Ancient Chinese philosophy enunciated the concept of yin and yang, which represent the opposites that together form a whole, and which are constantly interacting with one another dynamically. The classical image shows a black spot in a white background and a white spot in a black background, bound together in a circle and dynamically moving within that space.

It is a common idea that light and dark are inextricably related to one another and cannot exist without each other. Our minds easily extrapolate to this viewpoint from our perception of physical day and night.

The English author Charles Dickens recognised this principle and in several of his works he wove together the darkness and the light. His famous novel A Tale of Two Cities begins with this evocative imagery: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

In A Christmas Carol, Dickens applied this conception to the struggle between the dark and the light within an individual. The protagonist, Scrooge, is seen as a miserly, bitter businessman, misogynistic and cruel in his dealings with others as he sought for wealth, power and what passed for success in his mind. At a certain point, however, the deeper soul force within him brought before his awareness, in the shape of lucid dreams, the aspiration of the soul towards harmony, goodwill, compassion and showed him the error of his, at that time, present mode of life. He awoke from the darkness within him and became a soul of light and goodwill, spreading cheer and support to those around him.

Scrooge, in one form or another, represents each human individual who has certain characteristics that are dark and retrogressive and at the same time the aspiration to overcome those negative traits through a growth and evolutionary process. Sri Aurobindo points out that it is a process of Nature to oppose extreme contradictions in order to distil out the needed progress. Thus, when one identifies a strong aspiration within oneself, it provides a clue to the dark side that lies within and needs to be dealt with; and similarly, when one is feeling overwhelmed by the negative traits that seem to overpower the nature, that these are signs of the opportunity and the ‘mission’ of the soul in this life to solve these particular issues and make progress, both for oneself, and for humanity as a whole.

The Mother observes: “If you look at yourself carefully, you will see that one always carries in oneself the opposite of the virtue one has to realise (I use ‘virtue’ in its widest and highest sense). You have a special aim, a special mission, a special realisation which is your very own, each one individually, and you carry in yourself all the obstacles necessary to make your realisation perfect. Always you will see that within you the shadow and the light are equal: you have an ability, you have also the negation of this ability. But if you discover a very black hole, a thick shadow, be sure there is somewhere in you a great light. It is up to you to know how to use the one to realise the other.”

“This is a fact very little spoken about, but one of capital importance. And if you observe carefully you will see that it is always thus with everyone. This leads us to statements which are paradoxical but absolutely true; for instance, that the greatest thief can be the most honest man (this is not to encourage you to steal of course!) and the greatest liar can be the most truthful person. So, do not despair if you find in yourself the greatest weakness, for perhaps it is the sign of the greatest divine strength. Do not say, ‘I am like that, I can’t be otherwise.’ It is not true. You are ‘like that’ because, precisely, you ought to be the opposite. And all your difficulties are there just that you may learn to transform them into the truth they are hiding.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Becoming Aware of the Shadow, pp. 139-143

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 16 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.