Luminous Darkness. By Deborah Eden Tull. A Book Review

The book is due to be available in US shops from around 27 September 2022.

Two common metaphors co-exist in the spiritual and psychological world.  Application of these two metaphors have become familiar to many of us. We have taken both for granted with light representing the positive and the dark representing the negative.

In her book, Deborah Eden Tull, endeavours to encourage readers to step out of this dualistic metaphor and direct spiritual practice towards the darkness. This reminds practitioners to explore the dark and embrace the unknown.

The desire to hold onto historical impressions and conclusions about the dangers of the dark inhibits the opportunity to penetrate the unknown. It is not easy to take steps into the unknown giving the opportunity to bring light into areas of life frequently ignored, neglected or rejected.

The seeker of Truth has the opportunity discovery insights hidden away due to the attraction towards the light and ignoring of the dark. Spiritual and mystical traditions, including the Buddhist tradition, have given priority to light as the means to dispel the darkness.

The Buddha woke up under the Tree of EnLIGHTenment. Deborah Tull advocates Endarkenment, as a language acknowledging the importance of light and dark. After his experience, under the tree, the Buddha referred to the light, which lit up his whole being and life itself – an ultimate language rather than dualistic.

Her book urges us to address any dark areas of a reader’s life.  I would give examples such as hidden corners of the mind, fears, resistance and unwillingness to encounter adventure through stepping into the unknown. Her approach dissolves the edges of light and dark, so our view does not fall into such a dualism.

The book has a special pertinence given the darkness over the Earth – uncertainty, dictatorships (in democracy/non-democracy), climate upheavals, wars, energy crisis and more. The illumination of the darkness and learning to live with insecurity confirms expressions of embracing the unknown.

Her book addresses the physical manifestations of light and dark, as well as the symbolic invitation of darkness including learning to make friendship with the night hours. Deborah Tull’s reminds readers the path of waking up includes understanding that “meditation reveals the human realm is not the only realm.”

Meditation encourages us to open the heart and mind to listen to ourselves, to wise teachings but also to the voices of the animals and the natural world.

The book adopts a frequent four-fold format often found in the current generation of spiritual books with its benefits and limits.
1. The teachings.
2. Frequent use of ‘we’ language in the paragraphs.
3. Author includes regular personal stories.
4. Short section at the end of each chapter for practice/inquiry.

The text provides an overall readability for beginners and those with depth of practice but, in my view, needs more of the sharp, cutting edge of a critique to shake up the consciousness of the reader. Luminous Darkness does offer several cuts to the bone comments.

Here are examples. To her credit, she writes (Page 21) in her chapter on Refining Darkness.

“I believe there are profound implications in our historical and collective rejection of darkness. The continual reference of darkness is negative and sinister. And the assumed divide between light and dark has created a severe tear in the fabric of human relationship.

It has caused a dualistic fracture in how we see everything good, bad, right wrong, higher, lower worthy unworthy.

“These dualistic associations have contributed to systematic racism, plus sexism, misogyny, sexism, domination over nature, and the demonization of mental illness and physical disability. “

“Hierarchy creates an unsustainable order of the human mind.”

These are powerful statements to inspire any thoughtful and caring person to reflect on.

What is the resolution of corrupt systems and hierarchy? What will change patriarchal Buddhism? It is easy to see the failings of our institutions, but we need guidelines and application of the alternatives. One extreme is hierarchy/patriarchy. The other extreme makes gross mythological generalisations that we are all equal. Buddha-Dharma explores the middle way.

In her introduction, the author said the “teachings and enlightenment saved my life.” In a heading on page 5, she wrote enlightenment is neither and end nor goal. I assume she means enlightenment at expense of endarkenment. If there is no goal, then there is no path nor practice or only an endless path and practice.

Features in the Dark

The author reminds readers of the practical aspects of the dark, such as making natural processes possible by physical darkness. Process includes the embryo resting in the dark of the womb for nine months, the caterpillar in a silky cocoon and the seeds in the garden requiring the absence of light for germination.

The mind can produce monsters, demons and painful fantasies out of the dark. Exposure to the unresolved corners of the mind in this underworld can make a major impact. Projections, trauma and forebodings influence our views, perceptions, feeling and emotions, including impacting on our health. A person may not know what to do when facing such painful presentations. This means requires the support of another or others. Rightly so, she endorses exploring the dark and embracing the dark.

Tull refers to her childhood, her relationship with her father (her ‘first spiritual teacher’), her Jewish upbringing, her Dharma practice, dealing with Lyme Disease and daily life.

As a monk, she experienced the hierarchical power structure in the monastery (page 113). She said she “allowed the hierarchical power structure to undermine her kindred relationship with my own female body.” …I had not yet seen the limitations of this structure… Only when I brought more awareness to hierarchy, did my personal practice begin to mature.”

She points out that power is exerting one’s will and force onto the world (page 157). The Buddha expressed deep concern about the abuse of power. He referred to the five powers of mind – trust, mindfulness, unification of mind, energy and wisdom.

Ego constructs of superiority and inferiority support hierarchy, which brings about anger or submission.

The author writes of her wish to integrate her whole self (Page 141) and writes elsewhere whole mind perceives wholeness (Page 152). The integrated self and the whole self are Jungian concepts, with a measure of truth but one can go deeper into the dark than that. She does go deeper from time to time. The book touches the depth of the dark rather than limiting it to self-interest.

In a luminous darkness, the world of I, me and mine lose all substance – neither fragmented nor whole, neither great self nor small self.

