At 4:30 in the afternoon yesterday I was already pulling the blinds in my living room and kitchen, as there was no more light to let inside and only cold and darkness to keep out.
This time of year, I fortify myself against the darkness by plugging in strings of white lights around my kitchen and bedroom windows. I take vitamin D to give myself the health benefits of the sun, including, as the bottle promises, mood support.
And I know I am not alone. All around me I see our collective, tremulous bravery and cheer in the face of the darkest time of year. Candles are lit and holiday lights spiral up lampposts and encircle evergreens like consoling hugs.
But what if before plugging in and lightening up, we first listened to the darkness? In dream work this is what we do: When a symbol or image appears in a dream, especially a scary or disturbing one, we begin by inviting it in for a cup of tea and conversation. We spend time in this way with the demons of our imagination: be they in the form of rampaging beasts, gun-wielding burglars or engulfing tidal waves. Animate, or inanimate, we give our visitors voice. We ask questions: Who are you? What is your purpose? What do you love? What do you fear? And finally, What have you come to tell me? And then we settle in to listen to the answers.
Friday night, on the darkest night of the year, I sat in a room with all lights and candles extinguished and asked the winter darkness to tell me what I could learn from it. And so the night reminded me:
The darkness comes to help us see what our eyes cannot. When night comes, we take to our beds, close our eyes, and, layering darkness upon darkness, we fall into sleep. Eyes closed, we enter shadowy rooms or luminous landscapes of our dreams. We see things we cannot, have not, or will not see with our eyes open in the full light of day. Deceased loved ones might come to call. Our fears parade through our nightmares. We receive wisdom and guidance. We interact with our anxieties. We may take to the skies in flight. We roam. We romance. For dreamers, the darkness is a portal into other realms: memory, emotion, image, imagination, and vision.
The darkness is also the friend artists. Whether at the drafting table, potter’s wheel, the canvas, or the keyboard, the artist first closes her eyes in order to see something that has not yet come into existence. And only after tapping into the darkness of the unseen, the unwritten, the unknown, can she draw forth the creation of something brand new.
The darkness has something to say to each of us. It reminds us to slow down, to move inward, and to feel fear. When we do so we also find the strength to sustain the cold, the discomfort, the unsafe and the unknown.