This week, as part of our ‘Darkness’ series, Chris Yeomans writes a beautiful reflection on the experience of being “a terrestrial, and part of this creation”.
I am not too keen on total darkness. In strange houses, I often need to open the curtains when I go to sleep, to catch the faint light from the night sky. Years ago, I suffered from bouts of claustrophobia, and darkness pressing against my eyeballs felt as if I was being smothered or suffocated. I don’t think I’d do too well in one of those flotation tanks where you are supposed to experience weightlessness and some sort of total sensory deprivation.
I remember very clearly, one winter night, finding the bedroom and the house itself to be a prison. I wanted to break out. To see. So I got up and went out into the frosty garden, where there was the glimmer of stars, the faint glow of streetlights. I looked up at the sky and, rather unhelpfully, panicked that I was trapped on planet Earth. I couldn’t get off it. I could only survive within the oxygen bubble that surrounds us. I felt very much like a fish in a pond – trapped in water, unable to climb out and walk away. It was bizarre but extraordinarily powerful.
The experience has stayed with me, but the claustrophobic intensity has gradually faded. I remember talking to a monk about it, who seemed bemused: ‘That’s a bit of a problem, isn’t it?’ After all, it is rather a weird thing and not easy to put into words to share.
Over many years though, I have come, I think, to a greater understanding. This experience was actually the experience of being one with all things, not a separate being. At the time it was frightening. I wanted to scream and struggle and escape. I had no idea how or to where.
But gradually what I felt then has become a comfort: a very clear awareness that I am a terrestrial, and part of this creation. That I have no separate existence. This is a concept that sometimes we struggle to understand, but over time I have been lucky enough to realise that what I felt that night was actually to experience it, to feel it in my blood and bones, rather than to intellectualise it. It was a gift.