Revering the Dark
by Michelle Katz
It’s the time of long, cold, dark nights and I sit in curiosity of the many ways we can meet the darkness. Throughout time, many cultures have viewed this time with great importance: the shortest day, the longest night, the full transition into the winter season; all brought about various ceremonies and rituals. The darkness can be felt, and its symbolism cannot go unnoticed. We feel it in the encroaching dim light by mid afternoon having us question time, we feel it in the long shadows that are cast, the glow of the bare branches and tall yellow grasses, the arroyo sand hardened and holding footprints firmly, and the soft muted landscape that seems to fold into the earth.
This is a time of death and rebirth. As we sit in the darkness, let us acknowledge how the sun is taking time to regenerate, renew and reflect. Meanwhile, we get to do this too, as we spend some time with the moon, celebrating its light and cycles. We get to bow to the darkness and be in stillness.
Over the last few days, as the solstice approached, I spent my nights on long walks, taking time to linger in the darkness. I found it to be a beautiful paradox to sit in the growing duration of darkness while the moon only grew brighter and brighter. I walked with my shadow as my closest companion, asking myself how I see and be with parts of myself and parts of the world that are challenging, the parts that show up in dark place and in dark times. The times are troubling, pregnant with something stirring for change, something to come awake and we have an opportunity to hold the mystery of what may be when the light does return. And even more, we learn our capacity for mystery.
I love this time of year, perhaps for my great admiration for finding a way through such seemingly disconcerting places, or perhaps for the call to slow down, or perhaps for the movement to go inward. It is in these places I know I grow and learn and become who I am meant to be. I take long walks to self-reflect, renew, and regenerate and I am continually reminded that nature mirrors my experience. Humanity is certainly seeing dark times, and each individual has a story of their own shadows. What we must recognize and remember in times like this is that the light returns in its own time, not when we wish it to.
This time offers introspection in order to move into some balance. We need some time in the dark just as much as we need time in the light. I love the quiet opportunity to look within, to ask questions of purpose, need, value, passion. Asking what needs to be let go of and what is being called in. How do we go deeper than the new year's resolutions we eventually break, or to touch down closer to the heart of what matters to us beyond the gifts and cheer of the holiday season. What comes alive in us when the world around us seems too cold and too quiet and too dark? How does the darkness touch us and how to we reach back to it? What can be illuminated in hidden places? How do we give respect and honor this?
We are part of a culture that loves to look at and elevate the experience of the light, with messages of “Be happy!” and “Stop worrying, crying, thinking negatively…” (pick one). The darkness asks us to meet the worry, the sadness, grief, despair and negativity, to come face to face with what we try so hard to ignore. Without the sun, we do not see easily, and so we we must turn to rely on our ability to feel deeply. There is a tendency toward sadness during this time of year. Of course, the lack of light can affect us emotionally, physically and motivationally. I wonder if I can encourage us to interact with the darkness in a different way. To revere our ability to feel our way through the dark. Let us hold in high regard those hard times of shame and disappointment, of heartache, of all those little deaths and the disconcerting ambiguity. Let us understand that the darkness invites in the wild and always gives birth to a new light.
Here are some ideas to change our relationship to the dark:
Get outside! I know it's cold and dark, but bundle up and get outside! Light or dark find a way to feel connected to nature. If night time nature causes some fear, take a midday walk or brave the dark and find some new courage. (What a metaphor this can offer you in your life!) If you are taking a walk after work, it may be 5pm and already dark, leave the headlamp behind and turn your focus on the fact that these is always light to guide you! There is this conception that darkness is the absence of light, but it truly offers us a different sense of seeing, through hearing and touch, let this help you on your way. Try to note those subtle and not so subtle differences in light, let go of either/or, black/white, dark/light thinking and enjoy the the darkness and its variations depending on the moon light, cloud light, or star light. Interact with the shadows and the things that cast those shadows and the way they may offer some optical illusions. Ask yourself what these illusions may say about what’s inside of you and what you may need to pay attention to.
Create some light! This is the holiday season, and the holidays tend to focus on lighting candles, lighting up the tree, stringing lights, building fires, etc. When the sun goes down take a moment to be with the dark and then create some light, feel the warmth, participate in a way to evoke balance between these two dynamics outside and inside of each of us.
Engage in ceremony! Ceremony is a human-made experience, that has long helped us through times when life feels outside of our control, it helps us honor what we do have and to evoke a greater perspective on life. Make a fire and take it a step further: think about what you want to release from the past year, whatever it is, bring it to the fire. It can be as simple as writing things down on a piece of paper and throwing them into the fire to be released and transformed. This can be so powerful.
Honor the community you are part of! Gather with the people you love. This time does not really arouse a lot of “going out” energy, yet it is the best time to invite friends over to share a meal, or gather around the fire for life storytelling, this can feel so healing and bring such warmth.
Connect to yourself! I believe this is the most important part of this time of year. Take time to feel the different pace of life, and get to know yourself right now, the self that comes as the light returns minute by minute, inch by inch in the process of coming into a new season. Ask yourself the good hard questions about your life and see what comes, what makes your heart beat, what evokes the tears, what sparks love or has you dancing with grief, what calls you into who you are meant to be?
Join Oaks Counsel for upcoming programs to feel into these big questions and nature connection practices!