Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Gifts of Darkness

by Elizabeth Venart

Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light. – Madeleine L’Engle

What does it mean to “know the darkness”? As this month steadily darkens until our shortest day on the Winter Solstice, I sat with this quote, reflecting on our relationship with light and dark. Is darkness something we ignore, avoid, dread, or try to escape? Or is it something we can welcome? I am struck by the dance we often do, the battle with the dark as it approaches, the push to do as much and as fast as always despite the decrease in daylight. While a seeing person may fear the dark or turn on more lights to obscure it, those born blind have a different relationship to the darkness. Although others imagined her inner world as a place of darkness, Helen Keller described it as rich and vibrant, “golden,” and a “God-made world.”

While we may find ourselves bracing in anticipation of the harsher realities of winter – with its cold and its dark, we have another choice. Instead of pushing against the natural rhythm of the season, we could find ways to accept winter for what it is - a time to start over and build to renewal in the spring.  We can seek new and creative ways to connect with the season and move within it, to celebrate the scarcity of light and welcome it into our daily lives with a different perspective.

First, we may find greater peace by simply accepting what is. There is less daylight in the winter months. Winter really calls our attention to the ecosystem in which we live. Instead of walking outside barefoot to get the mail, we must bundle up. Our bodies may tense at the feel of the cold air on our face and hands. Instead of wishing for summer’s light to return, what if we took time to appreciate the gifts of the longer nights ahead? Noticing our reactions and negative expectations, we can practice breathing into what is rather than bracing against, ignoring, or trying to change it. This is a mindfulness practice that helps with physical pain and can also support us in the changing of the seasons.

Accepting the darkness, we may begin opening to the gifts these shorter days can bring. The dark invites us to slow down, to rest and replenish our bodies and minds. Like the bear, our bodies may feel a pull to hibernate. Sleep may come earlier and be more restful in the darkness of the winter light. We may also feel pulled to stay indoors and cuddle up under blankets, make soup, and listen to music in the candlelight. In the quiet of the winter’s night, we have an opportunity to go within and reflect. For some, meditation practice may be deeper. Others may be inspired to write or draw, to create. Sinking into a favorite piece of poetry or prose offers another way to explore our inner world. Allow the rhythm and landscape of its words to sink into your being by reading it silently or aloud three times, underlining or highlighting phrases that ring true.

If you are struggling with the dark, you may want to get curious about what it is, specifically, that you “don’t like” about winter. You can then brainstorm creative solutions to address it.  For example, if you crave more time outside, you could consider getting outside at lunchtime, walking with friends in the early evening wearing headlamps, and stargazing. If, instead, you notice yourself missing time with friends, consider cultivating some new winter traditions for socializing –  invite friends and family for big Sunday dinners, go to the movies or host movie nights, enjoy singing around a piano or playing music by the fire.  If you are less active in the winter, consider joining a gym or sports league, ice skating, skiing, and sledding (not just for the kids!). Winter won’t offer us the summer barbecue, time at the pool, or a weekend at the beach – but it has the ability to be enriching and enjoyable in its own ways.  

Some of the feelings of being “down” in the winter light are connected to an expectations that we keep the same energy, pace, and routines as the rest of the year. However, for those with recurrent depression, the darker days may result in increased symptoms (Seasonal Affective Disorder).  In that case, solutions may include increasing exercise, modifying diet, considering medication, and using special light boxes (which have become much more affordable in recent years).

Finally, winter also offers us creative ways to bring in Light. The longer days and cooler nights invite us to build fires in our fireplaces and wood stoves, sit outside around a firepit, light a candle.  In the darkness of the New Moon of each winter month, we have our best chance to see the full tapestry of stars in the evening sky.  We can also practice laughter and laughter yoga as a way of bringing the energy of summer to our winter days and nights. Research has shown that 15-20 minutes per day of laughter boosts our immune system, improves our mood, brings pain relief, improves our outlook, and strengthens our heart. You need not rely on jokes or comedy – you can simply laugh. Our brains cannot tell the difference between real laughter and fake laughter – so practice fake laughing from your belly to feel better. Learn more [Insert link to: www.laughteryoga.org]

Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection reflected, “Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” In the darkness, we have an opportunity to meet ourselves – without the hums and noises of screens or lights or the sun. With less stimulation to our senses, we can come home to ourselves and our breathing. Sitting in the quiet, with only the faint light of a candle, we can begin to notice and feel our current state, reflecting on the question, “How am I?” with an earnest curiosity that may be challenging under the harsher lights of daytime.

Instead of using our energies to brace against the darkness that is winter, we may find greater satisfaction and peace if we instead embrace this season. May this winter bring you peace and a greater connection with your own inner radiance.

Elizabeth Venart is a Licensed Professional Counselor and the Founder and Director of The Resiliency Center. She is a Certified EMDR Therapist and EMDRIA-Approved Consultant who specializes in providing counseling and mentorship to other therapists and working to empower Highly Sensitive Persons to heal the wounds of the past so that they can embrace their gifts more fully and experience greater joy. Learn more at www.elizabethvenart.com.

1 comment:

  1. Love this article. I have struggled with S.A.D. and as I am working on being more grateful, your winter blues tips will really help!