Let There Be Dark

As more and more of us, in an increasingly sleep-deprived world lose touch with our dreams, I continue to wonder what it is we are losing. Dr. Rubin Naiman sees our difficulties with sleep and dreaming, driven by “unrelenting motion”:

“We live in a world of unrelenting motion, a world that discourages slowing and stopping, a world that has lost its sense of rhythm and regard for rest. All life is by nature animated or in motion. But in the natural world, all motion is rhythmic, that is, it is tempered by rest. Things come and they go, they expand and contract, they are active and then they rest.” Rubin Naiman, Huffington Post.

But what is it that is lost from a lack of sleep and attention to dreams? In Naiman’s book, Healing Night: The Science and Spirit of Sleeping, Dreaming, and Awakening, he reminds us:

“Night is the shadow of the Earth. It is as nature intended, dark. And unsettling. Since darkness deprives us of vision, our primary means of orienting to and managing the outer world, it dissolves essential aspects of our social, extraverted selves. Most of us are probably less afraid of the dark per se, but more frightened of what darkness might reveal.”

What might the darkness reveal, what do dark, empty spaces provide for us, why should we attend to them, let alone welcome them?

The endless drive towards daylight keeps us active long after the days’ work is over. Even if you do live in a very remote place, it’s no stretch to see that our drive toward activity has huge implications for all life forms, the physical states of our bodies, souls and the planet itself. Our red-hot activity is a global warming.

The dark might not only reveal to us the restlessness of our minds and pains of our bodies, it may also make room for that which we don’t know, but very much need to. Through a willingness to greet the dark though sleep and dreams, we may gain a new perspective from the encounter with images in dreamstates. The lack of our dayworld orientation and control in dream states is what may further our openness to all experiences of otherness. From Robert Bosnak’s book, Embodiment: Creative Imagination in Medicine, Art and Travel:

“What we perceive while dreaming is that we are in a place which is not of our making. We didn’t invent it. It is a spontaneous presentation, an independently alive manifestation. Apparently physical worlds come to life in a flash and disappear without a trace. We stand at the dawn of creation.”

In dreams there is a clear sense that those we meet are not us. It’s an odd circumstance of encountering an objective reflection of our subjective interior. But more than that, dream images, the specific ways in which they appear, engage us in a night world state much differently than our waking selves might.

To gain a better sense of embodied images, Robbie, along with some fellow soul spelunkers, spent time together on retreat in a primitive cave, where over the course of a week or so, they engage the images, their dreams and each other:

Cave of Altamira, near Santander, Spain.

“Along the wall I see, shimmying on his belly along the cave barely two feet high, our ancestor on his way to be initiated into the world of the great spirits, the massive mammoth. He crawls on to the great hall, half a meter high, where, lying on his back, he draws the great spirits among whom he lives, the alien beings, greater, swifter and stronger than he on the ceiling in order to capture and venerate their spirit and become initiate to their powers. Unable to take distance he draws the ceiling animals life size, in perfect proportion, as if by entering their body he can feel along their contours as he draws. Lit by a tiny grease lamp, spooking the cave around him, I see him in a face-off with dark fears, and his awe of the Great Ones. Encounter, meeting, face-off, opposing directions, the Great Ones show the way.”

Can we imagine seeking out such places for their darkness, in which we open ourselves to the power and wisdom from creatures who, although we must fear, must also cooperate with for survival? Does not our technology, with its ability to destroy the night, insulate us from feeling, instinct, intuition and what Robbie calls, embodiment?

Without advocating an impossible return to the past, there is yet something the darkness offers us, especially the more insulated and artificial our environments have become.

In embodied dreamwork, Robbie uses waking imaginative states to move the dreamer’s subjective identity into the figures of the dream. By embodying the images, they come to life, moving in a way that embodies us in their felt experience. Perhaps it is the movement itself that we fear. If so, how can we hope to move that which needs moving in us?

“It is as though through a medium of Paleolithic wall painters the animals have charged into the wall, waiting in static polychrome for a next observer to embody, who again will feel their energetic charge, and change them back from stasis to ec-stasis (out-of-stasis).”

1024px-GuaTewet_tree_of_life-LHFageAlthough Westerners, and perhaps others, are not accustomed to giving weight to images, Robbie, in the tradition of Henry Corbin and others, sees images as having their own substance. Substantive images weigh on us and live through us, even when we ignore their reality.

