Befriending the shadows

As we move through the darkest days of the year, I often find myself wondering why it’s such a struggle for so many of us. Today I decided to try a sunrise hike on the solstice to celebrate the return of the lengthening days, and it hit me that at this time of year the ratio of dark to light is greatly in favor of the dark. As I walked up the mountain in the pitch black of the early morning hours, that darkness felt like a soothing blanket comforting me. It was so refreshing and peaceful, that it made me wonder why it is generally associated with negativity, fear and all the other so-called “shadow emotions.”

What if there isn’t anything negative about darkness? What if it’s an invitation to sink into unseen corners? What if it’s simply a call to rest, recovery, and stillness? Walking through the deep dark forest was such a natural invitation into silence, stillness, calm and peace. I found solace and restoration by being in the forest in the dark. Over the years I’ve learned that no matter what the problem is, there is always a solution… if I can get quiet enough to actually listen. What if the darkness is simply inviting us to listen?

Yet in this time of year we are loudly encouraged—perhaps even pressured—into the more excitable energies of holiday cheer and the “spirit” of the holiday season. All around us is a frenzy of shopping, wrapping, cooking and socializing. Don’t get me wrong, I love that too. But all the excitement throws into the spotlight a gaping hole, and I search for a deeper awareness of the cycles and rhythms of nature. We are instinctual beings, inseparable from nature, and nature is gifting us this time of darkness and quiet so that we might settle in for an organic experience of rest, retreat, and contemplation.

What if it’s not so much about invoking holiday cheer right now, but embracing our shadow and letting the darkness be a gift? What about spending time in nature, in the dark, and appreciating all the gifts that come with the silence of a dark and snowy evening? Why don’t we sink into its cozy comfort and bundle ourselves into a blanket, curl up near a fire, and dive into the darkness behind our lids to simply rest and restore? Hibernation might not be an option as the world and our lives keep moving, no matter the reason, but prioritizing some quiet time can easily be done.

I continued musing about this as my ascent in the dark continued, and the wonder and magic of a pitch black forest continued to soothe my soul, offering me a state of rest that my heart has been calling so deeply for.

Many of my friends and clients share with me at this time of year, worried that something is wrong because of how persistently rest calls (myself included). But what if it isn’t wrong? What if it is very right? What if, instead of trying to invoke holiday cheer, we simply embrace the dark that is here and now. Perhaps the problem isn’t the longing to rest during these days, but the push from a culture that tells us to be light and energized when nature is calling us to remember the wonder of the dark, and sink into the stillness that it offers us.

As the sun started to rise, and the snow on the tree branches all around me began to glimmer and glow, I was reminded that the light will always return. The ratio will tip in its favor again soon enough. But for now I will honor the call of rest and rejuvenation, I will cozy up and settle in, and today I will make friends with the dark.

 

befriending the dark times

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