Befriending the darkness


Today has been a misty day up in the hills and it went dark just after 4pm. When out for a little walk earlier, I noticed how the landscape has now transitioned out of Autumn with all the gorgeous colours now more or less all gone. Winter is on the threshold, ready to come in. I am aware that my energy levels are low and my gaze focuses inwards. I personally feel ready to surrender to the whisper of Winter.

At this time of year, when days are short, cold and gloomy, it is easy to pine for the long, heady days of Summer or even to hurry ourselves towards Spring. Yet, in doing so, we take ourselves away from where we really are and we disconnect from our natural surroundings - and ultimately ourselves. In the few weeks leading to the Winter Solstice, nature slows right down to rest and invites us to do the same. I got a real sense of that when out walking amongst our bare trees and along the lane earlier. I found the silence soothing, the stillness nurturing and the mist comforting.

Nature is powerful at awakening our emotional lives and the bleak, gloomy and monochrome landscape of Winter, with its bare trees, lack of bright colour and cold temperatures can easily put us in touch with our own internal darkness. If we are not comfortable with this, we can rage a war against Winter instead of accepting it and even welcoming the opportunity for rest and renewal it gives us. The society we live in does not, however, encourage us to make friends with our own gloom, our shadow; we get swiftly goaded away from it with endless advertising for holidays, cars, beauty products, new something or other for the home and we get tricked into believing these “things” will bring us happiness. Unfortunately, not only is the uplifting effect of these distractions on our mood only temporary but in the longer term, they perpetuate the myth that our own darkness is something to be feared and therefore avoided.

Winter offers us the opportunity to challenge this myth and learn to be less scared of the dark, our dark. By setting time aside each day to attune ourselves to the season’s low light and darkness, we allow ourselves to put some distance between us and the matters of the day and we invite our gaze to turn inwards. This enables us to check in with our internal world and to really listen to ourselves; useful, meditative questions to ask ourselves like “How am I? What am I feeling?” can lead to enlightening insights into what may have been lurking in our shadow, just out of awareness. What if, before you put the lights on at night - or even reach for the Christmas decorations in a restless attempt to bring the festivities closer - you took a moment to stay with the dark a little longer than you would normally tolerate? Just for a moment.

As well as periods of reflection, it can be very beneficial for us to spend time in candlelight or soft lighting inside, or in darkness or moonlight outside, in quietude, away from technology as this encourages us to relax and rest by removing the sensory stimuli that keep us “on the go” but alienated from our core and our needs. Despite what society leads us to believe, a go-go-go/24-7 approach to life is not sustainable, neither emotionally nor physically, and we need periods of rest for us to be well.

When out on my walk earlier, when visibility was much reduced and the fields and hills around us were shrouded in mist, it would have been easy to describe the whole scene in front of me solely in gloomy, wintry terms such as dark, bleak, foggy, grey, cold, dreary, dull and quickly decide to retreat back indoors. Acknowledging my initial reaction but in spite of it, I went in search of Winter’s treasures, which I knew I would find if I looked closely enough. I just needed to change perspective. A few close-up photographs revealed what I could not see if I continued to focus on the bleakness: the sparkly droplets of rain on the bare branches, the lone brown oak leaves still hanging on the tree, the bright red rosehips left on the bush and even some poppies still in bloom. I also spotted a magpie's nest at the top of one of our trees and I remembered how birds' nests are one of Winter's treasures for they are hidden by foliage the rest of the year.

If we allow ourselves the opportunity to slow our pace, change perspective, embrace the energy of the dark season and live fully present in it, our own darkness can reveal treasures we did not know were there.