Owning Darkness: Accepting the Shadow
In this impending wintertime of late sunrises and early sunsets, I find myself exploring darkness, not just the extended night-times but the darkness within me. Sometimes I find myself experiencing frequent dark nights of the soul. You know the scenario. You wake from a nightmare to see the digital clock blinking 3:12 in bright red. The room is dark, void of moonlight, and youíre alone – or your partner snores quietly, blissfully unconscious. The broken record starts spinning in your head. ďWhat the hell am I doing? Who do I think I am to think I can take this kind of risk? Iím not smart enough/ loving enough/ healthy enough/ talented enough/ devoted enough/ pious enough/ good enoughÖ” Head spinning, you find yourself doubting the very fiber of your being, as the ticker tape of negative self-talk repeats itself endlessly.
Where for art though, God?
If youíre like me, you turn to God, and you start to pray. You pray for guidance, for peace, for signs, for faith, but you feel alone. The signs seem to have left you. The angels are silenced. Why has God forsaken you? And you start to cry, with the ticker tape spinning ever faster.
You try meditating. You try praying harder. You count sheep, anything to pass the time until the sun rises and the night ends. But hours later, you look at the clock, and itís 3:15. Time marches.
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By 4:21, youíre crazy with exhaustion but you lie, eyes open, staring at the ceiling. Your to-do list piles up mentally and your heart starts pounding under the pressure of it all. You add to the list the dreams lost, the failures, the mistakes youíve made, the regrets you try to dismiss as part of your life experience, part of what makes you who you are.
Itís 4:37, and youíre about to give up hope and turn on the light, just to end the dark night of the soul, but you convince yourself you deserve it. All those nights of peaceful sleep were merely band-aids, whereas, this exploration of the dark might heal you. If you can only go there, can venture into the darkness unafraid- maybe you will embrace the darkness, befriend the shadow, sit silently with the demons.
Enter the Demons
But just when you get comfortable with it, a gremlin jumps out and catches you unaware. You jump from your near-sleep with a start – and the whole thing starts over again. Until finally, at dawn, you fall asleep – and your 4-year-old wakes you up. You think, ďThank God (youíve forgiven the divine for forsaking you, now that the sun is turning the dawn sky pink.).Ē You open your eyes, relieved but haunted by the night before, dreading the night ahead, knowing you may once more be forced to look where no one dare tread.
Have you felt that way? Okay, so maybe itís just me. It doesnít happen often for me – and the dark nights tend to come in spurts, like waves crashing on the shore, with periods of stillness and then four or five in a row. The last series of waves crashed around last Christmas, so maybe itís a pattern for me. I will not judge it. I will OWN darkness. I will be with what is, and let it be.
Nobody Is Always Cheerful
I know this post is a departure from my usual ones. You may think I am unnaturally cheerful, and honestly – thatís just how I am most of the time. I’m usually excessively hopeful, genuinely optimistic, even childishly Pollyanna about life. I’ve always been that way. I donít put on some silly performance for you. Why would I? I’m all about being authentic, about telling whatís true, about being present for each other with what is. So yes, normally, Iím ridiculously positive. I see the light in most dark tunnels. I walk through life filled with gratitude. I feel blessed almost every moment of my life. There are moments when I feel so filled with joy that I am rendered speechless.
But there are also dark nights of the soul. There is darkness. I have shadows. And Iím okay with that.
Yes, I will be happy when the dark nights stop. Itís hard to be with what isnít pretty. But how would we appreciate the light if we werenít intimately aware of the darkness?
And so I own it – and I invite you to do the same.
Be With Darkness
Be with what is. Feel your feelings. Acknowledge your doubts, your insecurities, your crises of faith. Release judgments around it. Sink into the darkness. Release the anxiety that accompanies it. Just be with it. And remember that nothing is permanent – not the light, and just as certainly, not the darkness.
When the sun rises again, the darkness will dissipate. The pink sky will bring you new hope. But unless you stop resisting the darkness, it will only come again, like clockwork. If youíre willing to stop fighting it and embrace the shadow, it will grow tired and go away.
Have you had dark nights of the soul? How do you handle them? What helps? Have you tried our Mojo Monday Shadow Exercise? Can you be with the darkness? Can you move beyond it when itís time? Please share your experience.
Remember, it is only in darkness that you can see the stars.
Related: 7 Things to Do in the Dark