Here in the northern hemisphere, we experience a prolonged time of ever-longer nights in late autumn into early winter, culminating in the longest night on the day of the winter solstice. It is during this period of darker days and longer nights when many spiritual traditions emphasize embracing the dark by going within, remembering loved ones that have died, acknowledging suffering in yourself and in others around the world, slowing down to be fully present, and welcoming silence so that we may listen to all that might speak to us through the sacred darkness.
Yet, so many of us are conflicted during this time of the long night moon because of the ever-present expectation that we bend ourselves into the ‘always in high gear’ culture of tireless productivity and ‘keeping the lights on’. There is overwhelming pressure to acquiesce to unfettered capitalism. You can plan to receive a heavy dose of guilt from yourself and others if you don’t measure up – and who really ever does?
“People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
― Carl Jung
What if we truly listen and agree with our inner voice to slow down, breathe, rest, go within, and learn to practice a tradition of reverence for the darkness, and this dark time of the year?
This year I am practicing a traditional Advent season with my wife that began December 1 and completed on December 24, followed by celebration of the Christmas season for 12 days (which at the time of this writing we are in the midst).
It has been a meaningful experience to participate in this practice. We did not put up Christmas tree and decorations and crank up Jingle Bells the day after Thanksgiving. We waited until Christmas Eve. We completely ignored black Friday altogether, while refusing the ramping anxiety to consume that grips our country this time of year.
These two steps alone lowered stress levels and created a sense of peace in our lives and our house, with candles and meditative music and time before sleep each evening to reflect, read, pray, empty, and have reverence for this dark time of the year. It has given me a sense of calm, allowed me to go below the surface of things and connect with darker feelings, and has deepened the meaning of this season.
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
― Mary Oliver
In the Creation Spirituality tradition, this time is reflective of the via Negativa – the darkness, the suffering, the going within, the silence. Steeped in ancient earth wisdom that includes and stretches beyond the early Christian and Jewish mystics, this tradition teaches that it is natural and necessary to be fully present with the via Negativa. It is through embracing the dark womb of silence, reflection, and suffering that something new can be birthed out of the darkness (entering the via Creativa).
“Be patient where you sit in the dark. The dawn is coming.” ― Rumi
It was during this time of the Long Night Moon that my grandfather, who died several years ago, visited me in a dream. I was attempting to move a large stone slab. My grandfather appeared at the other end of the stone and raised his end off of the ground. I was concerned for him because of the heavy weight, but he said he was fine and he would help me [to carry this burden and move it aside].
This dream reminded me that I’m never alone, that we are never all alone, even though there are times in each of our lives when we feel isolated, alone, unsure of how to navigate a culture that has forsaken compassion for its people and for the earth. It is through the experience of emptying, entering into silence, and letting ourselves simply and courageously be at one with our true feelings and thoughts. To open ourselves to connect with and acknowledge our own suffering and the suffering of others – this includes non-human lives, as well as our human brothers and sisters.
When one knows how to experience deep suffering, how to enter into and be with darkness, how to hold pain and promise together, how to empty oneself to the greater universe that one will indeed develop compassion and understanding for others.
It is by fully living into and being immersed in the via Negativa that we will be able to then open more fully to awe, joy, wonder, and life itself by which we may transform our thoughts and lives into compassionate and loving action.