This Is the Fastest Way I Know to Shift From Darkness to Light

by | Feb 9, 2020 | Anxiety, Dying/Death, Highly Sensitive Person, Holidays/Holy Days/Seasons, Intrusive Thoughts, Parenthood transitions | 57 comments

There are times when it feels like the walls of the world are caving in, when the windows of psyche slam shut with curtains drawn so tight that no light gets in. The darkness can enfold and leave in a moment, or it can remain for a while. It’s during these times that despair can seep in through the cracks, like dark ink slinking across an old wooden floor. A broken pen, a full moon, days of snow or weeks of fire… and it can become difficult to see through clear eyes.

The soul and body will often lead you to the bed or couch, and sometimes this is exactly what is needed: to lay still, to stare into the darkness, to allow the self to unfurl under the comforter and be held by the sky. If we can do this without a screen as a bedfellow, the soul will often find its way back to a tendril of light. It might follow a comforting thought or allow a poem to land on the windowsill. We must never underestimate the medicinal power of meeting ourselves exactly where we are.

I am quite familiar with these interludes with darkness. Perhaps it’s because I’m a four on the enneagram; perhaps it’s because I’m an INFJ on Meyers-Briggs; perhaps it’s because I’m a lover of moon and night. Whatever the reason, there have been swaths of time when darkness wraps me into her robes and encloses me in a small space. There is nothing romantic about these dances with darkness, but I have come to know them well and to remember that the light is never far away.

She has been coming more frequently these days, lady darkness. She usually steals in through the back door in the evenings, when my energy is low and an eruption of some kind occurs with my kids. It’s not every night, but we have been making a more intimate acquaintance lately. Again, I speculate on the reasons: we’ve been snowbound and indoors more than normal; the portal of midlife opened for me years ago and there are days and weeks when I am more aware of this initiation; it’s February, my personal seed month when my journey onto this planet and into the underworld of anxiety began. While all of this is true, I’m also aware of the mind’s tendency to try to find a reason for the darkness, as if the reason will act as both a prophylactic and an escape hatch.

But there is no preventing darkness and there is no escape hatch for life. So while the reasons may offer a temporary anchor amidst the sea of uncertainty and is particularly acute during certain seasons, both literal and spiritual, the fact remains that one of our tasks of being human is to learn how to dance with the ebbs and flows, the tides of joy and grief and of darkness and light that are inevitable polarities and frequent visitors for all of us.

How do we dance with darkness?

The first and most essential step is to remind yourself that darkness is not only normal but necessary. We cannot know light without darkness, and it’s through our time spent in the dark forest that we learn about our internal allies and tools that serve as flashlights while we sometimes swashbuckle and sometimes surrender our way through the exposed roots and dangling vines.

Once we normalize the darkness, the fastest way I know to shift from darkness to even one spark of light is to drop into the physical body: take a walk, shovel snow, go for a swim, dance in your kitchen, take a bath.

And this bears repeating and underlining: when you’re dropping into your body, leave the screens behind!

Darkness seeped in one evening last weekend. We had had a beautiful family day enjoying the quiet of the weekend, talking with neighbors, playing in the snow. There are times when the rhythm of the four of us fills me with the deepest joy, for while it can be profoundly challenging to be a family of four highly sensitive introverts, it can also be deeply rewarding. As the day came to a close, we each went to our comfortable spots in the family room-kitchen to do what we love: Asher was reading Harry Potter. Everest was working on a project. Daev was studying. And I was cooking.

Such loveliness. Such harmony. Such love. Such blessing.

And then it shattered. Literally. A piece from Everest’s project shattered and tiny shards of glass flew all over the kitchen, including on the kugel that I had just taken out of the oven. And that’s all it took. In that one moment – the moment when I knew I didn’t have it in me to make another dinner – the lights went out in my soul and all went dark. Everest apologized. I put my head down on the kitchen counter, took a few breaths, threw something quickly together for dinner, and left the room.

