By Olivia Hope Morgaine, MA
The Darkest Night.
“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.” (Rabindranath Tagore)
This year, December 22nd marks the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. The Solstice has been celebrated since as early as the Neolithic period. Today, it continues to be marked by myths, rituals, and celebrations in myriad cultures around the world, typically with an emphasis on re-birth, dawn, and the coming of a sun god, or goddess. The etymology of the word solstice comes from the Latin meaning: “sun standing.” In the case of Winter Solstice, this refers to the moment when, from the perspective of the earth, the sun has reached its northern most extreme and “stops,” before marking a reversal of shortening days and lengthening nights. The Winter Solstice provides a literal, and natural illustration of how the darkest night precedes the dawn.
We can draw on this imaginatively to provide a spiritual-psychological map for working with “dark nights of the soul.”! Popular culture tends to use the holiday season as an opportunity to sell goods, services, and entertainment. Marketing tends to play on collectively conditioned demands for sentimental, pleasurable froth, light heartedness, and all things Hallmark. While animals in nature hibernate through the dark months, and ancient peoples invoked deities in hopes that they would survive months of winter chill and famine, today we troll bright malls and the internet for gifts, light up our houses, and throw parties all month long. Ironically, in the midst of all of this merry making, cases of depression increase during the holidays. Medical literature reveals that shorter days and longer nights can aggravate depression.
However, psychological research also illustrates that increases in depression during the holidays may be attributed to unrealistic expectations and the pressures that one should live up to the collective fantasies of belonging to the perfect family, having lots of friends, and needing to give, get, and digest lots of goodies.! From a psychological point of view (meaning the logic of the psyche, or soul) depression during the holidays may be imagined as a reaction to a one sided approach to winter: one that privileges light over darkness. It’s not that we need to do away with all the sparkly rituals from decorating our homes, to wrapping presents, and sharing good cheer and great food that mark the holidays, but that we also need to take time to find ways to consciously and creatively honour the darkness that Winter literally, and symbolically presents.! If you suffer from the blues during the holidays (note: those who suffer from severe, clinical depression are advised to seek medical intervention), or bouts of lethargy, you may notice that the more you fight these feelings the worse they become. As the adage goes: “What you resist persists.” Instead, you might try to go with the natural wisdom that inheres in your body and feelings. Rather than getting swept up in hyper-extroversion, or wallowing in the belief that you should be living some fairytale version of the holiday season, follow the rhythms of your soul.
Find some time to engage in the spirit of winter, and darkness – indulging time for inwardness, contemplation, and rest. Even amidst a busy schedule, create some time in the margins and pauses of the day for reflection – perhaps a solitary walk, a quiet cup of tea, a nap, journaling, or meditation. Not only may these practices prove refreshing, but also illuminative. You may find that by taking time to truly inhabit those qualities, such as introspection, quiet, and solitude associated with Winter that new light is shed on those aspects of your life that cause you sadness, distress, and doubt.
When we are feeling emotionally frosty, withdrawn, and dark the lesson that Winter teaches us is to take time to turn within and attend to our inner lives.