Witnessing the Darkness

It’s the beginning of January in New Hampshire. The days are short but at their peak they are brilliant. Today it is 3 degrees outside, and the windchill makes it feel like -12 at best. I woke up at 6:30 a.m. this morning to pick up my Grandmother for breakfast and I couldn’t even get gas at the first two stations I tried because the pumps were frozen. Yes, that’s a thing that I just learned happens. This week I also witnessed first hand, for the first time in my life, that the ocean can freeze.

Regardless, the sun will not be discouraged. If you don’t stop to wonder long enough, you might think that he is trying to prove himself. That Grandfather Sun is shouting his power at the frigid air, mouth agape, arms stretched wide, chest protruding, fists pounding, light exploding, proclaiming his strength and permanence against the bitter cold. But if you are quiet and release human notion, you can sense the calm brilliance that bathes the earth in light so effortlessly. He just is. No ego, no power struggle, no motive or expectation, no resentment or fear towards the winter for its darkness. Just the pure light that remains when all else is removed, in gratitude to the darkness, standing together in contrast and companionship.

The past year was the most challenging of my life so far. I won’t say the “worst” year of my life, because challenges and obstacles are still gifts if we allow them to be. But it was difficult, testing, infuriating, so sad at times. It was a roller coaster of rage, grief, separation, acceptance, courage, growth, fear, resentment, exhaustion, gratitude, numbness, and heaviness. It was my first year as a single mom to a toddler and a preschooler. It was my first year homeschooling my oldest child. It was my first year juggling homeschooling, coparenting schedules, multiple jobs, single parenthood, and the emotions of children and my own that come with all of that. It was my first year separated from the man I thought was my life partner. The first year after the loss of him as my lover, best friend and emotional support partner in parenting.

Throughout the whole year, I somehow managed to get through it all with this fierce and sometimes formidable strength and power that I never realized I had. I didn’t buckle. I felt like a fortress. A warrior. I wasn’t going to crumble. It wasn’t always pretty or graceful for sure. I yo-yo’d. I tried to open my heart unconditionally, with love and acceptance, to the places I felt most hurt. I got hurt more. Then I locked that shit up tight again and felt cold and angry until the cold shook me so hard that I blew the lock wide open again. Over, and over, and over again. I’ve since learned more about myself, my intuitive abilities to sense and take on energy, and tools to help me stay open while protecting my own energy.

So I went through most of the year that way. Then December came, and it hit me like a bomb. The dark season of our northern hemisphere came with my own personal dark season. Most people probably didn’t even realize anything was different. A few close to me did. Internally I was rocked. In one day, I felt a paralyzing darkness settle in. It was so stealth, crept in like a cloud in the middle of the night. Even writing about it now, I feel a hint of fear still gripping at my chest that it will come back again. It’s remnants are still tapering off. As a close friend helped me understand recently, I’m still recovering. I felt trapped in my head. I felt numb. I felt like I was looking at everyone, everything, my children, through a window I couldn’t break. And. It. Was. Terrifying. Terrifying because I didn’t think I was susceptible to it. I didn’t think I was someone who could be in that space. It shook me because it challenged my sense of self.

Somehow, gradually, towards the end of the month I started making my way out of it. I realized I had been denying that darkness for a whole year, but it wasn’t going anywhere until I let it in for a moment. I had built my fortress against it with bricks of the ego. Accomplishment, self-interest, power, ri-DI-culous positivity, judgement. I wasn’t allowing the darkness to bring me the gifts it intended. Eventually I remembered I had tools to help me navigate it. I started meditating and praying again every morning, went to yoga, cried a BUNCH, read books I had already read with a new sense of relation. I started to feel a little lighter every day, and I started to allow love to flow in more deeply than it could have before.

One of the books that most helped was Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, Ph. D. One of the chapters is titled, Awakening Compassion for Ourselves: Becoming the Holder and the Held. She starts with a poem by Rumi that has since become one of my favorites.

God created the child, that is, your wanting,

So that it might cry out, so that milk might come.

Cry out! Don’t be stolid and silent

With your pain. Lament! And let the milk

Of loving flow into you. 

The darkness is graciously, generously teaching me that pain is a gift that numbness cannot provide. That the witness of it is rewarded by its sweet relief. That love flows most deeply when sorrow is not denied. That struggle is paired closely with authentic and true compassion for yourself and others.

That the darkness of winter is always interrupted by the most brilliant display of the sun.

And I am grateful.

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