Making Friends with Darkness

Winter solstice is coming. For me it always brings a mix of feelings. I don’t like the early sunsets, but I do like the cozy feeling of candles and music indoors while it’s dark and blustery outside. There’s something about the contrast that makes me appreciate the light more in the winter than the summer. 

Our family’s main winter holiday is solstice, when we celebrate the light and remember our ability to kindle it in the darkest of times. I’ve written about this repeatedly over the years – finding the light, honoring the light, and even being the light. 

But light and dark are two sides of the same coin, and there’s an important opening in winter to also make peace with the darkness and learn from it. 

If we look out onto a wintry landscape, we see mostly dead or dormant plants and not a lot of signs of life. Much of the life that remains has retreated into underground roots or it’s hibernating in caves. Similarly, winter brings a natural inclination – and an invitation – to go inward and down to our depths. 

By going “down to our depths” I don’t mean wallowing in depression. I mean willingly visiting the parts of ourselves that are kept hidden, far from the surface. 

For instance, many of us want to be always energetic, bright, happy, and productive. We may suppress other facets of ourselves that seem to contrast with this ideal, though they may be equally virtuous and might also help us to be more balanced, well-rounded beings. Even if you’ve come to terms with being an introvert and you don’t want to be boisterous or outgoing, there are still likely to be aspects of yourself that you’re less acquainted with or don’t approve of. 

The same goes for how we regard the world. There are parts we accept and parts we resist or even deny. For everything we’re averse to in the outside world, there’s a corresponding aspect in our inner depths that awaits reckoning. 

To the degree that we haven’t accepted and integrated aspects of the whole enchilada – our inner and outer worlds – there’s an opportunity to experience life in a way that feels that much more free and complete. 

When we consider a visit to our depths a feeling of fear may arise (or, especially if it’s suppressed, numbness, heaviness, or depression). In Chinese five element philosophy winter is ruled by the water element and fear is the negative emotion associated with water. Most fear stems from our survival mechanisms and winter is a time when lots of things die. 

This darkness can remind us of our mortality. We might imagine it would be terrifying to let ourselves go along with the descending trajectory of the season. What will we discover about ourselves in the darkness? What if we never find our way back?

But if we approach it with willingness and curiosity – bringing our light into it – the feeling changes and the relationship changes. We’re not going kicking and screaming and resisting with everything we’ve got. We bring Love with us. We soften into it, we feel what arises, we accept what we find, and we remember that the fact that we’re able to perceive what’s in the darkness is evidence that our inner light hasn’t departed. 

Our darkness is like a well, or the inky fathoms of a vast sea. We may not prefer to express everything it contains, but if we can say, “Yes, this is part of me and I accept it,” we move a step closer to complete peace. Much of what we discover we’ve relegated to the shadows is wrapped up in old beliefs and misunderstandings. And though it seems to be put away, it infringes on our freedom simply by being a place where we won’t go. By bravely dropping in we can clear up these stories – much the way a light reveals a monster in the dark to be just a pile of clothes. 

Inevitably, though, the darkness isn’t just harboring the parts we fear and dislike. It also contains untapped potential. There are aspects of our depths that are just waiting to be invited to the table. Powers that would fill in our gaps. 

I hope you’ll join me in meeting the darkness this year with openness, and I’d love to hear what you discover. 

Be well,

Peter

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