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March 9, 2023

245. Spiritual Enlightenment Includes the Dark - Deborah Eden Tull

245. Spiritual Enlightenment Includes the Dark - Deborah Eden Tull

Deborah Eden Tull's spiritual journey has included a deep exploration of endarkenment, which is her term for learning to embrace her shadows with fierce compassion and equanimity to discover and reclaim her full, luminous power. "We don't awaken by...

Deborah Eden Tull's spiritual journey has included a deep exploration of endarkenment, which is her term for learning to embrace her shadows with fierce compassion and equanimity to discover and reclaim her full, luminous power.

"We don't awaken by hanging out in our comfort zone. We can’t know the power of our inner light if we are pushing away darkness.”

Eden is a spiritual teacher, mentor and author of "Luminous Darkness", a book exploring the importance of embracing both light and dark in our spiritual journey. She spent 7 years in a silent Zen Buddhist monastery, exploring the power of deep listening and the sacredness of both light and dark.

In the monastery, she lived off the land in a little house off the grid, and she came to appreciate the importance of the darkness and the importance of its balance with the light. She realized she must embrace the darkness and that spiritual practice should invite one to meet the mystery with reverence and respect. She discusses the importance of befriending the darkness and listening to life with every cell in the body to experience the full spectrum of life and develop a resiliency from discomfort. She also shared her experience of two stars in the night sky that held her attention and reminded her of the importance of deep listening.

In this episode, you will learn the following: 

1. Embracing the Unknown: How can we explore darkness and use it to grow spiritually? 

2. Befriending the Night: What can we learn by listening to our shadows and wounds with curiosity and non-judgment? 

3. Endarkenment: How can we become more equanimous and open to all forms of life and emotion?



Books: Luminous Darkness

Relational Mindfulness

Other episodes you'll enjoy:

055. John Lockley - The Leopard Warrior Returns

092. The Magic of the Space In Between- Modern Mysticism with Michael

224. Human Design & Intuitive Decision Making - Patricia Lindner

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Music. Hello, and welcome to The Meditation Conversation, the podcast to support your spiritual revolution. I'm Kara Goodwin, and today I'm joined by Deborah Eden Tull. She's the author of the new book Luminous Darkness an Engaged Buddhist Approach to Embracing the Unknown. And I'm excited to talk to her about the darkness.

She makes a point in her book. Very beautifully that we are so often so focused on the light that we dismiss the dark, or we're afraid of the dark, or we don't want anything to do with the dark, and how this can be detrimental to our growth. And so we get into some of this and learn about what medicine is within the darkness. I really enjoyed talking to Deborah. She is such a gentle and wise soul.

She just exudes this wisdom is really the main characteristic that shines through in the interaction with her. And I really encourage you to check. Out her book because it's very interesting. The topic that she's chosen. It's kind of this provocative subject in a lot of ways for people who consider themselves light workers like myself.

So I have had to look at myself and really kind of be honest with the things that I think about the light and the dark and the roles of each and the medicine they're in. And I have learned quite a bit from her book, and it's helped me to grow. And so if you find yourself looking at the subject of this podcast episode and being like, darkness, I don't want to go there. What is Kara doing talking to somebody who wants to talk about darkness? Look at that.

And explore it and. See what is there for you? Because that has been the journey for me through this work and my introduction to Deborah. So let us use it. Let us use this opportunity.

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So welcome, Eden. Thank you so much for being here. It's such a pleasure to meet you. It's lovely to be here with you. Looking forward to our conversation.

Me too. So I have been reading your book, Luminous Darkness, and it's beautiful, it's beautifully written. The COVID is gorgeous, and I have found it very interesting as you're reading it. It's like you're already anticipating where the tension might be within the reader or where the blockages may be and wanting to explore the darkness. And I have to admit, when your publicist first approached me, I was like that it was like, I don't know that I want to talk about darkness.

I don't know that I want to explore darkness. But I'm so happy that I did. And it was a series of things that it was like a lot of shadow stuff was coming up and it was like, oh, look at me. Like, not wanting to look at my shadow. Yes.

And so it's so beautifully addressed. And you do a great job of using the actual darkness of nature and of the sunlight versus the nighttime and how we just tend to favor the sunlight and how we tend to focus on the light and what are we losing through the darkness and how does that equate to the inner work that we're doing, too? And so it's really thoughtful. It's a very important way that we do need to be honest with ourselves if we want to grow. And so I want to hear about the inspiration for the book you spent.

I think it was seven years in a silent monastery. Yes. A Zan Buddhist monastery. Yeah. And you were I just found it really fascinating.

You were living in this little.