The light confirms the dark. The dark confirms the light.

The book needs to pass onto many Buddhist/mindfulness/meditation teachers and psychologists. There is a need to increase awareness of external factors for suffering due to aggressive social behaviour and the darkness in our problematic institutions rather than limit suffering and its resolution to the self.

A strongly recommended book.

Luminous Darkness
An Engaged Buddhist Approach
To Embrace the Unknown
Deborah Eden Tull
Shambhala Publications, USA,
229 Pages.

Deborah Eden Tull, a US citizen, is a Dharma teacher, public speaker and sustainability educator. She teaches Zen meditation.

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Spirit. Soul. Integration. Light/Dark. Home/Homelessness. Questions from Lila.

Lila Kimhi, a senior Dharma teacher in Israel, visited me at home for a few days in July 2022. We set up the camcorder and audio with Lila asking me questions. Otter AI then transcribed the audio into text. I then polished and edited to make suitable for reading. The text made around 10,000 words. Here is the text for the first 1500 words. I will post on the blog other sections in the weeks ahead.

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I received an e-mail on a person’s response to challenging emotional states. Here is the email and my reply.

I received this email – a reminder of the benefits of spiritual practice/mindfulness/meditation and the support it provides in emotionally challenging situations.

Here is the email along with a short response from myself. The writer gave me permission to post her email on the blog.

Dear Christopher,

Last week, I experienced the most emotionally challenging situation in some years with intense feelings of sadness, despair, anger and overwhelm. In the midst of it, I also noticed change.

Would I have found myself in this situation some years ago, I would not have had faith in the fact that this too will change. The mental state of despair would have lasted for days if not weeks and would have resulted in nights without sleep and mental and physical exhaustion.

This is not my experience anymore.

Instead, whilst still experiencing quite intense suffering, there is something inside me that knows that this will not last. That just like everything, this feeling of despair will go away and be replaced by joy again. I now know what to do in a situation like this: Go out and walk. Look at nature and wildlife. Talk to friends. Concentrate on bodily sensations, even if it’s just possible for a few seconds to remain with these. Not beating myself up for how I feel and act. Not beating myself up for not sitting down to meditate. Not being ashamed.

In this difficult situation, I strangely experienced a feeling of happiness that I had not experienced before. I felt a gentle flame burning inside of me that didn’t want to be extinguished, not even in this situation of despair. A deep willingness to be alive in this world with all its suffering and beauty. For a short while, I was even thankful for this suffering, because it had shown me a resilience inside of me, I hadn’t felt in this way before.

This resilience has slowly developed over the last years and to know that it will grow even bigger in the years to come fills me with joy.

I am writing this text knowing that I might not feel this hopeful in an hours time, but what I do know is that there is something inside of me now that can never be taken away again.

There will be situations where I won’t be able to feel this way, but I do know that this doesn’t mean this light inside me is not here anymore – it is only invisible to me for a short while and will become visible again.

The change that has taken place inside me didn’t happen by accident. Some years ago, at the lowest point of my life, I was lucky (and persistent) enough to find a good therapist. I started practicing meditation and became interested in Buddhism. In the last year, my practice deepened through the help of very good teachers. I could not have done this by myself.

During these last years, I have learned some lessons. I forget them frequently, sometimes on a daily basis-hence I am writing them down for moments when I can’t see clearly.

  1. There is always light. If you can’t see it today, look for it again tomorrow. And the day after tomorrow.

2) Don’t hide your true feelings. Get help from outside if needed. Friends, a therapist, a teacher. Or a dog.

3) If you don’t feel like going for a walk, force yourself. If you can’t force yourself, don’t beat yourself up about it. In fact, don’t beat yourself up about anything. Just try again tomorrow.

4) If you’re caught between pride and love, choose love.

5) What other people think about you is none of your business.

6) Change inside can change every situation. Yet it sometimes needs outer change, in order to start inner change.

7) Listen.

8) In the darkest of your nights, go outside and hug a tree. It might not help, but surely the tree won’t mind anyway.

9) Your childhood might determine how easily you can be happy. It does NOT determine WHETHER you can be happy.

10) Fear is not a good advisor.

11) If you feel a purely positive impulse inside of you arising, don’t hesitate and wait for your mind to supply you with reasons not to act.Follow it.

12) You don’t help other people by making their problems your own. You help by being there, listening and keeping your calm.

13) Everything changes.


Dear ..

Thank you for your very thoughtful reflection.

Your wise responses to the arising of emotions that can oppress consciousness develop a deepening of your trust in your capacity to accommodate these troubling moods – like dark and stormy clouds.

Wisdom knows that what arises will pass. The application of exposure to the light makes such a difference – outdoors, nature, creatures, friends, witnessing body sensations, formless days rather than formal meditation and remembering a thought is just a thought. You pinpointed key features for transition out of the dark cloud.
The dark thought comes from the mood not from the space found in exposure to the light.
Your resilience shines through. 
You wrote a beautiful statement. It would be worth your reading aloud as a statement of light – both in joyful times, quiet times and during the time when a cloud blocks the sunshine.
Your understanding of the dynamics of arising and passing will benefit others going through the same dynamics.


I received an e-mail on a person’s response to challenging emotional states. Here is the email and my reply. Read More »

There is Light and only Light. by Gemma Polo Pujol. A Book Review

This is a review of the first book of Gemma Polo Pujol, a spiritual teacher for 20 years, whose home is in Spain. She is a co-parent of two children. …

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