“Befriending the Dark” ~ Asha Lightbearer
Join us for our Sunday Gathering as Asha brings light to the spiritual gifts that can only be found in moments of darkness.
Prayers, readings and songs from this week’s service are provided below.
*This transcript has been revised for readability.
“Befriending the Dark” with Asha Lightbearer
Oct. 25, 2020
Hey, good morning everyone, it’s Asha.
I am thrilled to be here with you again this morning. Thank you so much for having me back.
This week is the week of Samhain—that’s Halloween time for most people. Samhain is one of the major witches’ Holidays, and it is the last fall harvest festival, where we bring in the last of the crops and prepare for the dark period of winter. Samhain is also the witches’ new year; so, we start the year with the dark instead of ending the year with the dark.
And the thing about Samhain that is really cool is that it’s also the time when it’s said that the veil is the thinnest between the worlds—the time that you honor the dead and most likely that you can communicate with or have a glimpse of them. They can see us; we can see them.
Now, with the Pagan/Neopagan beliefs, Wicca, etc., you’re always thinking about the Tree of Life as the basis for the levels of spirituality. And when I say levels, there’s the upper world which would be ideals, principles, inspiration, imagination; the middle world, which is matters of the earth, nature, worldly things; and then the underworld. And the underworld is not hell—not the same thing as in Christianity. The underworld is what’s underneath: the roots of the tree, the ‘root of it all’, what makes things happen, what’s underneath everything.
I find that really fascinating! And with this being the week of Samhain, and One World doing a month on “dark and light” as the theme, I get the opportunity to close out the series talking about “Befriending Darkness” with the darkness being emotions, the unconscious mind, the root of things, the underworld things, all of which are important to the Samhain sabbat. So, I think the timing is just perfect and I’m thrilled to be here.
So, let’s talk about this for a little bit.
You know, I struggled with this talk.
I’ll be honest. I was so excited. I thought, “Oh, this is great. This is all the juicy stuff that I love.”
And then I did some research and I mulled things over, and I thought about it and thought about it. For weeks, I’ve been pondering this topic, but I just wasn’t finding that niche, that thing that usually just clicks, and there it goes, and I know it’s right—because I do pretty much everything based on feeling, intuition. It’s like it lands when it lands. I’m very good at tapping into the creative stuff and getting information—and I’ve been working on this and I just couldn’t quite find my way in.
I was pondering what’s of value to you as a listener? And so, now it’s Saturday afternoon and time is pressing on, and we have to get going on this or we’re not going to have anything for you to watch Sunday morning.
Luckily, I’m not freaked out. I’m not panicking. I’m very calm, which is one of the great gifts that I’ve received from all of my unconscious work and working with the dark—but still, there’s something to be had.
So, I’m feeling tired, and decide, “OK, I’m going to take a 15-minute power nap”, because I get a lot of information when I’m in that phase, just dropping between conscious world and unconscious world and letting things kind of trickle in for me. And I thought, “OK, well, that’s the next right thing to do. At least I’ll be refreshed.” (I was physically tired.)
I laid down, and right away I started thinking, “Wait a minute! I’m physically tired. I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ve made some bad choices. A couple days ago, I lost track of time and stayed up till 3:00 AM for the second time this week, which is probably biting me today,” and I’m thinking, “These look like classic acts of the saboteur.” The saboteur in spiritual alchemy, unconscious work, inner-healing, is usually a part of ourselves that is resistant to what we’re doing and the choices we’re making, and is unsatisfied with what’s going on, and it crops up.
So, as I lay down and I’m now thinking, “Hmmm. What’s going on here? Is there a part of me that’s resisting all of this?” and in my mind’s eye, I instantly see the image of the child—my child self basically, we all have that part in there—and instantly I have these feelings that…
I’ll be honest, I’m not real thrilled to share today. I don’t want to share them. They’re embarrassing. Feelings of not wanting to do the talk. I was unprepared. I was kind of angry, maybe…maybe a little bit angry, a little bit resentful, tired of working on the weekends every weekend, and also there was a little part that just wanted to walk away and leave everybody holding the bag, which is not something that you think of as a spiritual act.
But the minute that I acknowledge that part and I heard her—I let her give me those thoughts, I let her speak, I let her be recognized and acknowledged—instantly, I woke up. I wasn’t tired anymore.
So, I’m still laying there thinking, “Whoa, OK,” and realizing, “I’m not fully integrated right now. I have some part that’s resisting.” And then I thought, “This is my talk!”
I knew it.
This is what I was looking for. I know what working in the dark is. I know what it looks like. I know the gifts. I know how it unfolds. And I knew instantly, “This is my talk. This is what I’ve been asking for. This is what I’ve been waiting for.”
