Entering Mystery and Dancing in the Dark

December 17

One winter evening my daughter and I were driving North, home to the “snow belt” from the “banana belt” in the Niagara Peninsula where I grew up. When I lived in the banana belt, the snow belt seemed like the North Pole, but now that I am only two hours north of Toronto, I realize that there is a lot of North still North of us. Nevertheless, on that winter evening we were gifted with a rare sighting of the Northern Lights. We stopped the car and got out to watch the dancing lights move across the sky.

The shortest days of the year are upon us, and we humans have been trying to distract ourselves with festivals of light. It is true that our bodies need sunlight for physical and mental health. Not so obvious to us are the gifts of darkness. And yet, in the words of my agronomist friend Kevin, “Plant a seed into the ground, without the darkness there is no growth; the new life that a mother carries occurs in darkness; darkness is the breeding ground for creation.” 

It would seem that we humans are much more afraid of the darkness of mystery within ourselves than the physical darkness of long nights. Mystics of every religion and no religion, around the world and throughout time have recognized that maturing spirituality courageously enters the darkness of the unknown, of mystery. Often, we do not enter willingly the first time. We choose to cling to what is familiar and safe, and what we think we can control.  

However, some crisis will push us into this new space where we do not know the answers.  We do not know what the future will be like. It is said that we will be given enough light to take one step, but sometimes we have to, so to speak, feel our way in the dark. However, this darkness is not like a county fair haunted house. Though we may fear it, the darkness of Mystery is friendly and peaceful. It is also life-giving and life-nurturing.

Spiritual descent, the classical name for journey into mystery, is a gradual surrender into the absolute freedom and acceptance of Love, the energy that binds and sustains the Universe. In our letting go we know ourselves to belong, and to have dignity and value as we are, without having to do anything. In the intimacy of mystery, sadness and grief can be present simultaneously with joy. Sometimes we may find ourselves dancing in the dark.


Spiritual maturity across faith traditions recognizes “spiritual poverty” as the beginning of Wisdom. Spiritual poverty is a willingness to enter the darkness of not-knowing and to approach new people, situations, cultures, beliefs with wonder rather than with judgment.

Buddhist nun Pema Chodron says: “the truth you believe and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything else.” The “truth” of which she speaks is multi-directional: my understanding of myself, of others, of human nature, of God and so one. Fear of the unfamiliar and unknown closes me to fullness of life.   

Buddhism is considered by many a practice that reflects a philosophy of human nature rather than a deist religion. Buddhists understand that suffering is caused from attachment to things, to ideas, to certainty, to control, and a possessive attachment to people, in other words, all of the things that make up my daily diet of worry and anxiety. The journey into Mystery is as painful as our attachments to what is familiar and safe. Conversely, our willingness to let go of attachments and to not-know can be a joyful adventure.

Sitting meditation in silence is the practice used to learn non-attachment. For an introduction to how to meditate by Buddhist meditation master, Mingyur Rinpoche:

Gratitude Prompt: What treasures have I found in the Mystery within me?