Vipassana and Mindfulness Blog

Mindfulness is about skillfully handling whatever life gives us. That's meditation, whether you're on a mountaintop, at work, or on a roller coaster.

Finding Your Light in the Dark

It seems like things have gotten dark lately. A string of family members and other loved ones falling ill and passing on has given me pause.

It’s common in Zen and other spiritual traditions to note how we can’t know any phenomenon without its opposite, like light and dark. One is simply a temporary absence of the other … and the more darkness there is, the more intensely we perceive the light that pierces it. This is why I sometimes say:

Stay alight; if darkness comes you can only appear brighter.

But here’s the thing: light isn’t inherently good, and darkness isn’t inherently bad. The “goodness” and “badness” are reflections of our preferences at that moment. We usually want light in the afternoon, but prefer darkness for movies and sleeping. Some things ARE inherently good and bad – like skillful and unskillful action – but for everything else, I’ve been reframing my experiences as pleasant or unpleasant (or neither).

“Pleasant” and “unpleasant” … another pair of descriptions that we can’t know without their opposite. And if we can’t perceive or comprehend one without the other, it makes NO sense to expect that we’ll only experience one without the other.

But we can find our light in either one, like the steady flame of a lamp that shines regardless of its outer conditions.

This is our practice: the art and science not of escaping the unpleasant, but of building an inner foundation from which we no longer feel the need to escape at all. 

Stay alight, friends.

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