And so, I got out my notebook and I just start writing and it flowed, “Boom!” no problem.
Working in the dark is not about evil and the macabre.
It’s about finding the parts of you and the things in the subconscious that sometimes we’re not aware of. They might even be running our lives, running our ship, making decisions, acting out in bad ways at bad times—and when I say “bad”, I mean inappropriate, damaging, and causing trouble in our lives in one way or another.
I can’t be tired when I’m needing to record a talk for you. Well, I can be, but it’s not very helpful, and it’s discouraging.
When we can acknowledge the part, feel the part, let it come up, let it surface and not judge it, we can shift.
It was so easy to say, “Ooh, yikes! I can’t tell them this. This is not spiritual. I’m angry, I’m resentful,” and I thought, “Oh, what kind of great leader am I?” Right?
But that’s not what this is about.
This isn’t about being perfect. It’s not about being a spiritual leader. It’s about just doing the work and recognizing that we’re a complex system, and we’re made up of all these different voices that have needs and wants and desires. And quite frankly, that voice inside was leading to me to my highest good because she was trying to protect me! She’s trying to make sure that I don’t abandon my dreams and forget to live, and make a life, as I’m trying to just make a living.
So, there’s good in there; but I need to be willing to look at the things that maybe I don’t want you to see, maybe that I don’t want to believe about myself.
Blogger and Spirit Walker, Mateo Sol, says,
“There are empowering qualities hidden in the shadow. To accept and embrace your shadow self is not an indulgence of the darker parts of our natures, but an acceptance and direct experience of them in the light of mindful awareness and deep honesty. In doing so we become Whole again and thus taste a glimpse of our authentic ‘holiness’ and see what that feels like.”
This is about shining a light on the parts that we wish others didn’t see in us, and sometimes we wish we didn’t see in us. As long as we’re not fully accepting those parts, were also not taking responsibility for those parts. And when we don’t take responsibility, we can’t change the things that will make our lives better, and that will make us more peaceful and more happy and more genuine, more authentic and more vulnerable—which can be very scary. All of these things can be very scary, but the rewards are phenomenal, enormous.
Carl Jung says,
“The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego personality. For no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition of any kind of self-knowledge.”
So how many times have we heard “to thine own self be true” or “to know God, you must first know yourself?”
But then anytime we have a negative thought, we redirect. We just want to think something positive. Anytime that we see something and judge it as dark, oh no, we’re not going to think about that! We’re not going to look at that. We’re not going to spend time on that. We’re going to go over here instead.
A lot of spirituality gurus and traditions teach us to redirect like that these days. But I think it’s a huge disservice to us as human beings, because that’s not the totality of existence. That’s not the experience of being here. That’s not honoring all of who we are; and if we’re all ‘in divine image’, then all of who we are is divine and all of who we are is valid. All of our parts are important, and need care, and need nurturing.
Caroline Myss says in her book entering the Castle,
“We each have an outer self and an inner self. We saw that the outer self (or the empirical ego) is the self that can be seen, while the inner self (or transcendental self) can never be made an object or thing of any sort, but rather is among other items, a sense of freedom, a great liberation from the known, from the finite, and from the empirical ego.”
“Self-examination is the practice of accountability to your soul. You review how well you live in congruence with the truths that you know and believe most deeply.”
“It’s work! It’s work to get to know yourself and why you are the way you are, and why you love what you do and have the passions that you do. You require work. You are not a simple act of creation. You are complex and creative and conscious and unconscious.”
She later continues,
“In your conscience is a Pandora’s box of guilt, shame, all the fragments of your shadow that you and everyone would just as soon not confront. Yet, confrontation of the shadow, acknowledgement of your conscience, is core to any spiritual path.”
This work is crucial to our wholeness and our self-realization.
If we’re unwilling to look at the aspects of ourselves that we don’t like—the parts that are hidden—or we cast judgment and blame on them, then we’ll never be able to befriend them, and will never be able to truly know our whole selves, all of ourselves. And honestly, they’ll continue to run amok, and be backseat drivers in our lives, and rear their heads when we don’t want them to, like when we’re trying to prepare for a talk and we’re so tired that we can’t get it together, we can’t think—obviously, I’m speaking about myself in this moment.
But these things can be untangled in the unconscious mind if we’re willing to go there and do the hard work.
When you’re doing divination work for people, sometimes you’ll see “Dark Night of the Soul” or “Dark Queen”, and that just means, “What are you afraid of? What don’t you want to see about yourself or your situation?” These questions are important because that’s where the freedom lies. That’s where the liberation lies. That’s where the healing lies.
