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.

Related: 3 Sleep Tricks to Try in Bed

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

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Janine Hofmann
Janine H.4 years ago

Thanks for the article, i wish more people would recognize how much influence depression have on health, work, etc. That it is an illness and not beeing sad for a while. There are still too many people, also in families, who do not want to see the problem, who shake heads, call a depressed person lazy etc., that he/she should pull him/herself up (is it the word? Sorry, but i am not from an English speaking country). They do not want to read about it, do not know something about it - as if this ignorance could erase that problem... this reminds me about that monkey figures, on with hand over the eyes, one with hand over the ears, one with hand over mouth (i do not know if there are more). I have depressions, too. Since childhood i have been silent, shy and thoughtful, then, i don't know when it became more. I also have borderline (wounds and wishes to not wake up anymore since childhood), trauma experiences, and burnout. And i still have not found out how to live with all these, it has always been a "surviving"...

Renee F.
Renee F.4 years ago

cover up the light of the clock... helps me go back to sleep faster :}

Catherine C.
Catherine C.4 years ago

Thank you, love that you are so candid and real...

Yes, wow- have had the same time in the wee hours. The did I do this, why am I procrastinating, it seems all the little devils we thought we could forget about leap out in the night. I find when I walk my talk, accomplish what I need to to keep my life in balance and I am generally happy, I do not have these dreams and wake up reminders and the darkness looming. Only when I am over worked and also left things to the last minute, the stress is there, or I am worried( usually because of the things I type about ).. Love to get up out of bed, move about. breath and tell myself to get it all together and it will be great. And it usually is. Also a popsicle or 2 helps..


Donna Holland
Donna Holland4 years ago

I have given myself mental test in the past when restless and full of doubt and fell asleep during so...go figure...I think it was the "order" of and trust in the answers that allowed me to rest. :)

Donna Holland
Donna Holland4 years ago

Every bright light cast a shadow. :)

Danuta W.
Danuta Watola4 years ago


Moonsilver G.
Amber R.4 years ago

"Without darkness there can be no light, for there is nothing to illuminate." ~ Jimi J. Jemel

Rachel R.
Rachel R.4 years ago

I change beds, or go sleep on the couch. Somehow the physical change helps me break the loop and get back to sleep.

Barb F.
Barb F.4 years ago

I too would separate physical darkness, devoid of light in daytime hours from what spiritual darkness is. We retain conscious, subconscious and R.E.M. sleep states of which we are inbetween. In the subconscious state, or when attempting to achieve it to sleep, the walls of our conscious self are lowered, in this time our inner voices of sometimes turmoil, conflict, chaos, confusion, dilemma, more emotionally aware, there is enlightenment and answers if we listen to all voices, remain aware of all levels of our beings. The quiet still of physical darkness allows for many positive aspects that result, dreams and nightmares are often msg's we should pay attn to and address in finding more of a sense of inner peace. I enjoyed the article, though I'd not interject specific religion into it, I am a person whose mind races when one wishes it would slow down to sleep peacefully at nights. I've never slept or rested at night, don't deny the sleep deprivation is annoying, I actually sleep better in the daytime, the nights are for introspection and achievement of a deeper understanding of all layers of myself, to embrace the night, listen, learn, grow and heal. TY Gale Johansen, I love your comment.

liz j.
liz j.4 years ago