30 Days of Brené Brown — Day 10: #darkness #fear #joy #light


Let’s do this. Welcome to Day 10 of “30 Days of Brené Brown.” Today’s quote is more Jungian to me than any.

“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.”
― Brené BrownThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Such language! ‘Destroy’ — that’s a little dramatic, isn’t it? This is what bugs me with some styles of writing though: let’s go all freakin’ Charlton Heston on darkness. Let’s stick to the negative! Let’s go all BLAMMO and WHACK! on its ass and avoid stating the positive message up front.

boooohaaaahaaaahaaaaaa… take that! LIGHT!

boooohaaaahaaaahaaaaaa… take that, LIGHT!

What’s a positive spin here? “Darkness defines light.” What’s the other part of this quote that would work with less Faye Dunaway, Heston-esque writing? That fear(-ing) (darkness) kicks joy to the curb: fear kills joy. Another negative spin that confuses the whole shootin’ match. 

Who gives a crap about the darkness in this quote? I don’t mean to avoid it altogether, but its inclusion has sort of muddied the waters here. Made it all darker… (bad pun intended).  

Ok. So we’ve got this: darkness defines light and fear kills joy.

See you tomorrow. 

I figure that anyone who’s following this series is already on the self-awareness bus. That you already know that when you’re unconscious you act out, you interrupt, you behave brashly, you speak constantly of yourself. All of these behaviors, and we all do it so be cool with yourself, are based in fear.

Fear of what? Fear of being:

  • irrelevant,
  • forgotten,
  • left behind,
  • unseen,
  • discounted.

We are so desperate to be included (although we may not admit it) that we act these ways.

My middle son has a tremendous fear of the dark. He can be impulsive. It has gotten better, but he still doesn’t care for it. My father said that my mother had a huge fear of the dark, even as a woman. She was impulsive. I know that my son has no reason to fear the dark, nothing has happened to him to engender such a fear. I can not say with any confidence that was the case for my mother.

I remember when she would babysit my kids which became less frequent as she aged, that when we came home, I’d go check in on them as I always do, still, and their rooms would be like infernos: warm and super bright. Most likely the boys were fast asleep, but it vexed me.

I’d always feel defeated by that. I can’t tell you why, but it was just one of those things that felt judgey to me. As though my insistence that I leave the lights out was somehow wrong. Yup, I personalized it.

True story: after she died, the night of her funeral in fact, we all went to sleep in various rooms at my cousin’s home in Buffalo. My youngest slept in an ad hoc playroom, which was an off-shoot from the room where my husband and I slept. The door separating the rooms had a large window in its upper half. My third son loves the dark, he is the most courageous — not daring, just gutsy — of the three boys. The lights in that room are formerly gas sconces converted into electric. They have those little beaded brass chains you’d pull to turn on each sconce. Because T3 loves the dark, he tugged on each chain each night to turn off the light and said good night. It was like a little ceremony for him.

At 7:30am the same morning, T3 bounded from his bedroom into ours and chirped, “Good morning Mom and Dad! Aren’t you proud of me? I slept through the night without waking you to get up and pee! I didn’t get up at all!”  I was all sheet-faced, Medusa-haired and squinty -eyed, “Yay. Who cares. Wait. I didn’t mean that. Go back to bed… Good job…Nnnnznznzzzzggg.”

What I didn’t know though was that at 3:30am in the middle of the night, my husband woke because our room was brightened. He saw that all the lights were on in T3’s room but the door was still closed. He got up to turn off the lights and returned to bed. T3 was out cold.

My father, husband and I feel quite strongly that Mom did that. I feel that once she knew where her body would be, that she wanted to do a headcount of her loved ones. And turn on their lights. She would do it when she was alive and when I was home, she’d go turn on their lights when they’d be sleeping after I turned them out, so why wouldn’t her energy come and do that then?

What does this have to do with Brené’s quote? I have no clue, but it’s great story, isn’t it?

Move along… back to Brown.

In the case of my middle son, yes, I would agree that his fear of the dark does cast his joys into the shadows.

Brown is being metaphorical here too — “dark” is not just the lights off. It’s all our self-doubts, our fears, our woes, our self-imposed limiting thoughts and beliefs about ourselves which destroy our joys. For my son though, “dark” mostly means ogres, villains and zombies. He has a couple self-doubts too and we work on those.

Metaphorically speaking again, what is a “joy”? — completion of a job, kindness to ourselves and others, moments of self-satisfaction. Do you remember what it’s like to feel self-satisfied? It’s hard to recall — we spend so much time and energy focusing on what we’ve not gotten done that we don’t give ourselves the gift, the joy, of appreciating what we do get done.

Today: the kids are home from school because 2″ of snow have fallen and destroyed (y’like that? I just slipped it in there, like Heston) our way of life here in the D.C. suburbs. I work hard to make sure they know they are not encumbrances. After all, we decided to get pregnant and have them. But I like my alone time, especially after a weekend with them all buzzing around, high-fiving each other, wresting, farting on one another and being all male an’ whatnot. Monday, when we had an ice storm, I holed up in my office and hid and let Lord of the Flies reveal itself. I was done from the weekend.

Today though, I wanted to be with them. We played some wii bowling (I lost four games) and some wii tennis (I lost two games, won one match, I blame my avatar, she has no arms or legs) and then I tidied up the kitchen, loaded the dishwasher, made myself some eggs and coffee and came in here to write. It was fun, it felt complete. I didn’t let the darkness of my need to be alone cast a shadow on my joy of being with them.

As far as I’m concerned, darkness gets a bad rap. It needs to be appreciated. Focusing on it, though, leads to major league cloud cover. I think that’s what Brown is saying here, that without the darkness we can’t define our light.

Don’t fear the darkness — it is always there. Expect it and it will be easier to contend with; you might even find that you can learn from it.

So I dare you: make a list of what you’ve gotten done today — especially if it includes teeth brushing and putting on pants as well as chalking up some personal alone time.

Embrace the dark, it’s always there. Learning to live with it and thrive from its gifts is the trick.

Thank you.

ps – meh. i’m not sure i did much with this quote. i liked the Mom story though. that was nice. and my doodle. i liked that too.

About Grass Oil by Molly Field

follow me on twitter @mollyfieldtweet. i'm working on a memoir and i've written two books thus unpublished because i'm a scaredy cat. i hail from a Eugene O'Neill play and an Augusten Burroughs novel but i'm a married, sober straight mom. i write about parenting, mindfulness, irony, personal growth and other mysteries vividly with a bit of humor. "Grass Oil" comes from my son's description of dinner i made one night. the content of the blog is random, simple, funny and clever. stop by, it would be nice to get to know you. :)

2 responses »

  1. Is it my dirty mind or does the head of that shaft in the photo look phallic?

    You nailed his quote a bunch of times and you nailed more with this: “Do you remember what it’s like to feel self-satisfied? It’s hard to recall — we spend so much time and energy focusing on what we’ve not gotten done that we don’t give ourselves the gift, the joy, of appreciating what we do get done.” In a nutshell.

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