I. Don'T even remember what you called it, like just a little place.

You were in a community, but where you stayed was kind of off by yourself, off the grid, living off the land. And you take us through, like, what it was like to get used to the darkness comes and you've got a small amount of light because you're not using traditional electricity and so on. Tell us about how you came to appreciate the importance of the darkness and what made you want to write the book. Sure. I would first share that nature is, I believe, our greatest teacher, the natural world.

And when we tune in to the natural world, we don't see that nature favors light over dark. We see that both light and dark are sacred and exist in a dynamic interplay. And that when we look within human consciousness as well as the natural world, we see, and with clear eyes can see that the full spectrum of light and dark and everything in between is sacred. So I'll start there and I'll share that throughout my spiritual journey, it's become clear that both light and dark are teachers. And I've had so many experiences which felt like I was facing the complete unknown, because if we're honest, all human beings are.

Collectively, we're more and more recognizing that we are together now, facing global uncertainty. The spiritual path is a walk through the unknown and is meant not to support us in labeling life and putting life into categories and pushing away one half of nature, but actually embracing all of it and learning how to meet the mystery with reverence and respect and curiosity rather than fear. So over the years, both as a practitioner and as a spiritual teacher and mentor, I've had so many experiences to remind me how afraid of the dark physically and metaphorically humanity is and how much harm has been caused by this hierarchical perception which holds light as superior. I'll also share that I've just long been curious about some of the stumbling blocks or obstacles we hit in our spiritual pathway and some of the conditioning that we might not even know is infusing sometimes our spiritual lens or spiritual communities. Or in the case of this book, I talk about some of the confusion we get into when we focus only on enlightenment and think of enlightenment as an end and a goal.

I'm trying to get to the light, to attain the light, to push away the dark. And this book invites people into and darkenment alongside enlightenment. And just to by the title of the book Luminous Darkness, you and listeners can get a sense that I'm not pointing to darkness in the way that most of us have been conditioned to think of. It where we put everything that's unwanted and bad and heavy and difficult into that category, but something much deeper and something that throughout history, wisdom, traditions, different spiritual traditions have recognized as an incredible instigator of spiritual growth. So I know this has been true to my experience, and yet I know that in my early years on the path, I was impacted by the message that darkness is so bad.

And so the things that I saw in myself as shadows, I really kind of battled with instead of embraced and received the medicine of. And I ran into some other periods of confusion because of this unnecessary divide. Yeah, I think I'll pause there. Yeah, thank you for that. And I want to explain, explore this endarkenment and why it is so important that we because you're absolutely right.

Traditionally we are very focused on light, enlightenment and, you know, sharing the light, being love and light and so on.

And it can be scary. It can be scary to physically go in the dark. And it can be scary to be in a little house in the darkness on your own, for example. It can be scary also to actually go into our wounds and our traumas and the places within us that are not what we'd want them to be, the thoughts and so forth. So why would we want to embrace those things?

Thank you. Because we don't awaken by hanging out in our comfort zone, because we don't remember who and what we actually are by pushing away that which makes us a little bit uncomfortable because our traumas cannot be healed organically if we keep them in an isolated closet labeled darkness. Not going there. Better not go there. And most importantly, because in my experience, we cannot know the power and strength of the love that is in eight, in us.

That is who we are until we're willing to with curiosity and nonjudgment turn towards our shadows, turn towards again our wounds, our sore spots and let that love infuse those wounds. It's an alchemical healing process. It's an interplay between light and dark. In a sense, we can't even really know the power of our inner light if we're pushing away dark. And I share in the book of just the ancient symbol in Taoism of Yin and Yang.

The symbol of the Tao shows that within the middle of the dark is a dot of light and within the middle of light is a dot of dark and that they're not separate. So really the beauty of being willing just to become for people who are new to this kind of conversation a little curious about your associations, about what you've labeled dark and a little bit curious about the true capacity of your heart so that spiritual practice can become one of embracing and inviting in integrating our whole selves instead of pushing some away. I know for me that caused so much harm. And again, I'll emphasize we cannot awaken if we're hanging out in our comfort zones or holding on to the familiar. Yeah, thank you.

That's really beautiful. So what are your thoughts about that? So if you're going to kind of wade in the waters of the dark or start to explore the dark, of course you might want to be cognizant about being swept away in the dark. Do you have any thoughts about I mean, not in the night but within yourself or of course, there are some more devious and less helpful experiences that we can have with darkness. So what are your thoughts about keeping that balance so that it remains helpful?

Sure. Does that make sense? Let's say, for example, in the spirit of your question, that someone is listening and thinking, you know, there's a really difficult emotion like grief or jealousy or a sadness that I've been sort of continually pushing away. I talked to someone just yesterday who has a habit of pushing away or trying to push himself past this sort of lurking sadness. And we might instead consider the phrase of one of the chapters in the book.