“This book is a passionate attempt to contribute to the restoration of an awareness of alien intelligences perceived by creative imagination—embodied images with a mind of their own—while comparing it to our current, what I consider to be impoverished, perspective which views intelligence as singular. If I succeed in sensitizing you to the existence of an inbetween reality—neither physical body nor mental allegory—of alien embodied intelligences, without expecting you to believe in flying saucers, you will catch a glimpse, as did I in my conversations with Corbin, of a place outside the body-mind conundrum.”

He has succeeded in sensitizing me, especially towards seeing embodied imagination as one more way to practice living the unity that exists between body, mind, soul, spirit – angels and ancestors, and to recognize the unity between all living beings, especially those encountered in non-ordinary states.

All quotes as noted from, Bosnak, Robert (2007-09-12). Embodiment: Creative Imagination in Medicine, Art and Travel (p. 11). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

All quotes as noted from, Rubin R. Naiman. Healing Night: The Science and Spirit of Sleeping, Dreaming, and Awakening (p. 21). Kindle Edition.



28 thoughts on “Let There Be Dark

  1. Thank you for an insightful post! I actually felt a bit freaked out reading Robbie’s description of our ancestor crawling on his belly in the cave… It was eerily similar to a dream I blogged about recently and opened up a completely new angle to explore.

    This synchronicity reinforces the concept of the collective unconscious for me! I am beginning to think dreams, or perhaps archetypal symbols, are carried through generations and civilizations, so much so that we still receive wisdom and insight from our forefathers. I’m still toying with this idea but could it not be likened to the psychological concept of repetition compulsion in the sense that humanity will continue to be faced with these powerful collective symbols until we are at the point where we can work through them, heal and move forward?!


    1. Hi Jay,
      Thanks for reading here and for leaving a note. Yes, I just read your dream you posted about. Wow, that’s some synchronicity there. Now matter how often I am part of that experience, it still amazes me.

      I love that you see the ancestors linked to the collective unconscious. I do wonder if we live here in debt to them for their unanswered sufferings. Don’t they call out to us through these images to attend to our own sufferings in remembrance of them? I think so.

      Going underground in your dream is also going to the underworld, the place of the dead, the ancestors. I would suspect that your dream may be a blessing of sorts by a visit from their world.

      Here’s to dreams, synchronicity and the ancestors!



  2. Interesting, as always, D. And something I’ve actually given thought to, the unnatural ways postmodern living embalms daylight (much like food stuffs with extended shelf life). I have to remind myself of the cadence of living, as my life follows the heartbeat of a rhythmic universe. The place and role of dark, space, and depth in our life to bring forth light and vitality: you’ve tackled a whole book.


    PS I had been thinking of you, planning a visit, when I got your like the other day!



  3. The part of this post I loved the most were the excerpts from Boznak’s book like this one: “Unable to take distance he draws the ceiling animals life size, in perfect proportion, as if by entering their body he can feel along their contours as he draws.” The later quote, about the animals charging the wall and residing in static polychrome for the next observer to embody was awesome. I’m curious to know more about what is meant by “embodiment” and “image”. It seems as though it means moving into the images of our world, like the cave artist who “embodied” the image of a wild beast in order to sketch it with living accuracy. Knowing only what I do, this seems profoundly necessary, as it feels intuitively like it unifies us with our world, converts wild animals to brethren, introduces fluidity into identity and allows us to permeate the world. It strikes me as a perfectly natural way of knowing. I think great scientists have all done this, have projected themselves into waves and particles and looked at how they move and dance. Likewise, a good mechanic does this, embodying the engine and feeling its proclivities and vulnerabilities. A world without this inner sight is stale and lifeless. I don’t know if I’m capturing the essence of this, but thank you for another provocative post… 🙂



    1. Hi Michael,

      I think you’re spot on in your assessment of “embodiment.”

      I love how you put it too:

      “It seems as though it means moving into the images of our world, like the cave artist who “embodied” the image of a wild beast in order to sketch it with living accuracy.”

      And yes, like you say, it’s all about fluidity of identity. These ideas are embedded in words like compassion, sympathy, empathy and even communication.

      I sometimes wonder how hearing words as mere concepts keeps us away from the images embedded within them. I like to think that at one time in our long history, we were closer to the images embedded in our speech, but now, our mental reflexes interpret words into imageless meanings so quickly that we’re missing out on a beautiful part of our shared world.

