil is editor of Dark Matter: Women Witnessing and author of In Search of Pure Lust: A Memoir.