What to do next? Wallow in my disappointment and the wave of exhaustion that swept through my body? I’ve been known to do that, and it never unfolds into anything fruitful. I decided to take a hot bath, and within moments of soaking in the salts and breathing in the lavender, a window opened. When I looked up into the light and beauty of the candleholder (pictured above) and remembered how Everest had made it for me a few years ago for my birthday, a few more windows opened. I drifted then along the canals of memory. I saw him at nine and twelve and fourteen, head buried into his endless projects. I saw Asher, lover of books, buried into his latest world. I saw my husband, our rock and lantern, lighting the way.

Heart open now, a memory of my grandparents arose: the year after college, still reeling from the first panic attack, when I decided to live in the little studio apartment beneath their house so that I could learn how to cook from my grandfather and garden from my grandmother. I did learn these things, but the real reason I stayed there was to soak up more time with them before I figured out what was next during those confusing post-graduate years. Nostalgia rose up alongside the grief of missing them, and in its wake left more softening of the heart: the heart lapped by the waves of grief, nostalgia and memory. It wasn’t necessary a happy heart, but it was a grateful heart: grateful for the opportunity, as Brother David Steindl-Rast teaches. Grateful for the lessons. Grateful for life, with all of its grief and passage of time and loneliness and loss and beauty and joy and love.

If you’re in a time of darkness, I am here with you. Whatever you’re feeling – whether it’s the challenge of growing through the decade of 20s, the initiation of getting married or becoming a parent, struggling with intrusive thoughts around relationship or health, grieving the lost possibility of having children, the wild hormonal ride of midlife, or any other loss or challenge  – I want you to know that you’re okay, you’re not alone, and if you lift up the wet leaf you will see an imprint of light. We really are in this together, and while there is no magic formula that will permanently lift you above the dark times, there are small actions we can take that allow us to sink into the darkness without being swallowed, to bathe in it then wrap ourselves in its velvet wing where we notice a gem or two hidden in the underside. Pick up this gem. Know that you are being rocked and held. The light is not as far away as you think.

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57 Comments

  1. Oh, yes – I, too, have been feeling the darkness. For me it always emerges this time of year as my spirit longs for spring and light, but there is the added layer of getting married in 4 months. I’m also a 4 and an INFJ, so that may just come with the territory:). Thank you for the inspiring post.

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    • Yes, I do believe its part of the territory. And when we can walk through the darkness instead of resist we can truly harvest the gems. That’s one of the gifts of being a type 4 :).

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  2. Hi Sheryl,

    What about when the darkness takes over?

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    • Say more, please. I’m not quite sure what you’re asking. x

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      • What if the darkness takes over you and you don’t know how to pull through it?

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        • You seek support, hopefully from someone who understands the HSP profile and can hold the lifeline while you find your way. And you turn toward your very loving and wise inner parent, which I know you have in spades.

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  3. “We must never underestimate the medicinal power of meeting ourselves exactly where we are.”

    I love this. Thank you for your candid and intimate writing.

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  4. Sheryl, as always, your words seem to come with perfect timing. I am beyond grateful to have you as part of my journey through life. I need to honor your words and voice more. Thank you for sharing.

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  5. Thanks for your vulnerability Sheryl. I am having one of those days today but it has lifted a bit reading this. I hope the coming spring brings more bright days for you soon. 🙂

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    • Spring seems to come every morning ;). And most evenings the light does find its way through, especially when I surrender fully to the dark. I’m glad reading this helped your darkness lift a bit.

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  6. Gosh this was wonderful: felt like I was journeying with you… very present for me at the moment. I actually love this dark time of the year, it kind of allows me to be ‘blue’, moody, less upbeat… more truly my own nature in fact. I love the poetry and pictures you paint…

    Thank you x

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    • Thank you, Tracy. I love this time of year as well but I do have to move through some resistance in order to sink into the blue.

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  7. I’m also a 4 and an INFJ. And I too dip into darkness and pull myself out physically. Thank you for sharing! So nice to know we’re not alone or abnormal in our experiences.

