Rather than waging a war against the short days of winter, we can learn to turn darkness into a source of comfort and restoration.
“Darkness is the garment of Light no less than the body is the garment of the soul.”
— Daily Kabbalah: Wisdom from the Tree of Life, translated by Gershon Winkler
It is barely evening, still just late afternoon, and already I am pulling the living room blinds and kitchen curtains shut. After all, there is no more light to let inside, and only cold and darkness to keep at bay.
This time of year, I fortify myself against the darkness by stringing lights throughout the house, adorning window sills with candles, and swallowing my daily dose of vitamin D to provide some of the benefits of the now-elusive sun. I know I’m not alone in my restless attempts to brighten the long nights; in town, lights spiral up lampposts and encircle evergreens while people bustle about shopping for gifts and chasing down some holiday cheer.
But what if, before lighting up the darkness or rushing through it, we first take a moment to experience it? What if we try to see the beauty in these unadorned dusky days?
Befriending the darkness not only helps us through the gloomy winter days, it can help us to be more at ease with the night no matter the time of year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three Americans struggle with sleeplessness. And I believe one culprit behind our stolen sleep is our collective fear of the darkness — not just the dark of lights-out, but the fear of the unexamined thoughts and feelings lying in wait in the unlit corners of our consciousness that begin to stir when we close our eyes.
As a dream therapist, when a scary or disturbing nightmare image shows up for one of my clients, I begin by inviting that dream ghoul in for a conversation. We give our imagination’s visitors voice and ask them, Who are you? What is your purpose? What do love? What do you fear? And finally, What have you come to tell me? And then we settle in to listen for the answers. In this season of short days and long nights, we can use some dreamwork techniques to help us begin to befriend the darkness. When we do, we might just learn that it comes to help us see what our eyes cannot.
The darkness is a call to pause, to take the opportunity to spend at least some time each day turning inward. The darkness reminds us to slow down, to move inward, and to face our fears with courage. We can welcome our black-cloaked seasonal guest, rather than tapping our toes and waiting for her to leave. And the rewards of finding ease and comfort with the darkness of night, with learning to honor the cycles of dark and light, stillness and motion, being and doing, will benefit us all year long. When it is time to wind down, we might find we are more adept at shifting our minds into stillness and easing into deep rest.
This holiday season, enjoy the sparking lights — but also take a few moments each day to settle into the darkness. Here are a few strategies to try.
Night light. Each time you enter a room, before flipping the light on, pause for the length of one deep inhalation and exhalation to recount the gifts of darkness.
Silent night. Take five minutes or more in the evening to sit in stillness and quiet. Let yourself listen to the sounds of the night. Notice how your breath and body feel without trying to change anything.
Star bright. Bundle up, step outside, and gaze into the night sky. Wish upon a star, and wink up at the darkness — your new friend.