      Perhaps anyone who has learned a craft or a skill, uses the natural capacity we have for absorbing otherness by allowing an other’s subjectivity to enter into us. For anyone who has a literal sense of themselves as separate with a static idea of who they are, embodiment may seem like crazy talk. I try to remind myself that oneness does not only mean “a single thing,” but also, the unity of more than one thing.

      The best example of conscious embodiment that I can think of would be acting, where we deliberately take on the role of another. I was thinking about this the other day when I went to see a local production of To Kill a Mockingbird. Acting is the one place where we consciously take on an identity that is not ours.

      In my experience, especially learning a musical skill or technique, you really have to give yourself over to the exactness of the mechanics, especially in very refined traditional forms of music. Imitation of another is essential here, at least to acquire a skill.

      I could go on and on! Taking on the subjectivity of an other, whether it’s the logic and function of a database, or the pain of a loved one, is as you say, an act of unifying, being one with the other, a practice that comes from “heart knowing” that is creative, making both love and soul.

      “Stale and lifeless” is a perfect way to describe what is missing when we’re not able to embody forms of otherness. Past and present cultures that sense the world as animate, alive, are not just superstitious primitives, as some say. They live related to otherness through their animal senses in a way that some of us moderns have forgotten how to do.

      Thank you as always for sharing your wonderful insightfulness here Michael.



      1. Thank you for the discussion here, Debra. I can see what you mean about this practice being embodied in compassion, empathy, etc. One interesting thing for me in this discussion is that, when I think of “embodying” another for instance, to better understand their position and viewpoint, I tend to equate that with going beyond the image they present. I tend to think it is critical in any area to take a look beyond the image. The word image for me tends to connote the surface appearance, and I think it is necessary to go beyond and find the projector of the image, or the core feelings and views that lead to the image that is presented. This is just a case where words are perhaps part of the challenge.

        I think in what you are describing and how the term is used above, image is used a little differently, though maybe the ultimate meaning and outcome is similar. It seems that in the post above the image is the capsule containing something richer, and through embodiment we might contact that richness. And in contacting that richness, we might contact the raw power resident in life, and that seems a necessary and life-promoting faculty to develop. 🙂 But we cannot do that if we don’t sink into the images and fill them with the extended, curious material of our awareness.



      2. Hi Michael,

        I so love your awareness of the linguistic assumptions and challenges that we all have in understanding each other. Thank you! It’s very much appreciated.

        The use of the word image is a great example. I am guilty of ever-deepening the meanings of words because it was from my lack of understanding language and dislike of it, that brought me to a place in life that was very lonely and uncomfortable.

        Somehow, that was all turned around when I started reading again and discovered from a friend that words have histories. Seeing that words are indeed referents to images and in many cases physical things, and can carry the past into the present, invited me to see their beauty and gift.

        “I tend to equate that with going beyond the image they present”

        Image can refer to the surface of things, I suppose because of its association to reflection, and in modern parlance, it often takes on that meaning. An image not only can be gone beyond though, but it can be deepened, as you say, into something richer. Yes, this is how I understand the word image. It’s a carrier of ideas.

        Words and images are hard to disentangle. When we use words, the images embedded in them can fly by too quickly to see anything but our most surfacy understanding of them. I know I still struggle to understand the spoken word because it never feels like I have enough time to consider all the possible meanings in people’s speech. Maybe that’s why I love reading, because I can slowly absorb, rereading the words to consider their beauty, association and depth.

        I think too, that us moderns can sometimes take language for granted and would prefer to assume meaning. There’s a social pressure that I feel, to use language in a way that doesn’t surprise people, meaning, use cliches and modern references and categories.

        Thanks a bunch for digging in deeper here with me Michael!



      3. I like what you say here (and elsewhere) about words, and how the images embedded within them can fly past too quickly to be experienced fully. The words really do stand for living realities, but this can be lost when words seem to make the infinitely complex so distilled and “obvious”. I think science is perhaps plagued by this. To call such a wide-ranging array of effects and propensities a “photon” is a deceptive simplification. Words also suggest that things exist independently from other things, right? What tree can ever be in a sentence without earth, air, water, and light? Yet so it can be with language.

