As the Northern Hemisphere reaches the darkest (and often coldest) days, there is the awareness of the coming change. When we are at our darkest days on this part of the planet it is not far away that the earth will begin its slow tilt back towards the sun. This can be a metaphor for life. When we are at our darkest time the light is not far away if we are able to see the tilting in our own lives.
The Winter Solstice
This day is one that I always appreciate. I love how the Northern Hemisphere is so bleak and at its darkest and suddenly the planet magically shifts back towards the light. Having lived in the Pacific Northwest for many years the days were so short during this time. Now, in Colorado, there is a bit more light but it always feels bleak around this time of the year.
I often hear people expressing dislike at the cold and lack of sun. I continually remind myself that we only have a few weeks and things will start to get better. Somehow the knowledge that the light will come back makes it easier for me to be in those darkest days.
Allowing the shadow in.
In my work with clients I’m often struck by how willing they are to step into their shadow parts and show their own darkness. Our shadow is the rejected parts of ourselves that show up in the form of grief or anger that were not fully expressed, These are the things about ourselves we don’t pay attention to and often don’t know are there.
Because of this lack of awareness it is our shadow that is running so much of our behavior.
An example is my own life is a feeling of intellectual inferiority. Growing up with a group of friends who often seemed to be my intellectual superior created in me a shadow part of believing I was not good enough in the realm of academics, processing thought and general debating. I had this fear that when I was talking, people around me were annoyed by my lack of knowledge.
In order to meet the needs of this shadow part of myself I began to obsessively work on becoming a “good enough thinker.” I read incessantly and when I’m not reading I’m trying to listen to audio books. This obsession comes out of an earlier wounding of feeling inferior.
Many of my friends would not agree with my interpretation of myself. However, since I didn’t deal with this feeling of not being good enough I am forced to live out certain behaviors to make up for it.
Stepping into the dark to find the light.
When I work with clients I often encourage them to go to places that are quite painful. I ask them to stay with memories, sensations and emotions that they find troubling. I do this because in bringing up their unacknowledged shadow they begin to free themselves from these unconscious behaviors.
In my case I began to see that my desire to learn was not about learning at all. I was attempting to prove to myself that I had intellectual value. As I began to bring awareness to this I started to find, underneath my shadow, a deep confidence in my ability to think that had been masked over by my insecurity.
This is the light that lives in all of us. At our most basic essential self is our core goodness. This is who we are and who we also long to be. My core goodness had always been one of confidence.
When we commit to allowing the shadow to arise in us and let down our defensiveness we are committing to the soul work of coming home to ourselves. This is not an easy journey but it is also the healing work that is done in psychotherapy. Miriam Greenspan, in her book, Healing Through The Dark Emotions, explains this:
By learning how to attend to, befriend, and surrender to the energies of grief, despair, and fear, we create the conditions for something new to arise in ourselves and in the world. We discover an unexpected gateway to healing and transformation. We release ourselves from the strangled grip of pain into an amazing alchemy by which grief, despair, and fear are transmuted to gratitude, faith, and joy (Greenspan, 2004).
How this shows up in my life.
I don’t relish bringing up painful, sometimes traumatic, experiences for my clients. It is always hard to witness their anguish. Yet, I also hold them to this because I know of the, as Miriam Greenspan says, alchemy that being with our pain allows us to change.
In my life I continue to struggle with my own set of issues. My inability to handle my own pain and not want to project it on to others. My struggle to fully prioritize the relationships in my life that mean something to me. Getting lost in work and other silly things rather than being with those I truly care for.
The way through all of my issues is to turn towards them admit they are there with a vulnerable heart and to move towards my true self. I try and do this with patience.
If you are struggling right now with deep darkness in your life as a result of mental illness, aging, disease or loss I encourage you to be patient with yourself. Slowly, when the time comes, you can begin to turn towards your own darkness and bring forth your inner light.
If you or someone you know is struggling with the darkness of winter I encourage you to reach out.
Wishing You The Day You Need To Have!