Dak places beneath: Rabbit holes, Hobbit Holes, Underworlds and the spiritual descent


   We live in the day to day, normal above ground world. It is a familiar world with familiar occurrences and familiar pleasures and dangers and we live in it barely aware of anything other than what we know. Yet we all seek to escape, be it a vacation or a good book, a video game or a movie and into worlds ranging from historical to romantic and from science fiction to fantasy to biography. Even the preponderance of reality entertainment has ceased to be real and has become just another face of the other into which we escape. These are diversions at best. Momentary transitions from the ordinary into the outer limits of the extraordinary and tantalizingly alluring visions of what might exist just over the horizon. But no matter how much we escape into them they remain only border towns circling the real world of wonders beyond sight. For most people this is enough and for some it is too much.

   Fear is always nearby in such places fear of the unknown, fear of the absolute; fear of the ambiguous and most of all fear of ones self, which is the greatest fear of all if we let it be. For most visitors into the outer dark, the twilight of the imagination, a short stay is sufficient, preferred even but some need more. These seekers after the sublime are not content to while an afternoon on the border. They crave to go deeper, to enter into the inner darkness, the deepest night of imagination where we meet our primal selves, the gods and monsters and if we are lucky those answers whose truth is meaningless when spoken aloud.

    I am one of those seekers living perhaps too much in a world not entirely real, nor absolutely fictitious; A descendant of a long line of burrowers into the deep places. Bilbo Baggins and his nephew Frodo, Jovial Ratty, Alice, self destructive Odysseus, Pwyll the Lord of Dyfed, Theseus the slayer of the Minotaur, all seekers whose journeys took them into their own private underworlds in search of treasures be they wisdom, contentment or magical stones. They all sought out and discovered those rabbit holes of the psyche by which one might descend into the dark places. What they, and we and I discover once inside is often only what is brought with us, as another burrower Luke Skywalker discovered on his journey into the dark place. Other times the dark conceals monsters of terrifying countenance. Bull headed abominations, serpent haired maidens and shades of the unpleasant dead. Some must be combated, others tricked and still some appeased. But each has a gift to give. It is the job of the seeker to know it for what it is and take it when it is made available. For some the dark holds mysteries and riddles to be solved. Alice passed through her journey by passing through a series of challenges to her identity. By considering the most basic question of human existence, who am I, she progressed and reemerged into the light of day. It is no curious fact that she never answered the question. Sometimes it is enough to consider. Sometimes.

   Seekers deal in profound abstracts as much as concrete absolutes, the deepest existential concerns and the most fundamental fears and desires. It is strength and a great weakness. The dark places are not for the feint of heart. Even after all the monsters are defeated and we realize that indeed all the giants are dead we are left with one simple, insurmountable, ever present fact: The dark has teeth all its own. Many a seeker has lost himself to ignorance of this fact. Friedrich Nietzsche saw that the dark had eyes but his vision was clouded by too much cynicism. He saw only deep pits whose bottom was death and failed to distinguish them from the rabbit holes of the imagination through which one passes to be renewed and reinvigorated. Not all monsters are all bad. Iron John was a monster who had a lesson to teach; Victor Frankenstein made a monster through whom we learned pity; Darth Vader became a monster but taught us redemption and most important of all is the monster we encounter in the mirror. That one has the power to instruct us on who we are and what we could become. The real hero knows the difference between the monster to be slain and the monster to be overcome. Jacob who had known many dark places knew the difference when he wrestled the stranger who was God over a blessing, which is another kind of treasure. This is the wisdom we can learn only by going down our own rabbit hole into the dark, passing what tests we may find and emerging into the light changed forever. That is this wisdom I wish to pass on to my son.

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