It's called befriending the night. If I were to become just a little more curious about the possibility of befriending this sadness, not battling it, not hating it, and not assuming it's going to swallow me whole, what would be required of me to stay present enough and to turn within enough to listen some to this sadness? Every form of life, every emotion, every energy responds to deep listening. It's a generous and kind expression to without judgment, without assumption, without I think you're going to swallow me whole or I'm assuming you're bad to just listen to that energy. So for instance, I offer practices in the book through mindful inquiry of gently investigating what are the sensations of this sadness, what are the thoughts at play when it's here?

Who is this part of me who's feeling this sadness? And have I ever really fully befriended this part? And at any point that we feel that it might be overwhelming, we can pause in an inquiry. We can pause and as long as we're anchored in our bodies and in compassion, which is a we might say reciprocal practice with inquiry. So we inquire into something and it strengthens our compassion, it strengthens our presence.

This is how we don't get swept in it. And I'll also name there have been meditation retreats I went on in my early years where it was like a deep grief arose and I thought, if the floodgates open, I'm never going to come out of this because I've always pushed this grief away, and I let the floodgates open and the great healing occurred, and it's safe. And we're in this together. And there's so much unmetabozed grief and trauma for all humans, regardless of your walk of life that needs healing. And healing doesn't happen when we push things down and further isolate it.

It's just not how it happens. And I will just add it. It makes me very sad that while I acknowledge there might be certain skillful uses, for instance, of pharmaceuticals, that pharmaceutical industry has today become a primary means for avoiding emotional intelligence and metabolizing emotions and instead giving people more ways to push away. That makes sense. And I offer that with compassion because I think there's a more sustainable way.


Thank you. So do you feel that as you experience endarkenment from that alchemical perspective, is there more of a neutralization that comes. Sort of not to think of it. As like an end goal, but is it more that if you can be with your sadness and you can see it in a new way, then are we ultimately working toward more neutralization, where the dark is not so dark? Perhaps.

Here's what I would offer about that.

We become much more equanimous, much more welcoming, much more spacious, much more peaceful. And in that piece, we're not in any way whatsoever numbing out to life. Each of us only has a short period of time to be alive. So why would we want to numb out to any of it? I want to be vibrantly, fully alive and awake to every human experience.

And that includes the full spectrum. So it's more like the metaphor you sometimes is when we first come to meditation, we might be like a really teeny, tiny clay vessel. Small. We're comfortable being with certain emotions, like better feel, easy happiness. And we're really uncomfortable being with a bunch of other emotions.

And then as we sit with as we stay present with in compassionate, spacious awareness, that vessel softens and opens. And then it softens and opens some more and more until we can become as big as all of life. And if you can imagine that not only do we become a much more spacious vessel for all forms of energy and expressions of vitality and emotion, but equally, our capacity for joy expands tenfold. Because joy and grief are two sides of the same coin. Because our willingness to if we're numbing out on one side, we're numbing out on the other side.

So we're not neutralizing. Quite. But there is a deeper equanimity and spaciousness and acceptance and fluidity that happens with all of it. Yeah. And one phrase I'll bring in is we develop a great discomfort resiliency.

And I believe this is something that's really needed in today's world when there are many uncomfortable conversations to have in our collective healing, when they're in order to have strong relationships and communities, we need sometimes to be uncomfortable together to grow discomfort resiliency. This is a wonderful quality that we develop. I love that. I mean, resilience is so powerful that's one of the things for my children that I hope the most as they get older is that quality of resilience, of just being able to bounce back. Yes.

To fall down and get back up. To fall down and get back up with compassion as our guide because we're all human, so we're going to fall down. Yeah, right. Absolutely. Well, you mentioned emotional intelligence not long ago.

How does emotional intelligence relate to endarkenment? Sure. So in the book I talk about five different principles for indarkenment. And one of the principles is being willing to turn towards rather than away from life, from our experience with fierce compassion, being willing to meet life with fierce compassion. And so we both, I believe, need a balance of access to gentle compassion, knowing when it's wisdom to respond to a life circumstance or an emotion or another human, whatever it is, with the soft, spacious, just receptive aspect of our nature.

And at other times, it is compassionate to set a loving boundary or to take a stand or to use our voice in a courageous way on behalf of life, et cetera. So we need to have access to both. And I'll just share that. Endarkment really encourages us to just consider that in this pursuit of enlightenment and I love enlightenment as a path, it changed my life and saved me. So I'm not dissing enlightenment.

I'm saying let's add a little something more and be aware of some of the conditioning that's been passed down through both patriarchy and colonialism capitalism such that it becomes, again about finding the end and finding the goal and kind of an up and away approach. Let's philosophize our way to enlightenment. Let's overthink practice. Let's try to transcend our experiences. And instead, I encourage people to wake down into and through the body mind, to go down into the deeper, darker undercurrents of our experience.

