In the Northern hemisphere December 21 marks a day we celebrate the return of the light. And although I agree— emphatically— on it being an occasion to ring in with cheers, I’d like to bring our attention to the darkness, and honor it for a change.
Our world is so transfixed on the good stuff— the light, the joyful, the glory. We celebrate the wins and ignore the losses. We tell the success stories and hide the tales of tribulation. Tragedy is seen as a curse while good fortune is the blessing.
My father used to say, “When you laugh, the whole world laughs with you; when you cry, you cry alone.”
This would seem to be the way it is, and since I had been hearing that phrase since I was a small girl, that’s what I came to experience. But even if you’ve never heard that saying before, the world around you has been whispering it to you in a vast array of ways.
Most of us have learned that to feel blue is a reason to be condemned, whether by others or by ourselves, and to be happy is cause for praise.
This is a false premise. For one, the term happy is given so much weight that we don’t even know what it means anymore. When I was young I thought something was wrong with me because I wasn’t happy all the time. I confused self-love and peaceful acceptance with happiness and thought I needed to be wearing a permanent ecstatic grin that penetrated into the depths of my being in order to be mentally healthy.
But happiness that never wanes is an imbalance. It’s not sustainable. And it doesn’t serve you.
Striving to be happy all the time denies the part of yourself that needs a hug, or that prefers to be alone, or that needs to cry; it holds you apart from the poetry of the night, from the potent depths of pain, and from the glorious view one reaches when touched by suffering.
There is beauty, too, in darkness.
Photograph by Brea Fisher
The Mbuti are a Pygmy tribe of the Ituri forest in what used to be the Belgian Congo. In his gift of a book, The Forest People, anthropologist Colin Turnbull describes the trust and devotion the Mbuti holds in the great forest. For all the years since I first read this book, the lyrics of one of their songs has stuck with me:
Where is the darkness?
Darkness is all around us.
If darkness is,
then darkness is good.
Turnbull explains, “this is one of the songs that are sung in times of crisis, and it puts the Pygmy in communion with his god. It is difficult to say what the Pygmy concept of religion is, but it can be said with certainty that whatever hazy ideas he might have about a supreme being, so inaccessible as to be virtually ignored, he has a definite feeling of some benevolent power who either resides in, or actually is the forest --the source of all good, and, ultimately, of all bad.”
The Mbuti people understand that what is given to us from Life is a blessing, whether it comes by way of something pleasing or some form of disaster.
Photograph by Brea Fisher
The light and the dark are equal in their gifts and by honoring each for their unique offerings, we open ourselves to receive what they have to give us.
Without grief, joy would lose its sweetness. Without a fall, the expansion of standing at the peak would have no power. We needs tears to show us just how good it feels to laugh.
The holiday season is a time of year when we are expected to feel jolly, to be big-hearted, and to put on a happy face. But often times many of us put on this face to mask a darkness within.
Some may be in the midst of heartache. Some may remember difficult past experiences that came to us during this time of year. And if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere you may be experiencing the very real affect of the lack of sun on your psyche.
You may be feeling joyful this year, or you may not. Regardless, taking time to honor the darkness is a powerful practice, and what better time to do so than while the darkness is at its peak.
I’ve made a Mini Qigong Lesson Film for you with a perfect form for this. It’s called Yin Crane Takes Flight, or Yin Crane Breaks Free.
While you practice, imagine yourself a crane standing in a frozen lake at dawn. In order to break free from the ice, you must first sink deeper into the dark depths of the lake. From this sinking downward you gain the power to propel yourself into the sky, lifting your wings to the fresh air and taking flight into the first rays of the sun.
The way you feel in any given moment is always a good way to feel, because it’s real.
Your authentic emotions are a blessing, and when you allow yourself to feel them you make yourself right instead of wrong. This eases the tension within yourself and gives you the space to learn what those emotions may be telling you.
Give yourself just as much permission to feel sad when it comes up as you give yourself to feel
When you do, you honor the darkness and the light as equal blessings.
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