On the way to the market in the late afternoon of the last night of Hannukah, just as the sun was dipping below the Rocky Mountains and the winter lights began sparkling in the trees, Everest asked, “Mommy, why do we celebrate Hannukah?”
“Well, it’s the celebration of the miracle of light. When the Jews regained control of their temple from the Greeks they wanted to purify it for eight days, but they only found enough oil for one day. They lit the menorah anyway and to their surprise the oil lasted the full eight days. It was a miracle. They had prayed to God and God answered. So we celebrate the light within the darkness and we celebrate the miracle of God as love and faith.”
As I was putting Everest to bed that night, I thought about what I had said. As we enter deeper into this darker time of year when the hours of daylight decrease each day, I think about darkness daily. I think about my engaged clients struggling through the darkness of the fear voices that want to keep them separate from love. I think about my ongoing counseling clients battling with the voices of self-judgement and shame that keep them separate from knowing and embracing their core self. I think about the myriad ways in which my clients avoid taking full responsibility for their pain and joy because of the belief that says that someone else should do it, or can do it better, and how this belief keeps them stuck behind their own wall of darkness.
The darkness lives within everybody and wears different masks depending on what issue we’re grappling with. But the darkness itself carries immense value. It’s through the willingness to embrace the teachings inherent in the “dark night of the soul” that we learn to be kinder, more compassionate people, first with ourselves and then with others. It’s through our battles with fear that we learn about love. It’s through the willingness to sink into the depths of our pain that our capacity for joy is revealed. It’s though our struggles with darkness that we learn about the light.
The habitual response to pain or fear is to push it away. You might find that you go to great lengths to avoid pain because of an old script that says that you can’t handle it. So you stay busy. You work. You make plans. You eat or don’t eat. You smoke. You talk about it and around it but you don’t sit in the center of the pain and let it move through you. The truth is that you can handle it. And you must learn to handle it if you want to evolve to the next stage of healing and growth.
In our culture, darkness is synonymous with death and death is something to be avoided and feared. But in the context of transitions, darkness and death are necessary stages that must be embraced if the light of the new life is to be birthed on healthy ground. Just as it’s within the darkness of the chrysalis that the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, so it’s within the darkness of our inner journeys that we transform into the next stage of ourselves. We roll ourselves in the dark sheets of our fears, grief, and loneliness, commit to the hard work of transition, and emerge weeks or months later transformed.
So as we celebrate the light of the winter holidays, let us remember to celebrate the darkness as well. Let us remember that spring cannot happen without winter, that day cannot happen without night, that joy cannot find full expression without surrendering into the full depths of the pain. There’s nothing to fear. Even in the darkest night the opportunity for growth is everywhere, like pinpricks of stars in a moonless sky.