If you look closely behind me, you might see my Obscurus.
In its most developed, most destructive form, an Obscurus looks wispy, nebulous, and black. You might find it scarring people and wreaking havoc in cities. Mine isn’t usually so obvious to others, but to me it is no less powerful.
The Obscurus is most famously associated with Credence Barebones in the Fantastic Beasts movies (and possibly also Ariana Dumbledore). It is a manifestation of suppressed, pent-up magical energy, uncontrollably released by a wizard unable to put it to use properly.
It is an apt analogy for those of us in this world who have our own suppressed passions. Within our humble organic human minds are forces we understand as little as we understand “magic.” We have desires – for people, for places, for activities, for ideas, for the unlabeled – that compel us to indulge them. Perhaps it is in our genes or our hormones or our gut bacteria or in the electrical space between synapses – or perhaps that is not what our desires are, but simply what they are made of (to paraphrase C.S. Lewis’ description of stars).
Wherever they come from, our compulsion towards them is as real to us as any other need we have, like hunger or boredom or fatigue. And I believe that if we simply ignore them, the result is similar to ignoring those other physical needs; calamities occur. Cities do not fall, but our mental peace of mind is severely warped.
I have to go to Harry Potter and the realm of fantasy to describe this phenomenon because I don’t think we adequately describe it in “reality.” Unfortunately, I think we tend to oversimplify ourselves. The retreat of organized religion from our lives has left a void in our understanding, and so we have filled it with the bare basics of what we now know. We know we need food and money and sleep, but our other more nebulous needs aren’t taken so seriously.
This is one reason we need fiction and fantasy in particular, to find the truths we don’t have the words to describe. There may not be actual fact behind the Obscurus, but I do think there is truth. We do ourselves a disservice by not acknowledging our murky, mysterious depths – and what can creep out of them, both bad and good.
After all, as some have pointed out, the counterpoint to an Obscurus might be the Patronus – the gleaming, uber-powerful magic animal conjured by those who have carefully honed their magical abilities.
There have been times I have conjured such a thing (in the form of a frog, I think!), or at least the real-world equivalent. Perhaps more often I manifest an Obscurus, as my deepest desires bubble up but I can’t act on them or maybe even define them.
As we all enter a new year and new eras in our lives in general, I hope we can all at least acknowledge the magic within us. That magic that is weird and complex and doesn’t fit at all into our society’s boxes. The magic that is capable of lashing out or of propelling us forward.
To think of it with plants instead of animals, you might say that “when you tend a rose, a thistle cannot grow,” as Frances Hodgson Burnett so wisely noted in “The Secret Garden.” The fact is, you’ve got the fertile soil within you – and you can cultivate your seeds’ spark of life or you can allow it to run rampant.
So get out there in your mind’s garden and start watering and weeding. Board the train to your Hogwarts and cast your spells. Find your passions and dive deep into them. The weird, wonderful world within will be there no matter what – you might as well let it well up in ways that make you more you.
For now, I’ll be over here catching glimpses at the Obscurus behind me even as I “expecto patronum” and wait for my silvery flying hoppy frog.
To remember this in yoga, we might get the constraint of child’s pose or even Rabbit pose, with our head curled into our knees, and then arch up into Downward Facing Dog. In down dog, we are still looking into ourselves, but we are using it to push up and into the world.