        Here is a question: in this way of seeing you have written about, what is primal? The image, or the ideas carried? In the way of thinking with which I tend to most resonate, the ideas precede the image, and the image is a way of expressing or manifesting the idea. Thus, in our world, where we as finite beings are trying to understand and make sense of things, it does make sense to look deeply into the images around us, so that we can contact the ideas they carry. It is kind of like working from the outside in, this “recovery” of understanding, whereas creative acts like art and such seem to me to be more like inside out– the idea or sensation in its pure, wordless, thoughtless, shapeless form is the beginning, and the image produced is again its expression or (I like the word) “carrier” in this realm.



      4. “Here is a question: in this way of seeing you have written about, what is primal? The image, or the ideas carried? In the way of thinking with which I tend to most resonate, the ideas precede the image, and the image is a way of expressing or manifesting the idea.”

        Hi Michael,
        I love this question because it speaks to essence, but also a bit to our common human history of the senses, you might say. Sight, or seeing, even with the mind’s eye, is primary. All else is primary, yes? I think this is what you are saying.

        If image is primary, it allows us to contemplate with the senses, all thoughts that follow would depend on what and how we are sensing.

        I like your inside-out, outside-in way of putting it too.



  4. GRACIOUS!!! I just wrote a quick post about what could be called the feeling of living with the “embodied imagination” as it helps make the unknown know (which I experience from time to time with a feeling which could be called dark revelation hesitations 🙂 )! YES THOSE CAVES WE ALLOW OURSELVES TO ENTER ARE SO IMPORTANT! Excellent post that helps get the thinking juices flowing. -x.M


    1. The world rests in the night. Trees, mountains, fields, and faces
      are released from the prison of shape and the burden of exposure.
      Each thing creeps back into its own nature within the shelter of the dark.
      Darkness is the ancient womb. Nighttime is womb- time.
      Our souls come out to play. The darkness absolves everything;
      the struggle for identity and impression falls away.
      We rest in the night.

      ~ John O’Donohue
      from Anam Cara

      Just found the full quote that popped into my head as I was reading! Enjoy. -x.M


  5. I really love this post, Debra. Damn, I just love everything you post!! This one really arrested me and kept me from commenting right away, because as Morgan so aptly notes, there is just so much here that is pivotal for our times.

    As for bedroom hygiene, I am fiercely protective over honoring my nighttime space, so much so that friends calls the upstairs (where my bedroom is) “The Girl Cave.” 🙂 There is one little lamp, no electronics, and sparse furniture. The area is sacred to me, and I like it flooded with silence and blackness. In fact, I have a difficult time remembering my dreams when I am not in my sacred space. This idea of creating a Sacred Space for dreaming is nothing new; a fascinating example of this is Henry Reed’s “Dream Tent Research.” http://www.intuitiveheart.com/discovery.htm

    As for the priceless gifts of darkness, I think it is worth nothing that Shadow work seems inherent to any kind of deep dream work I have done, and something I have learned to embrace after finding so many hard earned keys to awareness lurking in the shadows. And maybe, darkness only seems scary from afar. Your post reminded me of a beautiful quote from Ramakrishna about the Dark Goddess Kali: “Is Kali, my Divine Mother, of a black complexion? She appears black because She is viewed from a distance; but when intimately known She is no longer so.” Commonly associated with Death, Violence and Destruction, Kali is perhaps the most compassionate of all aspects of Devi, for she loves us enough to shatter our illusions, and mother us into being.

    Thank you again for inspiring such great conversation among so many of your readers – it is a joy to read your posts and the awesome comments!!!

    Lots of Love,


    1. Hi Amanda,

      Thank you for your kindness! I think am trying to make the best of my naturally contrarian nature, lol.

      I am so glad you enjoy the posts here and I agree, and am so grateful for the many who contribute to the conversation here. It really means a lot to me.

      I do so love this:

      ““Is Kali, my Divine Mother, of a black complexion? She appears black because She is viewed from a distance; but when intimately known She is no longer so.” ”

      It reminds me also of the Black Madonna in Medieval Europe, which I read a bit about from Marion Woodman. The image of the dark, hidden womb associated with the feminine is a perfect way to understand the creative force of darkness!

      Before my marriage, I lived in a very Spartan apartment. No tv, although I’ve always had some means to play music, but have never had much use for things, and in fact, if there’s too much stuff around, I feel oppressed.

      I love that you have a “Girl Cave,” a sacred space for sleep. Even though in my married life there are more things in our house now, the bedroom is pretty plain, a bookcase, a captain’s bed, so no dressers, and we do have a radio. My husband, a chronic insomniac, likes to listen to the classics while falling asleep. I am at least able to set a timer on the radio for it to turn off.

