The Light and the Dark: Embracing our Wholeness


Purnamadah Purnamidam
Purnat Purnamudachyate
Purnasya Purnamadaya
Purnameva Vashishyate

purnam adah: that origin of all things is Whole (perfect, entire, complete, full, rich, fat with goodness)
purnam idam: this entire creation that has come from that origin of all things is also Whole
purnat purnam udachyate: from that Whole this Whole has come
purnasya purnam adaya: having taken away this Whole from that Whole
purnam evavasisyate: the Whole remains unaffected

(Translated from the Isavasya Upanishad, an ancient Vedic text.)

“A long time ago, Raven was pure white, like fresh snow in winter. This was so long ago that the only light came from campfires, because a greedy chief kept the stars, moon, and sun locked up in elaborately carved boxes. Determined to free them, the shape-shifting Raven resourcefully transformed himself into the chief’s baby grandson and cleverly tricked him into opening the boxes and releasing the starlight and moonlight. Though tired of being stuck in human form, Raven maintained his disguise until he got the chief to open the box with the sun and flood the world with daylight, at which point he gleefully transformed himself back into a raven. When the furious chief locked him in the house, Raven was forced to escape through the small smoke hole at the top — and that is why ravens are now black as smoke instead of white as snow.”

(How Raven Stole the Sun, by Maria Williams)

What this Native American story reminds me is that, like the Raven, we are always looking for the light. We come to our practice each time in search of lightness in some form: in our physical bodies, in our minds, in our spirit. That light is our goodness.

A few months ago was the birthday of one of my dear teachers. I found out abruptly so I only had a few hours to find a way to express my deep gratitude to her on her day of birth. I decided to give her the first pair of socks I had ever knit. She is very small with a thin frame and it was starting to get cold outside so I thought they would keep her feet warm. But because they were the first pair of socks I had ever knit they had several flaws: one was slightly larger than the other and there were places in the stitching where mistakes had been visibly made. But even with all those imperfections I sincerely wanted to offer them to her, it felt important for her to have them. When she opened the gift and saw the socks, I explained, somewhat embarrassed, that it was my first attempt at knitting socks so they weren’t very good, at which point she looked up at me and said, “No, no. That is what makes them perfect.”

We have this idea about what makes something perfect. Like, perfect would be both of the socks being exactly the same size or perfect would be no flaws or slips in the stitching whatsoever.

There isn’t room in our idea of perfection for our humanness, and so the rawness and vulnerabilities of life often become stifled beneath this desire for perfection; resulting in a limited, partial, incomplete, constricted, and narrow experience of ourselves, of other beings, and of the world around us.

Yoga is the process of reclaiming that. We practice not to become perfect but to become whole; a wholeness that is so full that there is room in it for our sadness, our brokenness, our fear, and all of our seeming mistakes. Just as the Raven expressing black or dark is not diminished as the Raven, our wholeness can only come when we embrace both the light and the dark within us simultaneously. Then we are no longer hiding, hiding from ourselves and hiding ourselves from others. And that is how we find the light.