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  8. I’m also a 4 and can fully understand the ebb and flow of light and darkness. (I wonder how many of your readers are Fours?) Thank you for this beautiful post. I am so grateful for this community of kind, loving, like-minded souls.

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    • I should put out a survey to see how many are fours! I bet it’s a high percentage ;). xo

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  9. Hi Sheryl, just wanted to point out I am a 4 on the enneagram, an INFJ, and born in the month of February. I too am a HSP. I began thinking about death when I was 5 years old when my parents hiked the Grand Canyon without me. I have always been so aware of the shortness of life and of the heart of sadness each of us are born with. I am thankful to find a community who can finally embrace me and help guide me through this life and all its seasons.

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    • You’re in good company and I’m so glad you’re here ;). Actually, I was conceived in February and born in November, so I consider February the beginning of my journey to this planet. x

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  10. Thank you so much for sharing Sheryl- after two weeks of creeping (sometimes terrifying) darkness, this was very well timed.

    It is so true that we search for reasons for the darkness- my greatest pitfall is pinning it on my loving partner, on past hurts long forgiven, and sometimes on myself: “you are just too broken,” I hear my ego say. “I can’t do it- this job, this relationship, this city.” All ways of abdicating responsibility, searching for the miracle cure.

    It is hard not to search for reasons; it is hard not to demonise the darkness… and it is hard not to lash out at the world when it arrives, and when it decides to stay a while.
    It takes great courage and presence of mind. It takes really accepting oneself as one is- not by reference to cultural standards of “normal” (“what “should” my emotions be?”) but by reference to ones own inner compass. I can’t say I’m there yet, but I am finding moments of trusting, accepting and meeting myself where I am – rather than blaming or lashing out (including at myself).

    I must say, after a lifetime of intellectualising everything, it can feel scary and counterintuitive to leave analysing and problem solving at the door. Scary, and then, when I have moments of grace in which I can allow intuition to guide me, extraordinarily freeing.

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    • This was so beautiful to read, Kate. Thank you for sharing your process and your soul here.

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      • Thank you for your comment, Sheryl :).

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    • This was so emotional to read. I quoted your words where you mention “demonizing the darkness” into my journal entry for tonight because I struggle with my anxiety at nighttime only and those words really spoke to me and gave me some clarity for my personal situation so I thank you for sharing your thoughts here with us! Take care.

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  11. I’m a 9 but does seem like a good number of 4’s here!

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  12. I’m a 5! This time of year is tough for me, and so is spring!

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  13. So beautiful Sheryl. Love this.

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  14. Thank you for helping me to feel less alone. ♥️

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    • It’s one of my greatest intentions for this blog. x

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  15. It was suggested to me by my acupuncturist that I may be going through a Dark Night of the Soul, which is terrifying me. In the last three years, my family and I have gone through the North Bay fires in 2017, a big earthquake in Alaska in 2018, and dealing with the reality of a mentally ill family member. Honestly, it feels like I slipped into deep darkness starting in December 2018 (the month following the earthquake), and settling itself in March 2019. It’s possible it was already starting post-fire. I don’t know all of these scales, but I am a Cancer, and am quite prone to both worrying and internalizing. This is something I’ve never gone through, and I’m scared, and even more scared to talk about it.

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    • It’s so very important that you talk about it, Riley. I suggest finding a skilled and compassionate therapist so that you can process these traumas. What we resist, persists, so by not talking about it you’re actually entrenching it further.

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  16. I so needed to read this today. I received yet another punch of rejection from my narcissist mum on Saturday, and have very much spent the weekend slopping about in a very dark swamp of shame and fear, trying to grab any vines that might pull me out. Then I read something else you wrote about allowing the waves of emotion, and immediately the horrid dark panic quality to the darkness left, and atleast I could then breathe. Today I am going to take heed of your words, and go to my body instead of my head. Thank you so much xxx

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    • Yes, yes, yes, annemarie: feel the feelings and come into your body. This is the vine that will pull you through.

