The Fruitful Darkness: Reconnecting with the Body of the Earth

The Fruitful Darkness: Reconnecting with the Body of the Earth

by Joan Halifax
Harper San Francisco, 1993; hardcover.

It is one of the necessary paradoxes of spiritual development that as one progressively disidentifies with the physical body and its passionate life, one exchanges or transmutes-matter for wisdom, thereby birthing a new body of authority. For Joan Halifax, noted educator, humanist, and transcultural peregrinator, that body is as big as the planet and its ethnographic myriad of peoples. Halifax's The Fruitful Darkness, a superbly wise and humble poetics of self-inquiry, transformation, and dynamic compassion, is the perfect illustration of this process. Her book is a wise-woman's account of how she discovered “new flesh in my mind,” how she found “the gold of compassion in the dark stone of suffering” - and how we all might, should we emulate her.

But that stone- that dark inchoate mass of unknowing, of the shadow, silence, woundedness, and subterranean life-is ultimately fruitful. My life is the instrument through which I might experiment with Truth, says Halifax, who artfully employs key tableaux from her life of continuous initiation and quickening to exemplify the principles of her alchemy. She draws equally from her experiences in anthropology, deep ecology, Buddhism, and indigenous shamanism, inspiring us with the breadth of their fusion in one body of understanding. At the heart of all discourses, suggests Halifax, is the wound, the unexpiated pain. But from out of the personal wound that is identical with the World Wound comes the fruit of unrestricted empathy.

Halifax's The Fruitful Darkness is a marvel of meditative reflection tempered with autobiography, a sensitive contemplation of the tenfold path by which Halifax seeks, on our behalf, “to weave my way back into the fabric of Earth.” There is gold in the darkness, she assures us, which we may mine through the ways of silence, traditions, mountains, language, story, non-duality, protectors, ancestors, and compassion. Each of these ways represents an element in her fugue of a fruitful darkness. Over the decades Halifax has traveled the inner and outer landscape with numerous lucid companions - Buddhist teachers. Huichol shamans, Native American elders, poets, scientists - whose presence and insights enrich her text. She honors all voices, puts her ear to the ground to listen to all members of the vast natural sangha of the planet, the community of biological beings, including whales, dolphins, stones, even extinct species, forests, rivers, now in the realm of planetary ancestors. “The true language of these worlds opens from the heart of a story that is being shared between species,” she says. “Earth is a community that is constantly talking to itself, a communicating universe.”

To listen you must learn the ways of silence, solitude, and emptying. Only then can you find the place where the roots of all Jiving things are tied together, that point of non-duality, the root with no end, which is the life of the Earth, “this great distributive lattice” upon which we all live. Then, grounded, rooted, in touch with the Earth, we can practice intimacy, simple communion, warmth, and mercy with the world, says Halifax. The Fruitful Darkness, comprised of “observations, notes, stories, and realizations,” is the meticulously crafted, honestly sung log book of her journey down and in.

After voyages through revelatory terrains, mountains of illumination, both actual and symbolic, through the Yucatan, Tibet, the Sahara, the Sierra Nevada, she knows: “We have greatly underestimated our true identity.” Early in her life she understood she, must spend time in the mountains, that she must be what the Shintos call yamabushi, one of those who lie down in the mountains. In 1987 she fulfilled a 25-year-Iong intention, to make the perikerama, the circumambulatory pilgrimage on foot around Tibet's awesome Mount Kailas. Even to arrive at this 22,000-foot-high giant, after weeks of jeep travel and overland walking, is a triumph. Kailas, like all majestic mountains, is so utterly daunting precisely because it mirrors our own Buddha nature, our true wild, cosmic identity: the mountain within is the more awesome.

The recognition of this staggeringly simple fact fabricates the body of authority. “Little was left of me psychically or physically after circling it,” Regrettably for the reader, because she conveys texture, tone, and ambiance of place so vividly, Halifax is assiduously spare in her autobiographical delvings and changes meditative locale long before we've drunk fully enough from each well she has bored and presented to us. But that is the mark of a mature work, a few strokes, deftly, masterfully executed, no indulgence, no superfluity, no posturing- just the bone of experience. Maybe there isn't anything else to say: being there is the revelation. “Realizing fully the true nature of place is to talk its language and hold its silence.”

Halifax, on behalf of the constituents of her body of authority –“all my relations” - urges us to reconnect with the body of Earth. We must awaken from our delusions of a separate self alienated from Nature the environment, and our fellow humans, correct the grave perceptual errors that have sealed us in a psychocultural cocoon that imperils the planet. The Earth Herself, through her polyphony of acknowledged tribal voices, will aid us. “The wisdom of elder cultures can make an important contribution to the postmodern world,” Halifax argues. This elder wisdom takes articulate living expression not as schematics, theories, and constructs, but as a direct experience of “stillness, solitude, simplicity, ceremony, and vision.”

Western culture needs a strong purification in the autochthonous sweat lodge of the native peoples' worldview, says Halifax . Our goal, in part, is the attainment of what Buddhism calls the six Natural Conditions (or Perfections) which we find in the deep, soul-making ground of fertile darkness. Let us aspire to generosity, wholesomeness, patience, enthusiasm, communion, and wisdom, says Halifax, and grow incomparable roses from the garbage of our civilization. Reconnected, our wounds make a door into the World Body, a gate through which our spirit-hand reaches in phototropic trust to what is moving towards us. The body of authority is the wisdom of “interbeing,” our unassailable identity with the world. Halifax deserves our thanks for showing us how to travel a long way to find a bit of true nature. “The yield of the journey is ex pressed by the light pouring out of the window of our interior worlds, the deep ground of our actual lives.”


Autumn 1993