The Darkened Mind

At a 7-day meditation retreat I recently attended, there was a period of question/answer prior to entering into silence.  When asked by a participant “is enlightenment possible,” the teacher quoted a writer who stated “enlightenment is the final disappointment.”

For a tradition that began with at least some talk of “enlightenment,” there seems to be a surprising degree of skepticism about growing light as a result of mindful practice.  Indeed, in all my reading of modern, secular mindfulness teachers, there is hardly any language at all referring to mental light (or darkness).  Why is this?  Is this stemming from a belief that such a distinction is only relevant to the immature mind (and dissolved in one truly enlightened?)  I’d love to hear from people who have insight as to why light/dark seems so “out of style.”

I can only speak from my own experience.  And what I do know is that there are times in my life when I have felt my mind darkened – and other times when my mind has seemed to be infused with light.  Depending on the day and week, I also notice slight or significant fluctuations in the amount of light in my life.  Like the weather outside, I also experience periods where my mind feels overcome with darkness, light or a mixture of the two.

Our scriptures describe minds that have become “darkened” (D&C 84:54), an “understanding” (Eph. 4:18) and “eyes” (Rom. 11:10) becoming “darkened” (see also Ps. 69:23)  – and even the “heart” being darkened (Rom. 1:21). Elsewhere, Christ speaks of bodies being “full of darkness” (Matt. 6:23) and people who “sit in darkness” (Luke 1:79).

The opposite experience is also described in scripture – of the “mind” being enlightened (D&C 11:13), “understanding” being enlightened (Alma 32:28) and  “eyes” (1 Sam. 14:27; D&C 88:11) or the “eyes of your understanding” being enlightened (Eph. 1:18). In the Book of Mormon, it speaks of a “dark veil” cast from the mind (Alma 19:6) and “scales of darkness” falling from the eyes of people (2 Ne. 30:6).

For my purposes here, the details of how this lightening/darkening happens matter less than confirming the phenomenon itself.  In my own experience, times of darkening/lightening have not always (but often) been a result of my own conscious choices.  When my mind is darkened, it results in a kind of literal blindness where I simply do not see things as they are anymore (and sense as much). This becomes especially apparent when the “light comes on again” – restoring a sense of clarity and perspective to seeing things as they actually are (vs. how I want them to be, fear them to be, etc.).

I’d love to hear from people who perhaps do not feel comfortable using such terms – to better understand their experience.

For my part, would this experience of mind somehow evaporate if I saw things more clearly or truthfully?   Are my sensations of mental light and darkness reflections of an immature mind?

I doubt it.  But then again, maybe I’m just not enlightened-enough yet?  (:

4 responses

  1. Hi Jacob,
    My name is David Holmes; I’m a friend of Arthur Pena’s. He sent me a link to this page. I’ve a little theory on the evolution of consciousness that you might find amusing, provocative, or downright earth shattering, depending on your susceptibility to radical paradigm shifts. Enjoy!


    • Thanks for the comment, David. I’m definitely always open to paradigm shifts – even juicy, radical ones.

      Though I haven’t read your book yet, let me ask this question: You contrast your theory of consciousness to the notion that the brain is “nothing more than a complex biocomputer.” Is it true, however, that you share a common conviction with this popular view of the brain – namely, “this is all there is…” If so, then I’m wondering if your theory isn’t accurately understood as an elaboration of the “complex biocomputer”/materialist view – only suggesting that the computer has great “audio-visual” specs and can even put on light shows? Just curious…

      • I refer to the view from this theoretical stance as “neo-Cartesian non-dualism.” The distinction between mind and matter–soul and stuff–is real enough; they answer to different masters. But the two contending and intricately intertwined realms share a fractal border: intractably “there” but then again not.

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