      Oh and Robbie Bosnak did his training analysis with Hillman and also attended many Eranos conferences which is where he met Corbin. His book on embodiment is quite good.

      Thanks again for the link and for sharing your insightful self here.
      Much love,


    1. Thanks for the link CosmicDrBii! Love the idea of Slow University and Slow eating. Makes sense to me.

      Although I do enjoy fast walking and occasionally even running, my natural inclination has always leaned towards slowness.


  6. This is a great article. There are so many facets that to address all of them is beyond the scope of a brief comment.

    I tend to see loss of connection to the dreaming psyche as one of many disconnections that result from our modern economic systems: most of us have lost deep connection, not only to ourselves but to community, the natural world, the animals, and all growing things. Much of this is intuitively clear, but it has been empirically demonstrated too, in interesting ways. A couple of studies I recall have shown that for any particular geographical region, the areas with the greatest number of trees and greenery are the wealthiest, and vice versa. The results are obvious too – things are unravelling in much of the industrial world at an accelerating rate.

    It’s not inevitable. I remember thinking when I visited Iceland that the people there seemed energetic and happy, and I’ve seen that in several compilations of “happiest nations,” where Iceland scores in the top three routinely, and the US ranks in the upper 20’s. I suspect there are many, many reasons beyond the fact that their winters are long and dark – time for dreaming (and storytelling as well).

    Of greater weight than dreams, when they had their banking crisis in 2008, they let them fail and swore out warrants with Interpol against the perpetrators – a lot of bankers fled the country! They suffered economic hardship in the short term, but now they rank very high in income equality. I mention this because I think it’s a key example of how “cold” economics can be an important soul value when, in a situation like this, it’s a cause and effect of fostering community and a sense of “all in this together.”

    It seems like people with a healthy sense of who they are and their connections to each other and the land are harder to screw over – which is an obvious reason why our current environment makes such qualities difficult to cultivate.


    1. Hi Morgan,
      Thank you for your in depth thoughts here. I agree that economics, the idea that growth is always good, encourages us all toward so much activity, is problematic.

      “Of greater weight than dreams, when they had their banking crisis in 2008, they let them fail and swore out warrants with Interpol against the perpetrators – a lot of bankers fled the country! They suffered economic hardship in the short term, but now they rank very high in income equality.”

      This makes much sense to me. failure may be difficult in the short term, but tends to adjust the behavior that caused the problem in the first place.

      Not having traveled a lot outside of the US, I do wonder how different the pace is in other industrialized nations. I can imagine that the US leads in a lot of categories having to do with consumption, hours worked, etc.



  7. Thanks for this important set of insights. Hillman’s DREAMS AND THE UNDERWORLD, and Jung’s THE RED BOOK certainly support the value of Descent. What we can experience in the deep recesses of our own personal (and collectove) unconscious is greater than any TV program or video game we might occupy our attention with. We need to go beyond being mere surface dwellers. I think it was Campbell who said people become schzophrenic when they ignore their depths; perhaps this accounts for much of the senseless violence today. -Linda Watts


    1. Hi Linda,
      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. In a perfect world, we’ll marry the wisdom of prescientific cultures with just enough technology to sustain our well being.
      According to the latest neuroscience, Campbell was right; psychopathological states are correlated to dream deprivation.


  8. While I strive to be a litebeing, i recognize that darkness is everywhere and purposeful. While reading this piece, I immediately thought of this Time article I read: http://time.com/66260/barbara-brown-taylor-new-book-faces-the-darkness/

    I think I am still afraid of the dark because I have become more sensitive as I age and “see” much more in the shadows. Thankfully fatigue leads to sleep where my dreams can begin to amass their mystery.

    xx Linda


    1. Hi Linda,
      I was terrified of the dark as a child and still have a healthy fear of it. I have come to know that sleep and dreaming are vital, just as sunlight is.

      I am so glad you are able to sleep and dream, me too, mostly anyway. So many I know have serious insomnia, and technology use, from sleeping with a nightlight, to leaving a radio on, are tempting to me, and more so to Paul, who does suffer from insomnia.

      I realize more and more that my writing, and the topics that engage me, are telling on my own needs, which is certainly true of embodiment, lol!

      I am forever grateful for your friendship and sharing here and through your blog as well. It’s all very touching and keeps the conversation going.
      Much love,


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