The Case for Darkness

By Posted in - Life on November 4th, 2017 Elaine Konopka/The Attentive Body

The clocks have been turned back, the nights are getting longer, and I’m here to make the case for darkness. It’s futile to resist. It’s always there – the necessary counterpart to light — woven into the fabric of our existence. Death, loss, your baser instincts, your weaknesses, jealousies, anger, resentment. The stuff you’re not proud of. The stuff you’re afraid of. The stuff you’ve probably been taught to fear or repress.

Should all of these things be allowed to act out without filter or restraint? Certainly not. But ignore their existence at your peril, because they are some of the greatest teachers you’ll ever have.


Are you squelching your instinct?

A good friend recently had a dilemma about a project she was involved in: planning a concert for local musicians and singers. Initially enthusiastic, she watched things spiral far from her initial intentions, and felt the project was heading for trouble – or at least for more stress than she had bargained for. Her partners dismissed her objections. She didn’t feel great about continuing, but was having a hard time telling the others. It turned out, when we talked about it, that she felt the problem lay with her.

“I’m so tired of being told that I’m too slow, too methodical, too negative, wanting to dot all the i’s,” she told me. Self-reflective and observant, eager to break out of limiting habits, she had been squelching her instinct and going along with the people around her, who she saw as bright and bold, efficient and confident, big thinkers reaching for the stars. She saw herself as the opposite of all that: the naysayer, the wet blanket, the harbinger of doom, “the big black crow that nobody wants hanging around when they’re trying to do something fantastic.”

It was a serendipitous conversation, because I’d been having a similarly rough time. My business is client-based and involves teaching others to be well, which means I find myself at a lot of health fairs and have a Facebook feed full of alternative-medicine groups, workshops, and practitioners. For a long time now, like my friend and her concert plans, I’ve been ignoring my instincts, feeling every inch “the big black crow” amidst a flock of colorful birds.


Leaving the comfort zone

In order to have clients, I have to let people know I exist. So some kind of publicity is necessary. About a year and a half ago, I rolled up my sleeves and set about trying to master the available tools to put me in touch with my audience. I discovered the parallel universe of the selling of wellbeing, and set off down that slippery slope to market myself. I researched keywords and Adwords, listened to advice about product funnels or tunnels or whatever they’re called, wrote bouncier workshop descriptions, and chose brighter, happier photos to illustrate them. It all felt like stuffing a square peg in a round hole. When I compared myself (mistake! mistake! oh reader, please never make this mistake!) to my “wellness” colleagues, I felt jaded and distinctly unshiny. Yet I persisted. I thought I was leaving my comfort zone.

Usually when you break out of your comfort zone, what you feel is – surprise! – discomfort. And that won’t kill you. But sometimes, what you feel is bad. And guess what? You’re not obliged to stay there.

How do you know when you should keep on, and when you should say, “This is just not for me”? Well, this is where body attention comes in really handy. Taking a risk that works feels scary, but ultimately exhilarating, or satisfying, or fun. You may feel fear, but if you can allow that, it doesn’t have to be an unpleasant experience. If, however, you push yourself to do something that doesn’t suit you, your mind may convince you that there are some very good reasons for it; but your body has no truck with that. It will feel a little sick; it will break down, refuse to sleep; it will erupt in pimples or random pain; it will clench its teeth and tense its muscles. It will do what it needs to do to get the message across: Stop. The question is, are you listening?

I spent a long time feeling like a crow among parakeets, as though I lacked the colorful enthusiasm necessary to sell myself and be successful in this field. I wrestled with that crow until I could wrestle it no more. In the end, as corny as it sounds, I accepted it. I let the boat of colorful birds sail away, full of exclamation points and enthusiasm, and sat down with the true, solid weight of my years and experience – no more, no less. And what a relief it was.


Darkness on the edge of town

The other day a client said to me after a session, “Look at you! You take in all this difficult stuff from people and yet you have so much energy, you’re on top of the world.” Well… When I touch a body and the body responds, it makes me happy. When a client gets off the table and says, “My headache’s gone” or “I’ve made a decision” or “I feel strong!” I have the satisfaction of a job well done, and this gives me energy. But I will never deny that I have pains and fears, difficulties and dilemmas, down times and dark sides. If I didn’t have those, and work with them, how could I even begin to work with anyone else?

This month’s workshop is all about grief. The illustration for it actually shows someone who is sad. I took great satisfaction in writing the description. It may be too dark to appeal to some people. But it says what I mean. Square peg, square hole.

And when I cut and paste this text into my WordPress site, the Yoast Search Engine Optimization tool will inevitably tell me that it’s too long (“Try to insert additional subheadings!”) and too difficult to read (“Try to make shorter sentences to improve readability!”). With a flash of black feather, I will reply:

Caw! Caw! Caw!


Elaine Konopka is the founder of The Attentive Body in Paris, offering private sessions in attention-based bodywork and pain management. Her latest series of monthly workshops combines conscious breathing and expressive writing to explore life’s juicy themes. Join her on Sunday, November 19th for Grief.

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(2) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Marie - Reply

    November 5, 2017 at 15:33

    Lovely! I particularly appreciate the part about not having an obligation to stay there. :) I forced myself to be happy, happy, HAPPY about a job that I did not enjoy and it made me extremely ill–nearly fatally. I learned from that experience that being glad and grateful about a situation that you feel everyone else would kill for, but you’re hating, means it’s not for you and best to move on. I guess in that situation IT looked like a parakeet, but was actually a crow. And I was trying to be a parakeet about it, when in my heart that’s not how I felt. (I think I mangled your metaphor, but you get it.)

    • Elaine - Reply

      December 2, 2017 at 14:15

      Hey Marie! I just saw your comment — never got the notification for it. Yes, that’s exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about. I’m sorry it made you ill, but that’s the body speaking out. Isn’t it amazing how far we can go, thinking that we SHOULD like something, or appreciate something? No metaphors were harmed in the writing of this comment. Feel free to borrow, steal, and mangle them. Thanks for taking the time to share.

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