Meditations (Spirituality): Own Your Own Darkness
Own Your Own Darkness
This is the third in a series of columns on the deepest and most timeless questions facing the human being. In the first I examined God, nature, and religion; in the second I explored human consciousness in the cosmos. In this piece I will investigate the nature and operation of evil.
What is the origin of evil? Is nature ever evil, or does it only exist as a by-product of human consciousness? Is evil an individual or collective phenomena? Does it have intentionality? Is evil growing, or is it a constant? How can one protect oneself from it?
These are some of the questions I’ve inquired into regarding this most vexing of philosophical subjects. Like most modern people, I used to think that evil was an amorphous thing, a psychological rather than metaphysical (i.e. unexplained) reality. In this view evil is an individual rather than a collective phenomena, lacking intentionality, seen somewhat like sewage water flowing to the lowest level.
An experience in the Soviet Union a year before its dissolution rudely showed me otherwise. I had been working with a powerful Russian businessman and staying in his family’s apartment for a couple weeks. He had two fine boys. The eldest son turned 13 while I was there and I was invited to a special dinner to commemorate his entry into manhood.
After dinner, during which the adults had a couple of vodkas, I was feeling enfolded in the hospitality and warmth of the family as we rode back to the apartment through the gray snow and grim streets of Moscow in January. I hadn’t felt even a twinge of homesickness to that point.
I was sitting in the front with the driver, and all four family members were in the back, with the youngest son on his mother’s lap. Andrei’s wife said something about evil in relation to the Stalin era. Off the top of my slightly inebriated head, I said, “evil exists, but if you remain with your fear, it can’t enter you.”
A metallic voice, which came through Andrei and sounded like it emanated from a kilometer away, replied in the most malevolent tone I’ve ever heard: “Is that so?” I felt a tremendous menace, and instantly experienced fear as I’d never experienced it before--terror really. Immediately the fuzzy family feeling, accentuated by the vodka, was replaced by a sense that I was on the backside of the moon and in mortal danger. The reversal was so intense that I could not speak.
Without remembering what I said, I did what I had blithely said one must do when faced with evil: remain with one’s fear. Slowly the terror eased, and then passed, but I had been changed forever. If I had not done what I said, I’m certain I would have been inwardly destroyed. It took months for me to understand what happened, and years to reach a basic understanding of the nature and operation of evil.
Evil can be confused with many things—the feeling of empty darkness at the very edge of the known, for example. But it is not that. Evil is the intentional movement of darkness within human consciousness. It does not exist in nature, though some animals may be able to absorb it from being around humans. (The movie “The Ghost and the Darkness,” a more or less true story about a pair of man-eating lions in British East Africa in the late 19th century, frighteningly conveys that possibility.)
Though evil is thousands of years old (no doubt as old as humanity), it is man-made, and so can be understood, faced, and ended. Evil arises from personal darkness, but it isn’t individual.
People make themselves conduits for evil through the willful ignorance of the darkness within them. Adapting to North American culture, saturated as it is with darkness, has made many people inwardly dead (or ‘numb,’ as it’s often put euphemistically).
Evil flows easily through dead people who don’t care, like a current through a copper wire. (Another movie amongst the multitudes reflecting Hollywood’s obsession with the subject, “Fallen,” with Denzel Washington, got it half right in my view, if you subtract the theology.)
Evil may be a kind of shared death wish, seeking to break the human spirit and destroy the spiritual potential of the human being. Rigorous self-awareness is one’s only true protection. It also turns the tables on evil, since it can only work by attacking and exploiting one’s flaws and weaknesses. By learning continuously about oneself through watching and questioning one’s reactions, evil cannot enter and take control of one’s life.
Many people now have bottomless black pools for eyes (“the walking dead”). Look for those who still have light in them. But above all, own your own darkness, and thereby, keep learning and growing.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.