Celebrating in the Dark

I’m about to commit a sacrilege.

Read on out of sheer, audacious curiosity, or safely avert your eyes. It’s all the same to me. Friends in Alaska, Puget Sound, the Midwest, and the East Coast brace yourselves.

Here goes:

The winter sun in Colorado stares everyone in the eyes. It’s a cheer monger. A brilliant bully. Relentless. Annoying. Its best moments happen just below the horizon, when it fires up the sky and paints with crimson the bellies of overflying geese. Otherwise, it’s an arrogant stalker. It should be arrested for indecent exposure. Hey! Try wearing a cloud or two, Mister! Would ya?

There. I’ve said it.

Really? You think I’m nuts?

I suppose I am. I need some rest. Too much sunshine makes me edgy. Just like too much dreary weather used to make me sad. Very sad.

During my sophomore year at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, the sun went missing for 16 days. Headlines told us the suicide rate shot up. I believed them.

Ten years later and still farther North, in Grand Marais, I woke one August morning from a nightmare. The green and flowering meadow where I lived was suddenly, irreversibly covered in snow. All color and contour eradicated. I wrote: It was the face of someone loved, first waxen and dead, then, fallen off to white bone.

You bet. This nightmare signaled big trouble. I was already depressed. Soon, I spent whole days unable to leave the house and had earnest thoughts of suicide. Fortunately, I found a therapist who saw me through until April.

It’s not unusual in northern climes to dread the onset of winter. There are real hardships. But our antidote was to pitch ourselves into Christmas. To prove myself among the Swedes and Norwegians, I pushed hard. I made all my Christmas gifts, and got them done on time. I baked for an army. I threw parties. After Christmas (still 4 months of winter to go), I read and wrote fiendishly. None of it helped. Each year, the onset of dread came sooner, until I felt the weight of winter nearly all year long.

In the summer following my months in therapy, my therapist handed me a copy of Psychology Today. The article he wanted me to read was about Seasonal Affective Disorder. There were my symptoms described in orderly fashion. There was an explanation of the pineal gland’s response to lower sunlight countered by our cultural training to thrust on, be outgoing, spread cheer. There were also shocking modes of dealing with S.A.D.. Back off. Avoid sweets. Exercise outside. Do less. Light candles. Take hot baths.

I decided to live.

I wrote my parents announcing my intention to not “do” Christmas. I baked just enough to warm the house with good smells. I bought strings of little white lights. I didn’t entertain. I sweated once a week in a dimly lighted, wood-fired sauna. I walked or skied or snow-shoed nearly every day. (Even 15 minutes would do). And I rested. And it worked.

Over the next couple of years, I learned to thrive in winter. Winter became my favorite season, and the winter solstice my highest holy day. I also taught myself to create ceremony. That first time, I was alone. It was the longest night. I turned out every light. The fire hummed in the stove as the darkness settled all around. As I called out to all that I knew as Holy, I felt the darkness open up to me, hold me. The darkness in me also opened up. It was as big as the night sky.

When, at last, I lit a candle, I knew the primal relief that the longest night was over. I also knew a light within me. It illumined the darkness, like starlight, without obliterating. It would carry me into my days and into the world.

Our kind evolved with a planet that has a night as well as a day. No matter how well we’re adapting to our advanced technologies, our DNA is still prehistoric. I believe we turn our backs on this truth and on darkness at great peril.

In a culture of flashy screens, glaring security lighting, and 24/7 demands, we’ve turned darkness over to the demonic, the violent, the terrifying. We feed an addiction to adrenaline. Next thing you know we’re preying on our own sanity, our own kin, our own selves. How many examples do you need? Look anywhere on the streets, in the headlines.

We’re frayed, sleepless, agitated, enraged, frightened, caustic, ineffective. We could use a deep soak, weeks of rest, a dormancy to ensure the production of fruit.

So, I will celebrate the season as I have for 30 years: In the dark, in gratitude for the dark, honoring the dark and my need for it. And in the dark, in ceremony, a place will open within me to welcome the light.

Maybe, just maybe, it will snow.

Come on, could ya? Cover up for a couple of days and give me a break? Just this once?

That would be nice. (Scroll on past the photo for an update)

The center of the Milky Way by W. Keel, University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Taken in Cerro Tablo, Chile. http://www.public.asu.edu/~rjansen/localgroup/localgroup.html

The center of the Milky Way by W. Keel, University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Taken in Cerro Tablo, Chile. http://www.public.asu.edu/~rjansen/localgroup/localgroup.html

Well, you might have guessed it. Next morning, old mister sun had pulled on a nice dark pair of clouds and sprinkled a little snow around. Tee-hee!

If you’re interested in how some other garden-blogging friends celebrate the winter season, please look in on Garden’s Eye View. Donna’s blog is rich in both heart and content.

 

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25 thoughts on “Celebrating in the Dark

  1. Beautiful, beautiful piece, Cheryl–what gorgeous writing! And so much of what you say resonates! Thanks very much for sharing this!

  2. Wow…so glad Gardenhood is back as we live with the extreme contrasts darkness and bullying sun. So gradteful for your thoughts and experiences of this time of year. I too have learned to make friends with the severe contrasts of the dark and light which I now welcome with gratitude.

  3. A world away and the opposite season, a tug at the heart, thank goodness for memory, and for your oh so gentle in touchness and celebration of now.

  4. Great post! It’s been suggested to me that I am also affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder. That’s one reason why we take a family trip to somewhere warmer and sunnier over the Holidays instead of doing the whole Christmas thing. No stressing over Christmas shopping, gift wrapping, etc. Btw, my younger son also went to Macalester College, as did his girlfriend, who is a bagpiper.

  5. Many thanks for this lovely reminder to take some time in the Deep Dark Yin. I so need this, yet I am in the throes of getting my second book (Fierce Blessings) published, and my website revised. So much to do! And then there are the holidays (and my birthday) to celebrate. Such a challenge to go deep now, but so necessary. As the Dalai Lama says, “I have so much to do, I better meditate twice as long.” Me too!

    • Rahima, I wonder what the world and our lives would look like if, the busier we got, the more time we took for meditation, rest, and reflection. Happy celebrations! Good luck with all your industry! And keep breathing, dear one.

  6. Oh Cheryl this is magnificent….I have heard the same issue in AZ with all the sun….I can imagine anything for a long time can become burdensome like our relentless gray and snow….we have been in that gray for a while now but we are getting a few breaks of sun.

    I am fascinated with Seasonal Affective Disorder as I should become more aware of it being retired and home now in the winter….I like your ideas and especially celebrating the solstice in such a special way. I hope to as well by lighting a candle.

    Thank you again for linking in and supporting Seasonal Celebrations….big hugs!

    • Donna, thank you for such a rich response. When a native of Colorado told me how much the winter sun bothered her, I had a hunch I wasn’t entirely crazy.

      Gentle, rhythmic changes seem so much easier on the system than an overdose of any sort of weather.

      I like the thought I’ve passed along something useful to you.

      I look forward to your next post!

  7. Pingback: Seasonal Celebrations Revealed-December 2014 | Gardens Eye View

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