And sometimes, our downfall is just stuff we don’t want to believe. We don’t want to know that an opportunity is not for us, so we avoid looking at it, and we cause ourselves a lot of pain. It’s completely unnecessary if we’re willing to do the work.
Hedgewitch Rae Bath says that you’re going to do the work: whether you do it intentionally or unintentionally, it’s going to get done.
“We all, whether we are witches or not, descend to the underworld,”—remember, that’s the dark or the unconscious, the mystery, right?— “descend to the underworld at certain times in our lives and in our dreams. Within this place, we struggle with our inner selves. Psychological tangles and distorted emotions must all be processed or healed in the underworld, however long that takes.
As well as that, our souls gain in psychic richness down in the depths. It is here that we learn to respond to art and poetry, to be capable of passionate love, and to experience the mystery of a birth or bereavement, as well as the risk or pain.”
So, let’s talk about gifts; she touched on the gifts here.
Why would I want to befriend the dark?
I want to befriend the dark because it’s part of me. I want to befriend the dark because it’s part of living. I want to befriend the dark because I want to know it so that I can work with it. I want to befriend the dark because it has gifts to offer.
In Wildwood mysticism or witches work, you work with nature. You work with the energy of all that is. You don’t work against it. You don’t deny in a way that is going to create strife and hardship and failure. You work with the energies.
So that’s what we want to do. We want to get to know all of the self, all of what is available to us, and find the gifts which she touched on–’the ability to respond to art and poetry, to be capable of passionate love and to experience the mystery.’
Debbie Ford—you’ve probably heard of her, she wrote the book, “The Dark Side of the Lightchasers”–says the same thing. She says,
“Every aspect of ourselves is a gift. Every emotion and every trait that we possess help show us the way to enlightenment, to oneness.”
So, this is not a one-off theme! This is a common theme among certain circles and people who are willing to do the hard work. It’s not the easy work! It’s the hard work. It’s not a quick fix, it’s a diligent modification… well, let’s see… Carolyn Myss calls it “self-exploration and contemplation.” It’s about really getting in there!
In order to get the gifts of the shadow, first we must unearth the hidden beliefs and aspects of ourselves that are keeping us from spiritual freedom, self-empowerment, and our fullest potential.
Some of us already know what our less-desirable traits are. We know what we maybe don’t like about ourselves, or what maybe other people don’t like about us, but even then, there’s still probably some hidden parts that we don’t want to look at.
But some people live in a little bit of blissful ignorance, and they don’t realize what might be in there. Are they missing out on something? Maybe they are. Maybe there is a more rich and fulfilling life that they could have if they were willing to look a little bit deeper and below the surface.
Some ways to get in touch with what might be brewing in our unconscious that does cause discord and distress and dis-ease in our lives, sometimes disease in our lives, is we can do creative things. We can make music and paint and draw; and it doesn’t have to be perfect! We’re not looking for, you know, “Quel artiste!” We’re not looking for creative genius. We’re looking for creative authenticity.
“How do I feel in this moment?”
Especially if you’re having a moment—we all know what that’s like—draw it out.
It may be ugly. It may be nothing much to somebody else, but it’s going to mean something to you, and it’s going to help you tap into that subconscious mind and that pool of the dark, which is the unenlightened where you haven’t shined a light before, the things that operate without our conscious mind being aware of it, the things that make decisions for us and sometimes undermine us by making us sleepy when we have things to do.
Once you are in your creative, if you tap into that regularly, not only are you going to see more of your whole self, you’re also going to tap into your inspiration, your imagination. You’re going to become able to be more in touch with that unconscious part of yourself on a regular basis, which is a great thing because then, as you go about regular life, you’ll be able to more easily see, “Ooh, I just heard that voice pop up,” or, “Ooh, I remember I drew that the other day and that’s the feeling that I’m having right now. OK, what’s that about?”
And when you can look in and say, “What is that about?” then, you can start to unravel it, understand it, befriend it, get to know it. What is the history behind this? Why am I reacting this way?
Note: Typically, actually, you want to avoid “why” questions because they can shut down your mind, because they get you into reasoning and thinking and defense. Where if you say, “Wow, what caused those judgments? What brought about those judgments? Where did they come from?” your thoughts may flow more easily.
You can also write stories or poetry. Journaling, in my opinion, literally gets some of the toxicity out of your body and onto the page where you can toss it away and be done with it. It’s amazing the stuff you can get out of your psyche by just writing it down—I prefer pen and paper or pencil and paper, those work better for me than typing—and afterwards, there’s such relief because it taps into this automated writing part where, if you turn off your critic—you’ve got to turn off that analyzer as you go and you just write whatever you think, Bing! Bing! Bing!—you just keep going.
