In the dark of this longest night of winter, I take a moment to honor the presence of light. There are many who struggle with the cold and darkness during the winter months. In the past, I have found myself bogged down during these months, struggling with melancholy and a sort of darkness of the spirit within, holding my breath waiting for spring to come.
Taking time to honor the shift in light has become an important ritual for my winters in recent years. When I have made time for this, my spirits have flourished in a different kind of rhythm and energy through the winter, instead of shutting down in attempts to maintain a status quo.
What does it mean to welcome the darkness?
I honor and recognize the rhythms of the seasons,
the cycles of the sun,
the movement of the Earth around the sun.
I honor and recognize
the long nights
as part of our planet’s journey
in space and time.
I honor and recognize
the shift of the natural world.
I watch the animals as they prepare for winter
and enter in hibernation.
I invite space and time
for deep rest and hibernation
in my life in these upcoming months.
I honor and recognize the parts of myself that
shy away from touching the darkness
of the emotional being that I am.
To step away from the unknown,
that which cannot be seen.
I welcome that I am a whole being,
honoring the joy and the sorrow,
the ease and the struggle of
this journey called life.
I recognize that I find discomfort in being present with sorrow and struggle
and in this discomfort tend to seek comfort in other directions.
I turn to food, distraction, television, movies, books, fantasy.
I lose sight of center, inspiration, my creative being.
I ask myself to step into the discomfort
to learn to trust its gift
To feel the depth of what feels painful
To find space for the tears, for the extra hours
curled up in bed, numb, quiet, still.
For on the other side of this, I always find there is light.
There is beauty in this space.
In the words of Barbara McAfee from Minneapolis,
“Every time I step into the darkness, I return with fistfuls of jewels.
Midnight Velvet wraps all around me, Stars glitter brilliant above.
Dreaming Darkness, Dreaming Light.”
Yes. Yes. Yes.
“I return with fistfuls of jewels.”
I move forward with tenderness,
permission to be broken,
and in this brokenness, to be whole.
More whole than I had been as
I chased “okay-ness”
holding together with
distractions – the television, the Netflix binge,
even the long hours refusing to put down the novel.
In this tenderness,
I see the world with fresh eyes.
There are treasures all around.
The light glimmers off the trees, off the clothesline,
off the old iron pump above the empty birdbath.
I think back to times in my life when darkness was not a thing to hide from.
When I was 16, I spent my summer in the woods of Vermont. Every night we’d go from the main lodge down the twisting, root-filled path to the cabin. By the end of the summer, we’d know every root along the path, being able to anticipate each step with ease as we walked back in the full dark.
At 28, as an outdoor educator, I explored in the woods with 5th-8th graders every day teaching forest ecology, wetland ecology and more. Nighttime ecology included night hikes, walking a section of trail without the assistance of light. We taught students how to relax into their senses, trusting a different part of their awareness to be able to guide them along the trail in the dark.
We would quote Wendell Berry,
“To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.”
We got a lot of practice ourselves on how to follow even the trails with twists and turns in them. The ground along the trail was firmer, more compacted by frequent travel, than the soil alongside it. The leaf litter was broken down and scattered along the trail. As soon as we stepped just off the edge of the trail, the leaves and soil would let us know and send us back to the center. Our peripheral sensory awareness became much more heightened as we learned to trust the receptors in the periphery of the eye to bring in the low-level light.
When I moved to Vermont in 2004, I joined a group of friends for a hike up Mt. Monadnock, a heavily traveled mountain. We chose to hike a side trail off the main track in order to steer clear of the crowds. We had a lovely time meandering our way up the mountain, stopping to identify mushrooms, to admire a wasp’s nest, to enjoy the stream in the fall sunlight. We got to the top in the late afternoon, and joined the crowds of others looking out over the vistas. Two falcons circled and danced in the air currents above our heads. We enjoyed the peace of the summit.
And then we realized we were starting to enjoy the sunset and most of the crowd had dispersed already. Not anticipating being out after dark, none of us had flashlights, but three out of the four of us in the group had experience hiking in the dark. We made it 2/3 of the way down the mountain before darkness fell. By this time we were well off the main track again, approaching the section of trail that ran in the dry stream bed filled with rocks and boulders. Moving slowly, trusting the sensation of the ground and rocks under our feet and our awareness of the space around us, we made it back to the road through the shadows cast by the glimmering light of the moon.
None of these experiences have ever held
any aspect of fear, worry, or struggle.
They have all been magical and safe.
I call on this knowledge of the darkness to keep me company
in these long winter nights to come.
I invite it’s gift to know the light more intimately
with my willingness to step into the unknown,
to welcome the darkness within.
A haiku for this season, a part of the spiritual practice of the daily haiku:
Standing in Darkness
I Wait. I Breathe. I Feel.
Opening Into Trust