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Learning to Appreciate the Dark

We’re in the darkest time of year, especially here in the northeast where we don’t even have 9 hours of daylight.

It can be easy to view this, or any kind of darkness, as something negative. This happens all the time in our culture, where we consider dark things bad, or if we don’t like something, we consider it dark. We even have the release of the latest Star Wars movie this weekend, which is all about defeating the Evil of the Dark Side. (And yes, I’m going to see it this afternoon.)

You might also think of certain emotions as negative or dark, such as anger, sadness, loneliness, and more. Perhaps when you experience those emotions, you feel dark yourself and try to lift yourself up by eating or using some other coping mechanism.

But this is only one way to look at it. Today, for the Winter Solstice and the longest night of the year, I’d like to suggest reevaluating ideas about darkness, and things we consider dark.

Time to Reflect and Dream

The physical darkness isn’t quite as noticeable these days when we have so many electric lights, but it’s still there. Some people get more easily depressed without as much sunlight. Others might feel more shut-in since it’s dark when you leave in the morning and dark when you come home (if you work standard business hours).

But this can also be a wonderful gift, if you accept it as such. Summer months are so full of activities because people want to be out and about, but in the winter, you can go a little slower. Instead of feeling shut-in, perhaps you can think of burrowing in and giving yourself time to rest and reflect.

Darkness is also when we dream. Over the centuries, many people have been inspired by the distant light of stars through the darkness of night. Other people have had visions of something wondrous even when the world around them was bleak.

Taking time to rest and dream is essential, and the dark months of winter can be a perfect time to make that space.

Embracing All Emotions

Another idea to consider is re-thinking how you might view certain emotions. Do you consider some good and some bad? Do you feel like some are “darker” than others?

It’s very easy to think this way when you see images of people responding to some emotions in negative ways, like being angry and lashing out at others, or being depressed and pushing everyone away, or being lonely and eating to console themselves.

What’s important to remember is that the emotion isn’t the problem. It’s how you react to it.

I’ll use grief as an example since this is often considered a negative emotion. It’s also something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately because this coming January will be 20 years since my mom died.

My fear of experiencing more grief about her death has kept me all these years from going through some memorabilia I have, specifically cards and memories that her students and former students sent her when she was in the hospital. (She taught third grade.)

But I realized that I’ve been thinking about it wrong. Yes, going through those things makes me somewhat sad about no longer having her in my life. But it also opens the door to remembering what a wonderful person she was.

In order to shut out any possibility of grief, I’d have to never think about her – but if I do that, then it means she’s gone in a much more permanent way.

On the other hand, if I can be open to both the sorrow and the remembered happiness, I can continue to remember her. And as long as I do that, in some way, she’s still here.

As for other emotions, anger can spur you to action, loneliness can encourage you to connect with others, sorrow can help you empathize with someone else’s pain, and so on. Consider how you’re responding when you feel these emotions, and think about if you’d want to try to change that.

Drawing Close

And then there’s the fact that darkness can help bring people together in ways sunlight doesn’t.

Without darkness, we wouldn’t need campfires or candles. We wouldn’t want to draw close together to share our warmth, both physical and emotional.

There’s a reason most religions have holidays around this time of year when it’s cold and dark. Holidays that celebrate with music, food, candlelight, readings, and silence. Those celebrations also tend to be more impactful than ones at other times of the year.

For example, at my church, the Winter Solstice service and the Christmas Eve services don’t only focus on the return of light – they also have a lot of darkness. And for many people, they’re the best services of the year.

Photo by Rick Kimball

We can also connect with others with traditional cookies and other foods. Maybe that makes you feel anxious about overeating, but it might help if you can take a step back and remember that those foods are an opportunity to connect, not only to indulge.

Reconsidering Darkness

If you’ve found yourself struggling with the dark, or things that you classify as being dark and therefore bad, perhaps you can take another look this year. The darkness has much to offer if you’re open and willing to accept it.

If you have some things that you appreciate about the dark, I’d love to hear them!

And in the meantime, Happy Winter Solstice!

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