The Light Inside the Dark: Zen, Soul, and the Spiritual Life

The Light Inside the Dark: Zen, Soul, and the Spiritual Life

by John Tarrant


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In this landmark guide to the spiritual journey, respected Zen teacher and psychotherapist John Tarrant brings together ancient Eastern traditions and the Western passion for the soul. Using real-life stories, Zen tales, and Greek myths, The Light Inside the Dark shows how our darkest experiences can be the gates to wisdom and joy. Tarrant leads us through the inevitable descents of our journey—from the everyday world of work and family into the treasure cave of the interior life—from which we return with greater love of life's vivid, common gifts. Written with empathy and a poet's skill, The Light Inside the Dark is the freshest and most challenging work on the soul to he published in years.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060931117
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/03/1999
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 347,689
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.61(d)

About the Author

John Tarrant is a psychotherapist and director of Zen training. A student of Buddhism who has trained in several major traditions, Tarrant is a lineage holder in Zen and teaches extensively in both the United States and Australia. In addition , he holds a Ph.D. in psychology and practices Jungian psychotherapy with a special interest in healing and the arts. He is a member of the faculty of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona at Tucson and teaches meditation to physicans. He lives in Santa Rosa, California.

Read an Excerpt

The Inward Voyage

How lovely!
Through the torn paper screen,
the Milky Way.

When we were children our days were full of wonder—the world unfolded itselfand ourselves at the same time. In such an eternal afternoon the grass hums,the ball flies into the blue, and the girl sings the skipping-rope song:
Cindereller dressed in yeller
went upstairs to kiss a feller;
made a mistake and kissed a snake.
How many doctors did it take?
imagining the time when she will be bitten by a life that is still beingdreamed and has not yet arrived—though it is clear to her father, watching,that life is here for her now, utterly complete.
Beneath or inside the life we lead every day is another life. This unseenlife runs like a river beneath the city, beneath work, family, ambition,beneath our pleasures and griefs. "There is another world," saysPaul Eluard, "and it is inside this one."
In the helter-skelter, in the rush to get an education, to make a career,to make a family, to find material success, to hurry, to do, to survive,this interior life is often subjugated or paved over. The life that in thechild is something vivid and whole goes further inward in the adult, whereit usually slumbers until it is called forth. But this life beneath or withinour ordinary life is irrepressible, unstoppable: it comes up in lovelinesslike jonquils out of fallen snow, it rises in supplication like hands outof gratings in a pavement in India, and it bursts upward through our chestsas the fountain of shock that is our reaction to evil news. It appears indreams, revery, memories of childhood, in what we find beautiful, and inwhat we find ugly as agargoyle, and appears too when we fall in love, whenwe fall ill, when we are lost on dark paths. It touches our pleasures withmelancholy and intermittently pierces our desperation with joy.
I have always loved to think of the old navigators—the small bands movingto a new continent over land bridges made by the ice age; the Polynesiancanoe masters, sailing into the vastness with a coconut shell half filledwith water, observation holes drilled into it near the rim; James Cook,who rose through the ranks to command the ship Endeavour, carrying JosephBanks to botanize through these same Pacific islands; and my own ancestors,transported in chains to the desolation of Botany Bay.
Whether or not our travels may eventually extend to the stars and thosebrave, hard-pressed voyages be repeated in some new form, our frontier nowis the inner life. In this book, two great lineages of inward explorationare brought together. The first is the Asian tradition with its long devotionto the arts of attention
and to a spiritual understanding based on inquiry and experience ratherthan dogma. The second is the Western method of work with the soul, withexploring the life of feeling, thought, and the stories and legends thatthe soul likes to tell, stories in which we trace our destiny through painand joy, to find out what happens next.
The inward voyage and the outer both have an heroic aspect. Outer voyagesmake new connections by which human beings achieve many ends—adventure,trade, conquest, and love. The inner voyage also makes new connections:it plunges us into an initiatory space, the way young boys were once thrustinto the forecastle of a sailing ship; then, as the world we have knowndisappears, we are rocked and whirled around until the ship anchors oncemore in a harbor. We step ashore in a land that is not externally new butthat our eyes, being changed, see in its primeval freshness. The interiorvoyage overcomes loneliness by offering us a place in the universe, wherewe can know ourselves in the midst of all changes.
If we respect the inner life, we find that it is also possible to reversethe whole relationship between inner and outer, beneath
and above, and make the inner life come first, as a garden that is tendedfor the tending's own sake. To cultivate, to know, to love this vast inscapeis the only way to be free in any circumstances, the only way to mend thepoverty of wasted years. We explore the interior realm because it is whatwe humans are for—consciousness, the marvelous voyage.
Much of the journey is about the ways we work with our attention, becauseattention gives us more life. It expands the register, bringing us to noticemore of the vividness and consolation of our dark lives, so that we canexist in our true range, and not go around missing things, as if we knewcountries only from their airports and hotels. Attention is the most basicform of love: through it we bless and are blessed. When we attend to theinterior life, we also connect with what surrounds us—the espresso machinehissing, the skipping rope with its two red handles in line and the ropecurling lazily out and back, the green points on the snowdrops nodding overthe cold ground. What was matter and merely inanimate becomes family, andwe, the children walking, walking, walking home. All wanting—for love,to be seen for who we are, for a new red car—is wanting to find and betaken into this mysterious depth in things. And it is this inner connectionthat resolves the problem of who we are and makes us at home in the world.For the interior life sweetens the humblest thing. It opens for us the magicin ordinary life.