And if you allow that, it will wind itself down into your psyche deeply so that you can pull up what needs to be pulled up, so that you can look at it, and you can release it and you can let it go, or you can transform it and keep it.
You can take notes of things that you secretly dislike about other people, television, books, shows, whatever. If it makes you mad, there’s probably something worth looking at.
Maybe you do the same things. Maybe you do them to yourself. You look at somebody who’s really rude and it makes you infuriated. Well, maybe you’re rude to yourself. (I found that it’s not always something that you directly do to others; it might be something that you’re doing to you!) Or maybe they’re expressing some way of being—like going to the front of the line—that you do not allow yourself to do, and that’s what makes you so frustrated about it and wired up.
Those are the things that you can look at.
Debbie Ford suggests imagining a reporter is writing a story about you. What are the five things that you hope that they do not say about you? What are five things that you hope they do say about you? Then consider those things. Are they judgments? Are you considering some of it bad? Some of it good? Some of it right? Some of it wrong? And where did those judgments or assessments come from? Why don’t you want them to say those things?
Basically, we’re looking for our wounds or behaviors or attitudes and traits that are damaging, to ourselves and if we’re toxic, we’re damaging to others around us and our relationships as well.
But we don’t want to stop there! We haven’t gotten to the gift yet.
So, there’s an inherent gift in cleaning up our guck because then we can operate more fully, more integrated, the unconscious and the conscious work together. But if we’re ever trying to control a part that we don’t like, then we are not wholly accepting of all of ourselves.
If you’re trying to control some part, that means that you are not in sync and that part is not embraced. It’s not using its gift for the positive benefit of you; and my experience is that if you can identify the needs of that feeling, that emotion, that voice, that wound, and why they’re acting up or why it’s coming up, and see what their strength is, then you can use that for your good.
Maybe you have a part whose favorite line is, “Talk to the hand!” Other people are like, “She’s rude!” but that part is still giving them the “Talk to the hand!” treatment. Maybe that part’s ability is to draw a good boundary for you.
So instead of letting that part come out non-beneficially—because you’ve been suppressing the ‘talk-to-the-hand’ desire that you want to put out there and then it blurts out at an improper, inappropriate and inopportune time—maybe you can enlist that part and say, “Look, you have some great skills here! How about if you alert me before we get frustrated and rude, and help me to find better ways to set healthy boundaries before we cross that line.”
And when you do this, my experience is that they are thrilled to be able to come out and participate!
The other thing you can do, which Ford suggests, is to make a list of the times that your dysfunction—I hate to call it that, the parts that you don’t like as much about yourself, or maybe the parts that other people don’t like so much about you—have actually benefited you. List at least 10 times.
Then take a look. Is there a theme? Is there a trend? Are there similarities? This is the superpower of that part that you have not been embracing and that can be working for you in a positive healthy, in-sync, conscious and subconscious way.
Then from here, we can have compassion for ourselves. We can care for parts that we have locked away in isolation.
That’s sad. Think about it. You’ve locked away a part of yourself in isolation.
I locked away my dragon for a long time because I thought it was inappropriate and unspiritual. The gifts of that dragon are magickal. They are healing. They are Wisdom. They are the ability to stand your ground and be firm and be strong and self-empowered. But I tied it up because I thought it was inappropriate and not spiritual. You can see how destructive that can be.
I personally have found great healing, freedom, self-empowerment and peace as a result of doing my shadow work intentionally and ongoing as things happen overtime.
I have much less trauma, much less drama in my life than ever before. Maybe it’s circumstances. Maybe I’m just older and therefor inherently wiser by experience.
Rae Beth says (to paraphrase), ‘You’re going to do the work whether you do it intentionally or not. The question is, how many lives does it take you to get it done?’ Maybe you only believe in one life. I believe I have lots of them, and that means it’s taken me a long time to get it done.
Maybe it’s better choices leading to better circumstances. I can’t say for sure. But I do know that the more shadow work I do, the more I process and forgive myself, the more I let go of the need to control and embrace all of the aspects of myself and find their gifts, and honor their gifts, and enlist them to be an active part of my life, the happier I am, the more self-empowered I am, and the easier and more peaceful my life becomes.
These are the gifts of befriending the dark, and I hope that at some point you might consider looking at your shadow self and doing some of this work as well, and seeing what gifts you have inside that you didn’t even know were there and that might help to make your life that much more rich, that much more fulfilling, that much more “stepping into your true potential”.
Thank you so much. Namaste.
Asha is One World’s music director and the host of the Totally Witchin’ podcast.
“Awake, Awake” written by John Philip Newell and David E. Poole
“Mother of Darkness / We All Come from the Goddess” ~ traditional pagan songs
This service aired on October 18, 2020.