Light allows us to see the world in 3D, with contrast and full spectrum.
I did a sunrise run this morning- when I started it was fully dark, and as I ran the light increased. It was awesome to be physically moving through that progression, processing as I watched its layers.
Without light, there’s no focal point- no guide, no reliable way to orient, no depth perception. Our eyes can be wide open, but literally can’t see form, color or dimension. Other senses take over- noise distills into isolated sounds, physical sensations become navigational tools through heightened sensitivity. I find this pretty cool, yet it’s easy to see why people are afraid of the dark. It can be completely disorienting and definitely a bit freaky if you’re in unfamiliar territory (think Blair Witch Project). Our brains are programmed to search for the lightsource. A survival thing? I wonder.
Of course I can’t help but think about the parallel in our thinking. Often in coaching conversations people bring a topic, a challenge, a place in their thinking/feeling that they’ve been avoiding- because it’s been in the dark like that, and they don’t want to go there (but they know they should or need to). While I’m definitely not a therapist, it’s pretty sobering to see what most of us carry around in our daily shadows, yet how easy it can be to illuminate them into a better place.
My natural role in both work and life seems to be the light-shiner, for lack of a better word.
It’s pretty amazing to see what a little light can actually do.
On my run, just the beginning of blue light in the sky made my (visual) focus steadier- from eyes scanning for a focal point, unable to lock in on anything, to fixed on the horizon- highlighted with contrast. While I still couldn’t see detail in the surroundings yet, that contrast changed everything. With a bit more light I could see form, color, detail. Those things my mind had been trying to define and navigate in the dark were suddenly plain and familiar- no problem.
Getting comfortable with the dark, the brain can relax, the fear goes away.
I use dark, light and the contrast between in my coaching all the time as people bring tough challenges they’re wrestling with. “Let’s just go there for a minute…” I’ll say. So first we take the weirdness out of it- no judgment there at all, nothing to be afraid of- create a safe space to first step into the dark, let your eyes adjust, and relax a little. We check out the “dark” option of a tough decision (“maybe I shouldn’t be in this job/place/deal/partnership, etc…”) and play it all the way out with no judgment- just to see.
In the midst of darkness, a little bit of light provides a focal point.
Pretty quickly, we bring some light into it, to first give contrast and focus- a way to see what’s there. It doesn’t take much to get to full light on an issue- see it in context, dimensional relation to everything else, while we get all it’s detail and complexity up and out. Suddenly what was indistinguishable and daunting can get really clear- and not so daunting anymore.
Contrast clarifies and simplifies it. After going all the way into the dark, things look much clearer back in the light.
I can't count how many times I’ve coached people through conversations where they started off with “maybe I should just quit” with fear and resignation in their voice, having never admitted this secret thought out loud before. My response always is a version of, “maybe you should,” and they’re taken aback, because they’re expecting “no- you shouldn’t”- the coach urging them to stay in the light, in the game, where it’s safe and known. Instead we go there to the dark, explore it, and THEN shine the light on it, illuminating the rest of the issue and its adjacent options, too.
Context is key.
On my run today, I was completely into it and on a trusted, safe path of my suburban neighborhood (with a bit of light on the street here and there)- no problem. But I kept my focus up and out into the dark, where I kept searching for horizon, as I always do. The light came, as it always does. Timing is everything. I went out there conveniently just as the light was about to come. And those dark spots sometimes need exploring just in time for you to shine some light, see it all clearer, and with dimension you couldn't before.
We all need to be okay being in the dark sometimes. Yet sometimes we need a light-shiner to help the process along if the sun doesn’t seem to be coming up anytime soon. Make sure you’ve got some light sources in your life who can do this for you when you can’t.
There’s power, energy, possibility and clarity in light- but even more when we can see the contrast.