There’s a natural rhythm to each season and each month of the year, an archetypal energy that, if we could allow ourselves to tap into, would guide us toward loving actions that would serve our inner selves. In spring we’re guided toward the energy of rebirth; in summer toward celebration; in autumn toward letting go. Then we arrive at winter, a time of hibernation, stillness and reflection.
Yet, because our culture fails us quite miserably in the realm of transitions, rituals, and teaching us to attune to the energetic stream of each season so that we can align with its current and tap into the wisdom, we flounder through these thresholds, feeling alone, confused, and scared.
As such, quite often what I hear in my work with clients is that January, instead of a time to connect to the rich, quiet darkness of winter which would prepare them for the creative bursts of spring, is a month when they fall into a hole of darkness and collapse into anxiety, emptiness and despair. They then spend the next several months trying to claw their way out.
As always with transitions (and the New Year is a transition in this culture), the conscious path involves taking time before the threshold day to slow down, let go, grieve, reflect, and be. The crucial work of letting go around getting married ideally happens during the engagement so that on the other side of the wedding day the newlyweds can embrace the rebirth stage of their transition. The critical time to prepare and for the transition into motherhood is to reflect and grieve during preconception and pregnancy so that new motherhood can be a time of embracing the new life and identity. When we resist these letting go stages we suffer on the other side: post-bridal depression, postpartum depression, and winter depression.
Thus, the preparation for the long, cold days of January begins in December, where the invitation is to exhale, contract, and turn inward. As the hours of daylight shrink each day, you too are being invited under the covers for longer stretches of sleep, or to sit by the fire in reflection. This is the body’s and soul’s time to unwind and rest. Nature invites soul contraction to occur in stages, a slow, gentle descent into psyche’s hibernation. If you resist December’s invitation you may collapse all at once in January.
The challenge is that this is in direct contract to the culture of December, which encourages you to turn outward: to shop, to spend, to socialize, to party, to work harder, to sleep less. The culture is quite masterful at inviting distraction as a way to avoid the discomfort that occurs when we slow down. Just when the conscious work is to turn inward and sit with what you find there, the culture does everything in its power to redirect you outward.
One of my clients recently asked in session, “Where does the Holy Spirit fit into all of this?” What a great question. She’s a practicing Catholic, but the Holy Spirit runs through all religions. I see it as the great breath, the ineffable Oneness, the mystery beyond the mystery that we know when we dip down into the darkness and stillness and allow ourselves to be breathed by this great breath, to settle ourselves into the embrace that arrives in the middle of the night, sometimes in the middle of the fear, but always in the middle of the silence.
“I feel held by the darkness”, another client shared last week. (Yes, my clients are poets.) During this darkest time of year, can you imagine what might happen if you allowed yourself to be held by the darkness, too? What would it be like to turn to face yourself in the middle of the night and find that there is something else there to hold you? Many people wake up at 3 or 4am, what I’ve come to know as the witching hour, and those that don’t resist the psyche’s awakening at this hour find themselves connecting to a source of comfort and guidance. The entire month of December is the witching hour: this time of progressively more darkness that invites you to turn in and in some more and in again.
We fear the darkness. Culturally and intuitively, we fear what we can’t see and know with our five senses. We fear the darkness and so we run into the manufactured sources of light: shopping, socializing, drinking. We seek the light in the wine glass; it is not there. We seek light in the distraction of parties, which mostly consist of meaningless conversation. It’s not there. The light, paradoxically, is in the center of the darkness, in the center of winter, in the center of this month. It’s what all of the holidays and celebrations – Christmas, Hannukah, Winter Solstice – are about when you pare them down to their core of meaning: finding light in the darkness. Celebrating light in the darkness. We seem to think that the holidays are about fencing off the darkness by creating increasingly more layers of artificial light, but it’s the opposite that’s true: we turn toward the darkness and there we discover the enduring sparks of light.
It’s difficult to connect to spirit when we’re moving and shopping and attending holiday parties every weekend. And yet, according to the ancients, this time of year is naturally infused with spirit and the desire to connect to light in the darkness. But we can only feel it when we stop. It lives in the silence and stillness. It probably also lives in the middle of the shopping malls, in tinsel and holiday music, but it’s a lot more difficult to feel it there. Light a candle, take a bath, settle into yourself at the end of your day, and pay attention to what you notice.
In no way do I mean to be a Scrooge about the holidays. Rather, I’m encouraging you to listen to your inner voice, to the place of stillness that longs for stillness and the place of silence that craves silence. I’m suggesting that if you don’t honor this part of you – which doesn’t mean turning inward completely but may mean saying no to some events and creating a boundary of protection that honors your inner sanctuary – you may suffer on the other side of December. What this practically means is that even if you’re attending weddings or parties or work events that you take time each day to stop completely. And I mean really stop.
I can’t emphasize how hard it is to stop in this culture, especially during these times when the pulse is to move you out and forward. But when I say stop, I mean really stop – even the nourishing stuff. It’s so easy to fill every slot with something to do, and sometimes that something may even be the good stuff, like journaling or exercise or meditation. But it’s important to remember that there is great value in doing nothing. We are not a culture that values doing nothing, so that even the nourishing activities can end up on the to do list. And we tend to associate words like “lazy” and “waste of time” to the idea of doing nothing.
None of this is easy. Just as it’s not easy to cut down on sugar and alcohol in a culture that serves these substances on every platter, so it’s not easy to turn inward when the cultural current pushes you to externalize. To say no is to swim upstream. To go to sleep early instead of staying late at the holiday party is to turn against the current. It’s never easy to stand for the still, small voice that speaks to you from the depths of your soul. But, from what I’ve seen, it’s the only way to experience true joy – the enduring joy that supersedes the frills and bells of the holiday season and will guide you, faithfully and reassuringly, through the seasons of your life.
Clients’ quotes used with grateful permission.