I have just spent a few days in England with my family before flying off to warmer climes for the winter months. In northern Europe the long dark and cold nights are particularly present, as the people eagerly await the return of the light.
But before we leave the dark behind let us take a moment to honor it and ask for its blessing in our lives. At some moments in our lives, many of us face what we call the dark night of the soul, a place where nothing seems to be working on the outside and we are forced to turn within and face deeper aspects of ourselves. My work has for many years been about Rites of Passage, and I have seen time and time again the value of going within to be with loss, pain and sorrow. We yearn with all our hearts to find our way through the darkness and feel the light of the sun shining on our faces once again. But in our desperate need to find the light, we risk missing the many gifts of the darkness. This culture does not support this turning within to be with the hidden aspects of ourselves, constantly pulling us out to be more, do more, have more…
The darkness is a time of incredible fecundity, and richness, a time of inward contemplation, a reckoning with all that we have become and all that we wish to be. In olden times when there was no electricity and no internet, people spent long nights in front of the fire reflecting on their lives.
This last year has been a time of loss and letting go for me, a humbling realization that life does not necessarily turn out as we had once dreamed. It has been comforting to remember that the word humiliation comes from the root humus, which means to be returned to the ground of our Being. I have never felt this so acutely as this year. Leading up to and especially since the fires that ravaged my community, I have felt reduced to ground zero within. It has been painful and uncomfortable, but so valuable a time. Much inner excavation has been happening and seeds have been sown for the new, in the rich compost of all the death and decay I have confronted within and around me.
I found this quote by John O Donoghue, one of my favorite Irish poets.
It speaks to me deeply of the value of the darkness:
“We desperately need a new and gentle light where the soul can shelter and reveal its ancient belonging. We need a light that has retained its kinship with the darkness. For we are sons and daughters of the darkness, and of the light. All creativity awakens at the primal threshold where light and darkness test and bless each other. You only discover balance in your life when you learn to trust the flow of this ancient rhythm.”
Out of this darkness we are sanctioned into Being, finding the beauty, vulnerability, gentleness, and depths of wisdom and compassion we would not normally access. This first light that dawns after the dark night, does not drive the darkness out but turns to bow to it, to honor it and to transform it into a new way of Being. It brings hope with this new light, hope for a new way if Being.
Victor Vaclav puts it so beautifully:
“Hope…is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. …Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpropitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is also this hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually to try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now.”
Darkness without light turns to despair. Anticipating and celebrating the coming of the light helps us avoid getting stuck in darkness. And we don’t want to be stuck in darkness. Darkness is painful and confusing. So we rightly celebrate the solstice as evidence that the light will lead us out of the dark, and that we can leave darkness behind.
But what is the darkness’s gift? How does it bless the light? The solstice ceremonies give us clues about that, too. As we celebrate the turning of the year, out of the darkness and into the light, take some time at the solstice to reflect on all the gifts of the darkness in your life. How much deeper and richer has your being become as a result of your willingness to embrace the darkness and bring the many colors of your light to the darkness. And how much more fully does the light of your being shine through as a result of embracing the darkness…
May the gifts of the darkness and the light bless you on your way in this potent time.
Sending You Blessings
of LOVE and LIGHT…