Listening to the Darkness

(originally posted Dec. 2011)

The holidays emphasize light and joy. And also, many are depressed. Part of this may be stress, a collection of griefs, a triggering of old memories, or a sometimes harsh noticing of ways our experiences do not match our expectations or the stories told to us. Holiday darkness may come to the forefront when we feel we are not totally accepted by our family, where religious or spiritual differences come in, or when we remember people who used to be in our lives but are not anymore.

These sorts of feelings are often resisted, and so, not fully listened to. They get covered over by lights, cards and letters telling how happy we are, frantic shopping, seeking of party invitations, striving to create the perfect meal, busy-ness to the point of never being fully present with ourselves or others. And sometimes, even when everything goes exactly as you thought would make you happy, the darkness still remains.

I decided to consider this a little more deeply. Maybe holiday depression is not just a common error. Maybe its not against the way things are “supposed to be”. Maybe its not a personal failing, a lack of strength, or just a deficiency of vitamin D. Maybe it has something to tell us. So I wonder, “what else could this mean?”.

Many cultures represent this time of year through symbols and stories of light: an impossible light that burns for eight days, a miraculous star announcing the coming of the divine to the earth, Solstice celebrations mark the of the return of the sun, reminding us to tend to the light in ourselves and others. With all these symbols, and with Christmas music and hustle-and-bustle beginning even before Thanksgiving, we too easily forget that this light comes only in contrast to the dark. That before the rebirth, there must be death: a total emptying out, surrender, a letting go. In a society that drives towards the light–towards activity, productivity, energy going outwards and upwards–there is not much permission to go into the dark. In a natural rhythm, this is the Savasana of the year. Perhaps holiday darkness, depression, dissatisfaction, or desire to retreat are reminding us that Solstice brings the longest, darkest nights of the year and that the dark is part of the light. If we can fully go into that darkness, completely empty out with the moon, a new light and love that is not seeking might miraculously emerge from the stillness.

To enter this darkness, is not the same as depression. Depression may come through the stacking of griefs, a sadness that becomes identity, or a persistence of natural feelings that we have resisted to feel. Perhaps the phenomena of holiday blues comes from all the feelings we have refused to feel, rising to the surface so that we could start the new year fresh. Too often the dark night is skipped over to focus on dawn, so we may think its wrong to be feeling dark or alone. But, if part of you wants to hide in a cave as much as you want to go to a party, or if you are angry or sad when everything seems to be telling you to be happy, maybe you are feeling the wisdom of the season and the knowledge that you do not need to manufacture light. You are feeling the call to turn inward and release downward; to take refuge in your heart and seek connection that goes deep. Solstice is when the sun suspends still. We must honor this pause so that we can stop old momentum and truly be begin again new. Exhale fully. And trust that the next breath will come.

So, if you think you feel depressed, remember Savasana. It is not you that is tired, hopeless or lost. Rather it is a symbolic death of things that no longer serve–old beliefs, energies, or routines–that are ready to be let go as an offering to the cold winter ground. This is not a suggestion to get stuck in despair–quite the opposite. It is a reminder to listen and to know that your consciousness itself is the light you are seeking. Take pause and see what wisdom is there. Maybe all that was needed was permission to stop. Or maybe there are things to be felt, let go, and not carried to the new year. Is there something that you need to say to yourself or to someone else? Is there something to make peace with? And, if there is grief, maybe it is a request for remembrance and a cue to acknowledge the love even underneath ambivalence or pain.

This is a process that happens in cycles. Every exhale, an emptying, a blessing and letting go. Every inhale, letting in the new. In completing a year, we may travel in waves of memories, hopes, and fears. If we can go into the darkness and know that it is natural, know that it is the rich emptiness from which everything arises, breathe with our fears and pains as much as our joys, we can emerge out with a sense of our own wholeness. We can then meet others from that wholeness, from a depth, and fierce understanding.