What People are Saying About This

Jon Kabat Zinn

"This book invites superlatives. It is an exquisite mapping of the Buddhist and totally beyond Buddhist path of liberation, done with the lightest of touches, with perfect grace and clarity and warmth of heart, in a way that makes it so human, and so compelling, that it shows this path, and the work/play of meditation, to be nothing less than life itself, the human condition, offering anyone and everyone the actualities, the shadows, the blossoms, and the boundless, ever-present possibilities of a life lived in awareness, with nothing holding."

Jon Kabat-Zinn

This book invites superlatives. It is an exquisite mapping of the Buddhist and totally beyond Buddhist path of liberation, done with the lightest of touches, with perfect grace and clarity and warmth of heart."

Rachel Naomi Remen

"Simply the best book that I have read in the past ten years. The Light Inside the Dark cuts through the many contemporary illusions about the journey which is a life and offers a compass that can guide us to our true home. I want to give it to everyone I know."

Robert Hass

John Tarrant's subject is the unbearable lightness of being but also its inconsolable heaviness, and his thinking about the relation between these two poles of spirit and soul is extraordinarily rich. He inoculates one against the wish for a quick fix in the spiritual or imaginative life. His work is useful to poets in the way Bachelard's Poetics of Space or Hyde's The Gift is useful.

Andrew Weil

"Drawing on his experience as a psychotherapist, poet, and teacher of Zen Buddhism, John Tarrant weaves a rich tapestry of the contradictory and often paradoxical themes of existence. His insights on the soul's journey are unsparingly frank and oddly comforting."

Jack Kornfield

"An exquisite book which welcomes you in its arms and carries your deepest longings and loves with the lyrical voice of a nightingale. This is one of the best guides yet to the breaking open of the human heart, to vulnerability, eternal spirit, and the mountains dancing."

Rachel Ramen, M.D.

This is simply the best book that I have read in the past ten years. The Light Inside the Dark cuts through the many contemporary illusions about the journey which is a life and offers a compass that can guide us to our true home."

Clarissa Pinkola Estes

"John Tarrant offers us a way to gain access to the irrepressible seeds of hope which lie barren, yet ready to bloom, in fallow, and dark times. He does this by stretching the imagination of the Western mind to include--for soul's sake--not only its own stories of Greek gods and goddesses, the great fathers of the Hebrew Bible, and the redemption possible in Jesus's life, but also the great teachings of Zen Buddhist masters and the best spiritual exercises of the East."


It is obvious from its first pages, its first sentences, that The Light Inside the Dark is a profoundly original and important book. You can feel the quality of John Tarrant's thinking in his finely wrought verbal intelligence, which is skeptical of abstractions and works close to the bone. With a prose rich in the things of this world, and an insight honed by 25 years of intensive Zen training, Tarrant has created not so much a synthesis as a brilliant reimagining of the great inner traditions of East and West. He maps the landscape of the inner life and takes us on a journey through it, so that we can feel its terrain under our feet, gaze into its abysses, and lie down under its stars.

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