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Honor the darkness

Silhouetted person staring up into the night sky symbolizing how to honor the darkness

We’ve entered the darkest days of the year in the northern hemisphere. The sun is setting before the workday ends. It waits until after breakfast to rise again. And at noontime, if it pierces the clouds, the sunlight exists at such a pernicious angle that we wish it gone the moment it appears.


It can be a powerful time of year – as evidenced by the intense emotions most of us experience if we slow down long enough to notice. To ease pain and distract from sorrow, our ancestors established festivals of light to renew our faith that the light will return, as always it does. And modern life goes even farther to deny darkness its power:

  • We light our homes the minute shadows creep in.

  • We immerse ourselves in the gleam of our screens.

  • We paint ourselves in rosy light across every profile and post, every layout and furnishing.


But we lose much in busying ourselves celebrating without pausing to honor the darkness.


Have we forgotten that without darkness, light would lose all meaning?


Right before the pandemic, I decided to lean into the darkness of Winter Solstice and reflect on the darkest memories of that year.


  • 2019 had been difficult – I had failed at my dream job, and as a result, had to sell my house and move out of state to start over.

  • 2019 had been wonderful too – I’d traveled well, met some amazing people and felt optimistic about my new life.


I clung to the wonderful memories to avoid seeing the difficult ones, but my attempts to deceive myself did little to ease the pain. And so, on December 21, I turned out the lights, lit a candle and began to entertain the darkness.


What resulted has become a tradition in grief processing that I repeat every Winter Solstice. In fact, I now relish Solstice nights more than Christmas mornings. The darkness has proven rich in wisdom, healing and hope because nothing delivers hope like well-processed grief.


What is darkness?


In this case, darkness is anything we refuse to see that exists within us anyway. Some of it is not conscious, but a lot of it lives at the edges of our awareness where we can easily push it aside. It’s a healthy way to manage darkness on a temporary basis, but when we make a habit of it, more and more of the darkness drops out of our awareness into our subconscious – repressed but never gone.


Darkness is frightening because it encompasses emotions we might never been taught how to handle. Sometimes we’ve even been told explicitly that such emotions aren’t allowed. Often, our inexperience with the emotions leaves us worried that, if we dare give them any space, they will swamp us.


Eventually, darkness comes for us if we don’t find ways to bring it into the light. It comes for us in the form of seemingly-inexplicable fits of rage far more extreme than circumstances warrant. It comes for us in panic attacks, burnout and breakdowns. It comes for us in divorce, chronic pain, injuries and disease.


But if we practice entertaining that darkness, we can slow its progression, move it through and prevent it from showing up when we can least afford to see it.


How to entertain darkness


The key to befriending darkness without being overwhelmed by it is to approach it with curiosity. Why? Because your self-criticizing inner voice is hungry to take the stage whenever it finds an opening, and self-criticism loses all power when faced with curiosity.


  • Take note when the critical thought intrudes then wonder what’s underneath it. It’s nearly always trying to protect you.

  • As you glance beneath, notice how your belly responds – then your heart, your breath, your throat and your eyes. Do your hands clench? Can you feel your feet?

  • Let what rises rise, be it a flash of anger, the need to pace or a sudden urge to cry.

  • Then move it through: scream into a pillow, walk the stairs, unleash the tears.

  • Once emptied, return your curiosity to what rises next. Name the sensation. Recount the memory.

  • Then move it through all over again.


You will know you’re done processing when you feel lightened. A burden has lifted. You entered the darkness feeling heavy, but you suddenly have an urge to dance, sing or reach for the sky. Maybe you feel a surge of love for your life. Maybe you find yourself laughing.


This is how I mark the longest night of the year and welcome back the light. May you, too, entertain the darkness and move it into light this Winter Solstice.


Need help navigating grief, rage, fear or shame? Book a 1:1 session to see what’s possible when you shine light on the dark wisdoms within you.

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