Befriending the Dark

With Solstice behind us, the light is circling back, yet we are still enfolded by the dark moons. I’ve always loved the cold months and the dim light. I’m a woman who likes cocooning and snuggling and pondering, and winter is a perfect season for such things.

Gardening chores and bee chores are done for the year, and the naked trees stand expectantly, waiting for spring to dress them in new finery. Rain drops chat softly with window panes, and every now and then a sharp, insistent wind screams dark and fierce up the Gorge…

Magazines offer lots of articles on how to get through this season warm, upbeat, and safe: Stay safe on the Ice! Try some super-food soups to defray the flu! Buy new water-proof boots! Beat the blues with these herbs! Take a winter get-away trip to Mexico!

My one “treatment” for these months is a lightbox that I sit in front of for about an hour each morning to keep my chronic depression controlled during these months of less light.

Oh, and I keep my clothing snuggly. After many years of going through the winter in bulky jackets and flannel-lined jeans, I’ve converted to thick, bright patterned fleece jammie bottoms and soft wool ponchos. It is me. I feel like all the time is nappy time and snuggle time!

Most of us have developed strategies for managing winter cold and darkness, but I want to talk about another kind of darkness we are far less equipped to deal with.

Like many people, I am plagued with a ferociously busy mind that spews forth a ceaseless stream of thoughts. I have thoughts about past and futures, reveries, plans, and inner commentary on everything. Through my meditation practice, I’ve come to see that I have an opinion about everything my senses touch.

Try this sometime: Notice what you are seeing and hearing, for starters. Is there a single thing that you see or hear that you don’t have some judgement about? Dark clouds—like! Cold outside—don’t like! Dog barking—agh! Don’t like! Grass—meh. Ducks—like! Duck shit—don’t like… If you do this for about 5 minutes straight, you will most likely decide—as I did—that you are nuts.

But this is by no means the worst of it. There are these thoughts, the dark thoughts, that spring up all by themselves with no encouragement: ISIS—nuke ‘em. Dick Cheney—when is that turd going to die? Starving refugees—Crap, can’t they just go home??

Now, maybe you are not beset with such utter meanness. I am, and I have for many years felt so very guilty about all the folks I’ve wished just gone off the face of the Earth, good riddance. Yes, I know love heals all things, but sometimes it takes love too damn long, and I want a speedy solution right now, which usually entails incarceration, juries, or fantasies of baddies being simply lifted off planet somewhere they can do no more harm.

Where animals and nature abuse and cruelty is concerned, sometimes that fantasy is me with a shotgun in my hands, blowing people away. There. I’ve said it. Now you know.

It is this kind of winter darkness I want to explore today. Now, the simple antidote to thoughts like this smacking you right out of the blue is to: 1) ignore them and change thoughts quickly to something upbeat, fuzzy, and happy, 2) sign petitions to get rid of Monsanto and Bayer, 3) berate yourself—hard— for being just one step below Hitler on the evil scale, 4) drink, drug, or eat to excess, or 4) cry and keep the “truth” about your black soul a deep, dark secret.

I’m trying a different tactic these days. Spiritual study teaches me I am not my thoughts. I am not even the one who notices that I have these thoughts. Buddhism teaches me that we are basically good—something I have doubted about humanity for a long time. But am now convinced I was wrong. We ARE basically good, just ill-taught and easily led astray.

I believe that to trust in the goodness of the Divine Unity, we need to find our way to faith in a benevolent, loving force behind all things. Some call that God, but that word is too loaded with old-nasty-fat-man images for me to find peace there. Even Goddess feels too rigid. So, I am developing faith in a nameless goodness that I must trust I am a small piece of.

This past week has given me a lot of moments to work with my inner winter darkness. This morning, John is in the midst of his fourth surgery in only seven days. My husband is by nature aggressive and he get’s cranky when he gets tired, impatient, fearful, or confused. He has been all of that and more since three days before Christmas when he started complaining about intense stomach pain.

The work of getting him to and from the hospital, and keeping my household running and the pets fed is pretty much on my shoulders, and I won’t tell you the thoughts I’ve had about him and my situation, because you would hate me forever.

At each instance of mean-minded thinking, I’ve caught myself, praise be, and stopped to take a deep breath. “Thank you for sharing,” I say to my pissy brain. “I’m not my thoughts…” I turn my heart and mind to the nameless Wonder and say “Thank you for loving me and forgiving me.” And in that moment, I have a small bit of healing—of light—instead of a moment of feeling like I’m the nastiest, most irredeemable bitch in the world.

And too, I’ve switched all my prayers of petition into prayers of thanksgiving. Just the rewording from “May I be healthy and happy,” to “Thank you for health and happiness” makes a deep difference to the soul, to my soul. The benefits of thanksgiving are not touted enough, to my thinking. We should all be shouting this simple truth from the rooftops.

Gratitude draws us closer to the Mystery. The more we give thanks, the more bathed in divine nourishment we become. My goal now is to try and make every waking moment a gratitude: “Thank you for my life this beautiful rainy morning. Thank you for health, for quiet, for flannel sheets, for Dinky and John. Thank you for birdsong…”

Remembering goodness. I think that is what I am talking about. The less I fret over the news (which is just about never anyway, since I rarely watch it), the less I gnash my teeth over imagined worst-possible outcomes, the more I allow myself to open up to the notion of trusting this big, wide, inconceivable mind behind the universe, the better I feel. But more important, the better I become.

The dark, cold thoughts feel less and less like my own, rather like the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys that got blown of course and will be gone back to hell shortly.

In goodness, we are held harmless. It is our minds that torture us and keep us locked in a frantic race of “what am I…and what’s next?”

The rain patters, the black clouds are like thick, exotic quilts tucked over the edges of the town. My thoughts drift from light to dark back to light again. In the hospital bed, my husband sleeps peacefully. I am tucked into the soothing blankets of gratitude and relief, and the intimacy of sharing words with you, my most precious reader.

May your dark places be filled with healing light. No, scratch that. Thank you for filling our dark places with healing light!

This entry was posted in Stories & Musings. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Befriending the Dark

  1. aretesr45 says:

    A soft sigh of “Yesssssssssssssssssssss, ’tis so…thanks, Susan …” to all of this, with a special twinkle of enjoyment and recognition for, ‘The dark, cold thoughts feel less and less like my own, rather like the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys that got blown of course and will be gone back to hell shortly. ‘

  2. Bett Weston says:

    Thank you for these words just at this time. It’s been a rough year spiritually. The few minutes that I catch a news story on the drive in to work will have me shouting “I hate you” – a horrible way to start every morning. I am winter housebound as much as possible due to night driving issues and staying off the roads during snowstorms. It’s both a relief and frustrating to miss out on things I’d like to do. But discovering the joys of fleece has made nesting much cozier! Blessings to us all as we learn to make our way on this beautiful planet.

    • Susan says:

      John and I, for various reasons, eat dinner early at 4ish, and then are all done for the day. Neither of us have good night vision, and I bemoan all the fun things I could do in the evenings if I were more inclined to be out in the dark. I’ve learned to love nesting and I so look forward to my long winter evenings of reading.

  3. Christine Davis says:

    “Thank you for sharing,” I say to my pissy brain. LOVE THOSE WORDS, Susan and have added them to my vocabulary. Thanks for a profound and timely post. I hope John is healing and you both have a very Happy New Year. xoxo…Chris

    • Susan says:

      Finding words that work for us, words that can guide us out of flying-monkey-town, and good. I’m glad you can use a few of mine. I’m happy to share!!

Leave a Reply to Susan Cancel reply