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The Value of the Dark

The winter solstice was this week. The darkest night of the year, one steeped in the stillness of snow and the sleeping earth beneath. We rail against the dark, bolstering ourselves with the bustle of the holiday season, with lights, and with community. These are all important pieces of our wellness puzzle. I want to also make an argument for the value of dark and for creating a honoured place for it within the cycle of the year.

It is in the darkness that we meet the truest versions of ourselves, quietly beyond the shining face we present to the world. It can be a painful place at times, and also one of profound healing: In coming to meet and understand the most stripped down honest core of our being, we can start the work of accepting who and what we are.

We know in our bones that darkness has value. Animals will often retreat to dark, insular places when they are hurt in order to heal. Our rest cycles are dependent upon the absence of light to create the physiological changes that allow us to sleep. Darkness is necessary for our wellbeing.

I also believe that there is a poetic and spiritual value to the dark. Japanese writer, Junichiro Tanizaki, beautifully says:

'"We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness,

that one thing against another creates… Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty."

Shadow adds depth. Shadow has purpose. Shadow exists whether we want it to or not. Jung says: " One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious". It is by examining our hidden desires, unconscious drives, and less flattering aspects of our ourselves, that we come into the highest and most congruent versions of ourselves.

As the wheel of the year turns and we start move towards the lighter half of the year, I offer this thought: Do not move too quickly towards the light. Let yourself feel the dark, open yourself to its gifts, and allow yourself space to reflect. Some suggestions:

  • Have a night to yourself in which you dim the lights and spend time in quiet contemplation. This could look like meditation, a candlelit bath, or simply laying on your bed and feeling the quiet of the darkness.

  • Take time to listen to a favourite piece of music without any distractions. Turn off the lights/close your eyes and allow the music to fill the space. Focus on the sounds rather than on your other senses and feel the rhythms and harmonies in your body.

  • Sleep. Follow the natural rhythms of your body and allow yourself to sleep when you feel tired. With less light, this might mean you want to sleep more than in the summer. That is OK!

  • Connect in to your body. Turn down the lights and move in the darkness. Follow your intuition and your body's sense of what it needs. Let the movement be whatever it wants without judgement.

  • Let yourself cocoon as needed. It is natural to feel the urge to be at home and cozy in the winter. Give yourself permission to take a night off.

  • Journal. Let the words flow without needing to make them sound right or present yourself in the "right" light. If you reread, do so with the aim of seeing patterns and clarity rather than of taking the role of critic. Notice what comes up often, and attend to it.

  • Practice non-judgement. As you reflect, allow yourself to see past events, current thoughts, and feelings without judging them. Simply observe them and let go of needing to correct, shame, or judge them.

  • Consider starting therapy (if you aren't already). Only by facing inner demons do we come to a place of understanding with them.

These words from Rilke, one of my most favourite writers, are in my head as I complete this blog:

"perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and

brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us."

Our dragons live in the dark. Perhaps all that is needed is a brave turning inwards in order to begin the process of integration and healing. If you haven't read Letters to a Young Poet, I urge you to pick up a copy. Rilke's advice is timeless. It might just be the opening needed.

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