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No Light Without the Dark

October 14, 2018

Spine surgery two weeks ago has redirected most of my energy toward recovery, leaving me with just enough brain power to pen a few thoughts.

Recovery is defined as return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.  I’ve been having a hard time imagining ‘normal’.  Instead of forcing something I can’t quite envision, I’ve been working on putting my attention on things happening outside of what feels like the physical suffering part of recovery.

In my last Seedlings I talked about feeling humbled by all that I receive, with no expectation of a return on investment.  Air, water, food, and shelter.  Today I can add an abundance of loving attention and tender care from friends and family.  I remain grateful and aware of an odd feeling of surprised delight that kindness is all around me, even when I can’t quite feel it.  I know it’s there.

One morning earlier this week I woke up feeling a deep, deep sadness.  Not sure what triggered it on that particular morning.

Certainly the pain had been worse a few days before.  I had been less mobile.  That day I could stand on my own with a walker, and could be left alone for hours at a time.  Those alone times had given me the opportunity to deeply appreciate the tender care I am receiving.  At the same time, they allowed some uncomfortable feelings to surface.

I asked myself what I was feeling, what was this heaviness separate from the physical pain?

In spite of feeling enormous gratitude, it was time to also face the dark side of this physical  experience I didn’t really ask for, and don’t currently appreciate as the learning experience it will be.  Just like the paradox that our greatest strengths seem to also reflect our greatest weaknesses, so too must darkness walk hand in hand with light.

Literally immediately after I had the thought that I was probably mildly depressed, I received an email from a dear friend.  It was a poem that mirrored the feelings I couldn’t quite put into words.  Life surprises me with how supportive it is when I’m open to it.

I offer the poem to you in hopes of normalizing the reality of any pain you’re experiencing, and to remind you that there is no light without the dark.  And they both need their space.

A Blessing for a Friend on the Arrival of Illness

by John O’Donohue

Now is the time of dark invitation

beyond a frontier that you did not expect.
Abruptly your old life seems distant.
You barely noticed how each day opened
a path through fields never questioned
yet expected deep down to hold treasure.

Now your time on earth becomes full of threat.
Before your eyes your future shrinks.
You lived absorbed in the day to day so continuous
with everything around you that you could forget
you were separate.

Now this dark companion has come between you.
Distances have opened in your eyes.
You feel that against your will
A stranger has married your heart.
Nothing before has made you feel so isolated
and lost.

When the reverberations of shock subside in you,
may grace come to restore you to balance.
May it shape a new space in your heart
to embrace this illness as a teacher
who has come to open your life to new worlds.
May you find in yourself a courageous hospitality
towards what is difficult, painful and unknown.

May you use this illness as a lantern
to illuminate the new qualities that will emerge in you.
May your fragile harvesting of this slow light help you
release whatever has become false in you.
May you trust this light to clear a path
through all the fog of old unease and anxiety
until you feel a rising within you,
a tranquility profound enough to call the storm to stillness.

May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness,
ask it why it came,
why it chose your friendship,
where it wants to take you,
what it wants you to know,
what quality of space it wants to create in you,
what you need to learn to become more fully yourself,
that your presence may shine in the world.

May you keep faith with your body,
learning to see it as a holy sanctuary
which can bring this night wound
gradually towards the healing and freedom of dawn.

If you’d like to hear John O’Donahue’s oral narration, here it is:


By the way, I’m now walking without the walker!

Much love,



  1. Richard Mills says:

    How timely for me Robyn, as I simultaneously suffer (not a bad word anymore, partly because of what this poet expresses) through recovery from hip surgery.
    But the real suffering (aka learning more about reality and all the joy it offers) was during the four years I endured increasingly distressing pain, physically and emotionally, as I struggled through the disillusionment of not knowing the cause of my distress. My resentments grew as I weathered the misdiagnosis of many medical experts, who I believed, “should have” known what was the cause.
    So now the real learning begins, as resentments subside, and I accept full responsibility for my life, and health, and examine more of my UNexamined life.

    • Robyn says:

      Thanks Dick. Love this. Yep, I think we’ve both had the opportunity to see that neurosurgeons and doctors are just you and me, with a bit more schooling in a certain area, and they’re just trying to do the best they can to help us in spite of the limitations of being human.

      I love my neurosurgeons and docs and nurses, but they have struggled for years with a spine that’s pretty twisted up in the first place so doesn’t really lend itself to easy answers. I’m just beyond grateful all stick with me and keep trying!

  2. Erin Kopeny says:

    What a beautiful poem, Robyn. It’s amazing how inspiration pops into you life just when you need it! Thanks for sharing not only that but your own vulnerability and struggle. You are an inspiration to many people and I know that this energy will help you gain the strength to fuel your recovery!

    • Robyn says:

      Thanks so much Erin. I’m lucky in that I’m surrounded by so many inspiring people – I think there’s a give-and-take that builds on itself and makes everything, including a recovery, easier. I have read that we become like the five people we spend the most time with. What a blessing that over the years I spend significant amounts of time with hundreds of inspiring people.

  3. Julie says:

    Robyn, so good to hear your voice again and congrats on tossing aside the walker! I loved this poem and its “yin-yang” message. How often I’ve struggled to appreciate the dark moments, small and large! It’s futile to fight them, better to give them their time and space, and best to accept their hidden gifts. (I know you already know this, but I need constant reminders! 🙂 Best wishes on continuing your recovery!

    • Robyn says:

      Thanks Julie – for sure, I teach what I need to learn so constant reminders to myself are a big motivator for Seedlings :-).

  4. Sandy Fliegelman says:

    Hi Robyn,
    Thank you for sharing this deeply moving blessing poem. I am so glad to hear that your body is slowly but surely healing.
    Much love,

  5. Nette says:

    Hi Robyn,
    I didn’t know you where going through so much suffering. I know only mental desasters but worked my way through darkness… finding light. Happy your body recovered more and more.
    Medical Qigong is my life safer..
    Nette from the DDG ♥️?

    • Robyn says:

      Great to hear from you Nette and hearing that things are looking up for you makes me happy . They are for me as well — I’m walking like a normal person now for the first time in a year and a half:-)! Thanks for thinking of me and sending love.

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