Image by Evelyn Simon
Arriving where I am today was a messy, long, exciting, excruciating, and ecstatic process, featuring major pitfalls. That’s because I navigated without a dedicated guide, piecing together wisdom from sources both ancient and modern; dear teachers; feedback from beloved students, collaborators, and friends; and assistance from the mystery that is life itself.
And here’s the most surprising thing of all: While I thought my biggest fear was of the unknown, of losing control, of being horrified by the darkness inside and around me, it turns out that darkness had been my friend all along. Darkness, my most cryptic ally, pointed me toward light and connection. Darkness showed me — and still shows me — the Bright Way.
Facing Our Darkness, Facing Our Unknown
What do I mean by “darkness”? I thought my darkness was my unspeakable fear that my life had no meaning. My nightmare that I was worthless unless I performed outstanding, heroic feats to justify my existence. My terror that perhaps I was not equipped to meet those challenges. I remember feeling literally dizzy with horror as those fears rose up to haunt me time and time again, undead and relentless.
If you are experiencing any of these dreadful anxieties, I want to assure you right now that there is light at the end of the tunnel. But first we must face our darkness, face our unknown: redemption lies within. I am here with you, walking through these shadows, as we move toward a brighter path.
I finally faced my greatest darkness in a most shocking manner. Once a year the oncology department at Oakland Children’s Hospital in California has a memorial for the children under their care who have died that year or any previous year. The parents and staff gather in a large room and share stories and pictures.
This was my second time playing harp for this gathering, and although I’d found it emotionally challenging before, I thought I was strong enough to handle it once more. But this time, looking out at the sea of devastated parents, many of whom I recognized from the year before and looked as grief stricken as ever, combined with watching the heartbreaking slideshow of little children smiling in their hospital beds while hooked up to huge machines — some covered in bandages, many bald — catapulted me straight into the darkness I’d tried to avoid for so long.
A tidal wave of grief poured over me, and although I was able to keep playing, I was crying almost uncontrollably. Life appeared a carnage of lost hope and meaninglessness. It was all I could do to get myself to the car, and shaking all the way home, I spent the next three days in a full-blown crisis. I couldn’t eat, drink, or sleep, and I trembled in literal mortal terror.
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Picturing all those sweet children gone forever, I felt I was teetering on a void of nothingness. I fought and fought the looming darkness, desperately pulling out my books by everyone from Thich Nhat Hanh to Starhawk to Hildegard, finding no comfort and no relief. I felt I was losing my mind.
Surrendering Without Fear
After three long days, exhausted on every level and at the end of my rope, I surrendered my fight. And there I lay, staring into the darkness of death with no fear. No fear, because I had nothing left to fight with. I entered the darkness and accepted that in all honesty perhaps there really is nothing. We live, we die, that’s it.
And right at that moment I felt it! A little flame lit up inside my chest, merrily burning away. I leaped upright in the bed in one bound, laughing and crying and filling up with the bright energy of my little flame. I felt my soul shining within me, as it had always been doing. I felt my soul without a shadow of a doubt, and I knew it beyond any debates or rationales. In an instant I realized that all my fears were in fact the very things that had disconnected me from knowing my soul, my true self.
When I finally let go, when I let the darkness — the infinite unknown — in, my greatest connection illuminated immediately. My fears evaporated. I feel this same flame connection today, and it is one of the reasons I know that when we face the unknown, we will be liberated by it.
Light and Dark Do Not Compete
I have learned through hard-won experience that if we can dwell in the unknown, sit with uncertainty, if we can face our pain, then healing and transformation can happen. Light and dark, like yin and yang, do not compete with each other. Rather, they complete each other. In fact, they amplify each other as beloved collaborators that exist along a spectrum. The spark of initiation is received by fertile grounds, and blossoming into form, sparks further inspiration in turn.
Fear — the very fear that was blocking me from knowing my true self — is both a symptom and a cause of disconnection. Further, living in fear attracts greater fear. Living in fear constricts our lives as it paces around us, imprisoning us in ever-tighter circles.
Darkness does the opposite: it provides the rich intuitive ground for life to take root in and flourish. Darkness facilitates life affirmation of unfathomable depth. Imagination blooms.
Connection Is What We Crave As Humans
Yet facing darkness is not without its challenges. Cycling between intuition and rationality, action and receptivity, the known and unknown, light and dark, individuality and community, you will become a creative alchemist transmuting lead into gold. You will turn the leaden weight of disconnection into the shining gold of your internal flame.
Let’s not fear the darkness. Instead, let’s face it together. You are not alone on this path.
Connection is what we crave as humans. True connection — connection based in Sacred Reciprocity — is, in a word, love. And that is what this Bright Way has gifted me: a path to choosing love over fear, connection over disconnection, collaboration over competition. We light our flames together, shining bright against a velvet background of deep mystery and all potential.