Emotions, intuition, dream, the whole body of memory, not to push it away, but to completely embrace and integrate it. This is, for me, genuine power. Power not as power over, but authentic power or shared power, which I describe in the book as our ability to give and receive love moment by moment. If we're pushing stuff away and if we're not anchored down in our bodies, our Earth connection, our own feelings and pain, we're not there.

I couldn't agree more.

That desire to transcend, I mean, transcendental experiences are very powerful. And if we're always striving to transcend our human experience, then why are we here? Kind of begs the question of, like, why did we take on this role to be here? Yes. And how often can there be woven into the attempt to transcend a bit of resistance and judgment of an experience rather than pure love?

You meet anything with love, you bring it into healing. You meet anything with love, you bring it into healing. Yeah. Beautiful. I am very curious if you have anything more to say about the two stars that you talk about as you felt this connection.

This is early in your book and you mentioned kind of being out in nature, and there were two stars that really kind of held your attention. And it was really profound and I was very intrigued by that. Do you have anything more that you can share about that? Sure. I believe in and teach deep listening as a way of life.

And I teach the difference between shallow listening, which can be surface listening, or being caught in the narrative in our own heads, the binary dualistic conversations. Deep listening is embodied listening, listening to life with every cell in our body, listening to the human and more than human world. We talked earlier about the fact that I spent seven and a half years as a silent monastic in the wilderness. And it was truly affirmed for me that when we're resting and deep listening, all of life wants to be in conversation with us. And at times that truly invokes, actually on a daily basis, what we call mystical experience.

But we don't need to fetishize or go after mystical experience. It's just part of living an interconnection with the entire fabric of relationship on planet Earth. So in that particular instance, soon after a retreat I was leading in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where I heard myself for the first time first use the word in darkenment. On our last night of silent retreat, someone was asking, how do we let these practices fortify us in an age of so much pain collectively? And I spoke to the need of endarkment alongside enlightenment, and the terms surprised me.

And yet, in the days following, everything began to fall into place. Oh, mine has been a path of endarkenment and I've never quite recognized the potency and also the need now to voice this. And I was leading another retreat in Big Sur at that kind of magical meeting point between the forest cliffs and the ocean. And I was simply resting under the night sky in kind of a state of open awareness. And it was about midnight, and I had a clear experience of two stars connecting with me and through metaphor image, not so much words, more feeling.

People who are listening, who have had the kind of experience I'm talking about where you're in communication with the natural world, but not in a linear, rational, mind way, just gave me this whole transmission about the luminous darkness. That's where this book began. And it took me kind of into a state over the next three weeks to continue to receive this transmission and information and to spend a lot of time resting in darkness myself. And it was a very beautiful, benevolent experience. I don't hold that kind of experience as quote unquote, special because again, I believe that when we're hanging out in deep listening, the whole universe wants to communicate.

And that's a really nice alternative to spending time in shallow listening and being caught in our own bubble. Me and my separate self, we're not separate. We're not separate it's one of the primary messages of the book, is how to affirm and stabilize our knowing of that and then let that non separation inform the choices we make and how we live and how we treat ourselves and how we treat all of life. Yeah. Yes.

So powerful. Thank you. So how can people find out more about you and find your book? Sure, people are welcome to visit my website, which is my whole name, Deboraheadento.com, and I'm also on social media. I run a nonprofit called Mindful Living Revolution, so you can find me also on social media there.

And I have all kinds of offerings. I have two earlier books out retreats, both online and in person. And actually, in February is my next six month training called The Heart of Listening, which is a really profound and rich and fun and growthful process of living in deep listening mentorship programs so people can find out all kinds of things on my website. And I really encourage people to check out the book, especially if you've recognized you have had some associations with darkness that perhaps haven't served and you feel curious about even the medicine of the night sky that our ancestors spent so much more time under than we do. This relationship with the mystery that we can live in, that's reverent, that's in wonder, that acknowledges the field of possibility that darkness represents.

So, yeah, I hope that people have found some medicine in this conversation, and you're completely welcome to reach out. Wonderful well. Thank you, Eden, so much for being here. I loved this discussion. I love your book.

Thank you for all the work and the dedication that you've given with all of your service over many years, decades, even. So, it's been a real pleasure and honor to have you here today. Thank you so much. And thank you to everyone listening.

I hope you enjoyed this episode. I'd love for you to do me one quick, quick saver, which is to think of one person who would benefit from hearing this content. Let them know you're thinking of them by sharing this episode with them right now. Thank you, and I look forward to the next meditation conversation.