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  17. I’m a 2 and an ISFJ and this past weekend I’ve also felt the darkness seeping in like I haven’t in a while. I like your point about meeting ourselves where we are instead of searching for a reason (as I find myself doing when the darkness seeps in). This has served as a reminder that I need to practice just being instead of thinking. Thanks for your beautiful wisdom as always Sheryl xxx

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  18. Your words touch my heart and soothe my soul. Thank you for sharing.

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    • That touches me to hear, Mary. Thank you.

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  19. Sheryl, you seem to understand enneagram 6 so well, I was surprised to hear you are a 4!

    I’ve been thinking about and experiencing the power of physical action for helping bring about a shift if I’m feeling in the dark night of the soul or stuck in extreme anxious over-thinking. The cycle seems to be that I ruminate on anxious things and catastrophise, feel in my emotions a horrid unsettledness/numbness, and physically feel tight in my tummy and then back the thoughts that feel foggy, lost, which makes me feel anxious and unsettled and the tight tummy feeling and so on….
    I realised I didn’t want just to break the cycle, but to feed a healthy cycle. But where to start with all this?! I’ve found DOING something physical like a good workout, stretch, brisk walk or even clean the bathroom so helpful, and does seem to settle my thoughts and anxiety levels. But I’ve realised you don’t have to spend ages working out where to break into the cycle (start with emotions or something physical or thoughts..???) just start somewhere and physical activity is a really good one.

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    • Yes, Florence: Just start somewhere! I’m so glad you’re trusting yourself and finding your way.

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  20. I needed this message right now. Especially since I had almost the exact experience and wasn’t able to get myself out of that feeling.

    Yesterday, my boyfriend and I were making food together and I broke the glass pepper shaker, right into the broccoli I had spent time preparing. And a similar thing happened, I felt moody and retreated to the couch to sulk. I knew it wasn’t a big deal at all, and I knew we could survive on just pasta for the night, but I hated that it made me so upset. I started thinking, “Why am I so neurotic? Why do I constantly make a big thing about nothing?” Then I went into a well of self-hate and felt bad for myself and my boyfriend for having to deal with me. I kept thinking that neurotic people have worse relationships, and my boyfriend deserves someone more constant, more easy-going, someone who doesn’t change their minds every 5 seconds. Why should he have to deal with me when I don’t even want to deal with myself?

    I’m not sure how to solve it yet, but I know that telling myself how I “should” feel is not helping anything. And I think the better first step may very well be choosing loving thoughts and actions toward yourself in the difficult times.

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    • Perhaps it helps to know that I had the exact same reaction…? 😉 There’s nothing wrong with having reactions. There’s nothing wrong with feeling life deeply; it’s a sign that we care deeply. Your boyfriend is lucky to be with someone who cares and feels. It’s not neurotic; it’s human.

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  21. This post came at a perfect time Sheryl. The current darkness I’m working with is the lingering effect of a multiyear infertility and pregnancy loss struggle me and my partner have been on. After two pregnancy losses, my partner is about halfway through a current healthy pregnancy, and while I’m thrilled, it is hard not to feel the darkness of anxiety and doubt–the “What if this pregnancy doesn’t work out either?” or “What if the baby isn’t healthy?” Recognizing that these are just intrusive thoughts protecting me from facing the reality of the love I already have for this new life, and the accompanying threat of possibly having it taken away again, have really helped me face this pregnancy with more grace. Your website and writings are an incredible guide that always remind me that I have all the tools I need to work with the darkness. Thank you for that!

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    • What a beautiful and wise comment, Eddie. Thank you.

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  22. No wonder I always feel like you and I speak the exact same language! I’m also a Four on the Enneagram and an INFJ. 😀

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  23. Wow. I relate to this post so much. Last year darkness and I spent almost 12months in our dance, it can be so exhausting to climb out of. It honestly took me almost losing everything to realize I needed to wake up and start being grateful.
    Gratitude is one of the brightest lights♥️

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    • It truly is, Kendra. I’m so glad you found your way through.