Shining Light on the Shadows
On all epic journeys, there is a moment of hesitation. Let’s face that uncertainty, knowing now that it is an ally we have much to learn from. This darkness is an invitation to go deeper. This darkness is an initiation.
Perhaps something like this is surfacing for you: “Since creativity reflects our true selves back to us, what will I see?” This notion can set nerve-racking expectations that your creations instantly be amazing, given that they reflect your very core. Or maybe we worry that there is no real creativity inside us and we will produce nothing pleasing, even to ourselves. Or we might fear that reflections of our anger, worries, and other “negative” emotions look unflattering, resulting in deprivation of love and connection.
Indeed, there are many things we might feel anxious about. The important thing to remember as you go through this process is that the products of your creativity reflect only part of you. They are not actually you.
I remember back when my whole identity was wrapped up in being a musician. Whatever state my music was in, that’s how I felt about myself as a person. If things were going well musically, I felt great. If they were going badly, I felt worthless.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that my musical output wasn’t me, any more than your reflection in the mirror is actually you. Your work is a snapshot in time. A very important snapshot, true, but not your actual soul. Even your creative journey is not you; rather, your creativity is a way back to your true self.
My Bright Way Vision for You
My vision for you is that your creativity shall be your life ally from now on. My dream is for you to engage wholeheartedly with your life, know personal fulfillment, and shine your light back on our world. My hope is that your dreams guide you again — as they once did back in your golden age, no matter how briefly — and that you live your desires out loud from now on.
Whatever your chosen form of expression, it is your birthright to be creative and live your truth. You can live a connected, engaged life, whatever your current and ever-changing circumstances.
I’m here to assure you: your creativity is alive and wants to emerge in all its glory. . . for you. Yes, others may enjoy, admire, and benefit from your work, but it’s by keeping a firm focus on your creative purpose for yourself that you’ll thrive and stay true to your path. If I had to boil down everything we’re focusing on here to one message, it is this: creativity is a way of life, not merely a goal.
BRIGHT WAY ACTIVITY: Creativity Is a Lifestyle
Write “Creativity is a way of life, not merely a goal” on several sticky notes and place them in your planner, on your bathroom mirror, in your car, and anywhere else you visit often. Notice how the layers of this message’s meaning unfold for you. They’re still unfolding for me, even after all these years!
As a consequence of walking this path, your work will become more powerful, and more beautiful, and you will achieve things you’ve always longed for. Products will happen and goals will be achieved naturally along the way as milestones of accomplishment. Yet in the end, creativity is the reflection of your ever-evolving, connected, true self; a traveling star, not a fixed point.
When you choose to activate your creativity, you affirm all life, not just your own. You take up your torch in the procession of human civilization as a creator, not merely as a consumer. You connect with the flow of all who came before us. You set the stage for those who will follow us.
We Are The Universe Creating Itself
Even the smallest act of creativity echoes through the sweep of human existence. The first person to recognize the beauty of a plucked bow string didn’t know they were setting the stage for the invention of all stringed instruments. Where would we be without that person today?
We need you, even if you don’t think you have anything earth-shattering to share. One tiny thing you create tomorrow may be the answer to something crucial a hundred years from now. Or it may not be! It’s not your worry, either way. You just have to show up and connect with life.
You are enough. Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book and constant inquirer into the interplay between structure and freedom, concluded: “No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
Stepping Into Your True Power
When we see someone — like you — step into their true power, it’s the most thrilling thing. We witness magic coming to life. Our faith in humanity is restored. As we reclaim our inborn courage, our love radiates out far and wide, connecting us to everything around us, making sense of life.
Now, this might feel like a lot. Do you wonder where to even start on our epic journey? Take hope: the magic is already inside you. Hildegard of Bingen is again with us: “Humanity, take a good look at yourself. Inside, you’ve got heaven and earth, and all of creation. You’re a world — everything is hidden in you.” Let’s reveal you!
©2020 by Diana Rowan. All Rights Reserved.
Excerpted with permission from the book: The Bright Way
Publisher: New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com.
The Bright Way: Five Steps to Freeing the Creative Within
by Diana Rowan
While creativity may seem like a leisure-time luxury, it is actually the engine of cultural advancement. All human innovations, from cave painting to the internet, have been fueled by someone’s ideas and follow-through. Our creative acts require more than just ideas; they also require ingenuity and perseverance, confidence and courage, the ability to dream and to do. The Bright Way helps you cultivate all of these. A simple yet profound program of inspiration plus action, designed for a lifetime of use, the Bright Way System empowers you to access motivation and make progress, find joy in building your skills, and courageously share your work with the world.
For more info, or to order this book, click here. (Also available as a Kindle edition.)
About the Author
Creative alchemist Diana Rowan is founder of the Bright Way Guild, a virtual learning environment dedicated to transforming and inspiring a global community of creatives. She is also a musician and composer, performing and teaching in the San Francisco Bay Area and throughout the world. Visit her website at DianaRowan.com/