The Blog

Dark Time of the Year, Dark Night of the Soul

Now is that darkest time of the year.
Where I live, it’s fully dark before 5pm and the sun rises far later than it has any right too. So many struggle with this once the balance between daylight and darkness shifts noticeably, the lack of sunlight instigating a long, slow plunge into the darkness inside.

I taught myself long ago to welcome these days, to welcome those darkest thoughts and feelings as they come to the surface, feeling safety in the darkness around me. The grief, the sadness, the anger, they have always been there, but now they crave our attention and they will not be denied. 

Pushing them aside, sending them away, doing whatever magic we might possess to attempt to cause them to vanish, or at least retreat to a safe distance, is natural; it is even widely encouraged, but it doesn’t work all that well. This fear and grief has deep tendrils that have woven themselves into our being, and they are inextricable by ordinary and expected means. 

I look at the goth kids, dressed in black, embracing the frightening, the dark, the edge, and I see how so many people reject them because they fear them. They are a reminder of our own darkness, our fear and anger and sadness, our sense of mortality. These short days have a similar effect on us; they keep us from stuffing away those things that scare us. They are a reminder of those parts of our lives, of ourselves, that we choose not to see. But tucking them away does not make them go away. 

They must be seen. They must be acknowledged. They must be dealt with. And yet, they should not be fed; we do not want to give them energy and encouragement.

So we shine a light on them; we put attention on them, and we leave it there. We notice. We notice our body as tears well, our chests ache, or we become nauseous. We notice our anger, feeling its heat, until we see the fear that underlies it, and then we pay attention to that.

We stay strong and have faith, faith that our attention will help to mitigate our sadness, our grief, our fear, because sometimes that faith is what allows us to make it through the pain. And when it seems too much, we bring our attention to our body, the room, to the smell of dinner cooking or the sound of the water in the shower as a respite. Then we notice what has arisen next.

Most important of all, we work to avoid the trap of enmeshing with our feelings, of letting them be the subject rather than object, of engaging with them rather than merely watching our experience with them. Those feelings? Oh they are seductive, the chemicals that come from feeding them, giving ourselves over to them, are as powerful as any drug, and those tendrils will hold tight through whatever means necessary, only loosening their grasp, shrinking back when exposed to light and air.

It all can be a difficult trick to execute, but it is, in the long run deeply rewarding, turning those most dreaded months into something like opportunity, like a gift, like a blessing. 

Meanwhile, you can spend the rest of the year preparing yourself by learning to be present with your thoughts, being in your body, watching the two go back and forth, dancing with each other, watching the thoughts and sensations change and disperse in ways small and large. Doing this just a little when it’s easy, when the sun is shining and the breeze is warm, and the feelings are not so overwhelming, and also when they are pleasant, will be a life saver when the days grow short, the sun grows dim, and the things inside us that we fear threaten to take over our long nights.