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    • There’s a saying that I can’t remember verbatim but it’s along the lines of “there are years that ask questions and there are years that answer them.” I hope this is a year of answers for you (and me, too!)

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  24. What timing! My husband and I just put a deposit down on a house in another state – 1200 miles away from where we’ve called home the past 6 years. I thought I was ready but nothing could have prepared me for the roller coaster of emotions I felt the next day. I have done enough work to know I needed to let the emotions come and sit with them for as long as they wanted to stay (and that even though it felt so big and like I would never be on the other side, I knew this was the only way through). While I have had episodes of crying since then, the overwhelm has largely passed through. I’m sure I will still have waves, especially when packing next month but I know I was there for my inner child in a much better way than I could’ve been a few years ago.
    I am leaving my job (stability; and a private practice I’ve built over the past few years), a paradise (south FL), and a community that I’ve come to be a part of. I’m walking away from very new opportunities (teaching at the yoga studio I did my training at) to return to the state where my & my husband’s family lives…and it all feels bittersweet. I turn 30 later this year and that is presenting its own emotional roller coaster but I keep reminding myself that better things are ahead. Thank you for your words.

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    • Sending you love as you navigate this HUGE transition! It sounds like you’re allowing so much space for the grief to move through you, which is the key.

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  25. oh wow! i am so very glad i landed on your IG account then your website then this post! what a perfect description of how that experience happens, “why-ish”, and i am in total agreement the best way to actually move it out while also respecting it bc lets face it- there is exploring and sitting with our feelings/thoughts but once that DARK is hyperdark it is too far gone to sit in (at least for me) and eventually i have to move my body- raise the neurotransmitters and get into the physical touch of I AM HERE. Thank you- Im going to peek at some other items on the site now ?

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    • Welcome to my site and have fun peeking! YES to raising the neurotransmitters.That’s exactly what we’re doing when we drop down into our physical bodies, which are so very wise.

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  26. Does anyone know where I can find the official enneagram test, because the results I’ve gotten were inconclusive?

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  27. I cried reading this. Because I have felt so alone and it just made me feel not so alone. But these dark periods are so so hard to talk about. I’m so scared of talking to someone who doesn’t understand or isn’t compassionate. But your blog posts help Sheryl, it’s my go to, and I am so flipping grateful. Thank you for your words and insights. Thank you thank you

    Reply
    • You are so welcome, Laura. I’m happy that my blog is a source of comfort for you. If you haven’t read my book The Wisdom of Anxiety it might be helpful as well. x

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  28. I connected so much with this post, especially, “Once we normalize the darkness, the fastest way I know to shift from darkness to even one spark of light is to drop into the physical body: take a walk, shovel snow, go for a swim, dance in your kitchen, take a bath.” My husband died young, suddenly, and unexpectedly in front of me at home in August. It was excruciating. After the initial shock wore off, I felt this intense yearning to drop into my body and MOVE. I spent the whole fall crying, sometimes even wailing or yelling, my way through walks, bike rides, yoga practices, swimming, and weight lifting. I followed my body’s lead about when and how to move, and how intensely. My body knew that at the moment of loss, my thoughts, emotions, and body disconnected from one another, and that the only way back through trauma to a sense of being at home in myself was to reintegrate the fractured pieces. I am still suffering and struggling day by day, but things are much better now. And I know that if I had ignored my body’s wisdom, the darkness would have taken much longer to hold hands again with the light.

    Reply
    • This is extraordinary to read. First off, I’m so deeply sorry for your loss. But I’m amazed at your innate wisdom and ability to trust your body to lead you along the pathways of healing from such a traumatic loss. Our bodies really are so wise, but we’ve been taught not to trust them. Your self-trust is clearly in tact. Sending love as you continue to heal.

      Reply

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