The season of darkness


In a dark time, the eye begins to see. – Roethke

This is the darkest season.  Here in the northeast, with still more than a month to go until the shortest day, we are enfolded in the dark by five.

It’s fair to say that the contrast, interplay, and interrelation between light and dark is one of the central preoccupations of my life.  I’m fascinated by the way one allows the other, the way we need both to live in this world, the fact that light and dark are at once polar opposites and so closely related as to be two sides of the same coin.  When I search my archives for “light” I come up with 33 pages of results.

You might imagine that I have strong emotions about this particular time of the year, these week of deep darkness.

And you would be right.  I used to dread this time.  I can easily recall the physical sensation of gloom and fear that came over me as the days shortened.  And it’s true that in the spring, perhaps around February, I am buoyed when I begin to notice that the days are creeping longer.

But I don’t dread these dark days anymore.  I actually love them.  There’s something deeply reassuring to me about this season.  I’ve written extensively about my attachment to the solstice, and that is surely part of this comfort.  It isn’t hard for me to summon a roomful of candles, and to know how quickly they can dispel the darkness.

There is more going on, though.  I suspect it has something to do with the Roethke quote above, or with Wendell Berry’s lyrical lines which run through my head all the time:

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.  To know the dark, go dark.  Go without sight, and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings, and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings.

– Wendell Berry

Berry asserts that to really know the dark we have to surrender to it.  We have to let our eyes adjust, which means we must go in without any external light.  And that, in that darkness, there is a beauty that we never imagined.

It’s a short leap from thinking about the darkness out the window to the darkness inside myself.  I am still getting to know the darkness there, learning to gaze into the ragged hole that exists in the center of all of our souls, practicing pushing on the bruise and feeling the wound.  I have often described the feeling of that intense darkness as staring into the sun.  Again, light and dark are so close together as to be inextricable, sliding across each other, both occluding and showcasing as they do so.

Maybe that’s what this life is: an eclipse.

It has only been when I have really let myself lean into that darkness, accept that my deepest wound is the profound sadness of impermanence, that I’ve started seeing the gifts that are there.  As I sink into the way my life actually is, everyday I find unexpected gems buried in the mundane.  Sure, I also cry a lot more.  I grieve and mourn constantly, far more than I imagined possible.

But there’s also beauty here.  Surprising, staggering, serendipitous beauty.  Divinity buried in the drudgery.  Dark feet and dark wings.

Every year I feel more at ease in these dark days, protected, somehow.  I realize now that this is a manifestation of my increased comfort with my own darkness.  I have begun to see.

Two of these paragraphs were originally written and shared in January 2011.  They are even truer now.

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  1. Posted November 18, 2013 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    I think that for me, it’s that my fear of the darkness has lessened. I know that I can linger in it a bit, without getting lost in it. I know that I have people that I trust who will check in and make sure that I’m finding enough light. Namaste, friend. xo

  2. Ari
    Posted November 18, 2013 at 6:19 am | Permalink

    Actually, you just reminded me that December 21st is only a month away, very soon. Let’s enjoy this precious longest nights.

  3. Ari
    Posted November 18, 2013 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the reminder.

  4. Posted November 18, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Me, too.

  5. Erin
    Posted November 18, 2013 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    “Maybe that’s what life is – an eclipse” – isn’t it, though? The shadow of the earth blocking sunlight from directly illuminating the moon. Blinding. To obscure, to darken, to outshine.

    It is.

  6. Posted November 18, 2013 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    I like your honest, positive take on the darkness. Like most things, for me it is the venturing into the unfamiliar and uncomfortable that is the most disconcerting. Once I get used to the darkness, I actually enjoy its heady and almost romantic feeling that it brings.

  7. Posted November 18, 2013 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    Oh, Lindsey. This post is perfect for how I’ve been feeling lately. However, I haven’t exactly embraced the darkness quite yet. I’m getting better but I’ve a long way to go. Thank you for sharing this…it is exactly what I needed to read.

  8. Posted November 19, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    You always give me so much to think about, Lindsey. I admire so much the depth you present in this post and almost all posts.

  9. Posted November 19, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    I am moving in this direction, too. Recognizing the gifts within the wound, opening myself up to feeling ALL of life. As you say, there is more pain living this way, but the joy, the beauty, is equally heightened. So true. xoxo

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