The beauty of darkness

IMG_3703I’ve written about darkness in the past on this blog, but recently the contrast between dark and light has been pronounced in my life. And once one thing catches your attention, it seems like so many other similarities start to show up in one’s life.

My recent weekend of It/Not it was definitely filled with both dark and light. My youngest daughter and I have watched the first three Indiana Jones movies in the past week – they are both dark and light. I’ve been following the moon through its cycle this month, spending a bit of time each night really noticing the difference in it each evening as it got closer to the New Moon, the darkest nights of the month and then starting to watch it move towards full.

I’ve also had two friends diagnosed with depression recently. Having been diagnosed with depression myself at various points in my life, I know the darkness that descends, am familiar with that slippery spiral down deep into your being.  And I also know there is little a friend can do for you other than hold space for you and be there for you when needed.

It was when one of my friends needed me and I spent a day with her that I was reminded of a beautiful book on my bookshelf, Learning to Walk in the Dark. I picked it up this past month and have read it again, gleaning new insights and wisdom about all different types of darkness, not just depression.

Darkness. The very word is deep and mysterious. Like many children, I was scared of the dark. We lived in a Michigan forest and one night I remember being left home alone with my brother while my parents went out. We had the job of feeding the dog and rabbits each evening and on this particular evening as we did so, something was in the woods, in the dark, sounding like Darth Vader. My brother and I were petrified and locked ourselves in the house to keep whatever loud nocturnal creature outside and ourselves safe inside. We never did figure out what was in the woods that night. Bear, cougar, coyote, deer, even escaped cows from the neighbours a mile away were all real possibilities. But I will never forget how scared I was that night when I thought there was an unknown person in the woods.

Why are we scared of the dark? Why are we naturally drawn to the light? Why does every storybook make the dark scary? Why do we associate dark with bad? And light with good? Why do we say some movies are ‘dark’ and some are ‘light’? Why do we fight the dark so much? Is it because we temporarily lose the use of one of our main senses upon which we rely heavily?

“I cannot remember the last time I heard anyone use ‘dark’ to describe something good. It is as if they have a default setting for darkness in their minds that automatically resets every time the sun comes up. In the full light of day, darkness becomes the most convenient place for them to store all their shadows: their fear of the unknown, their anxiety about the future, their loathing of their own helplessness, their bottomless dread of death.” Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor

There are many benefits of the dark. Children grow while they sleep at night. Darkness is also needed for eyes to develop properly. Each of us also need sleep for our brains to process what we’ve learned and taken in throughout the course of the day. And studies show that this happens better when we sleep in the dark. Even the light from our alarm clocks and mobile phones by our beds can disrupt our brains while we sleep. So being in the dark is good for us.

And yet, most of us try to avoid being in the dark as much as possible.

We leave lights on in rooms even when no one is in them. We leave televisions and radios on for company instead of enjoying the silence and the darkness.

The older I become, the more I appreciate the dark. I love walking in the evening as the light fades to dark, once the sun sets and the stars are free to be seen against the dark sky’s canvas. There is something magical about spotting the stars, who have of course been there all along but have been out of view by the sun’s brightness.

In the summer I like to walk the streets of my neighbourhood as the evening starts to cool and take stock of my day. I love watching the moon rise over the lake near my house.

I also appreciate the times given to me when I wander metaphorically in the dark, trying to figure out what’s the next step to take on my life journey.

For someone like me who for years had to control everything in my life, these dark periods can be scary, and yet oddly illuminating. I’ve learned to meet them head on. To face them like an old friend and see what message they hold for me in the silence. Because there is always a message. I don’t try to hide. I’ve learned that the time in the dark is when I learn the most about myself and often receive insights about those around me too. I find I am more patient, calm and steady once I sit and wait a dark period out. And I’ve come to notice they usually happen just before a big change or breakthrough in my life.

These dark periods are different from depression. Depression for me has been a time of despair. A time when I needed outside help to make it through the day. Depression, for me, is something I spiral into. And something I have not enjoyed suffering from. I don’t wish depression on anyone.

My dark periods descend. They may last a while or be as short as an evening. They are a reminder to myself to go within and listen to my soul. They are comforting as well as confronting and when they are over, I wouldn’t trade them for anything as I always learn something vital about myself. I wish more people would face their own dark times head on and see what their souls had to say. They might find it less scary than they believe and I think the world might just be a different place.

Everything in life can’t be all sunshine and light. We need the dark in order to appreciate the light fully. It’s all about balance.

Today I wish you love and light (and enough darkness for you to appreciate both).

“To be human is to live by sunlight and moonlight, with anxiety and delight, admitting limits and transcending them, falling down and rising up. To want a life with only half of these things in it is to want half a life, shutting the other half where it will not interfere with one’s bright fantasies of the way things ought to be.”  Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor

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