On This New Moon, I am modifying a Full moon post from December of 2016. The theme of darkness and the strategy offered here continues to be quite relevant.
Before you read this post, close your eyes for a few seconds and think of the words that come to your mind when you contemplate the word "darkness". You might even want to write them down.
Were the first associations "negative" ones like "fear", "shadow", "gloom", "danger", "ignorance", "depression", "evil" or "death"?
Or were they neutral like "black", "night', and "winter"?
Or perhaps you thought of some that were more "positive" like "rest", "quiet", "relax", "renewal", "rejuvenation", "Mystery" --as in THE Mystery.
If you had a good mix of all three, congratulations! You will find life easier than those who can only see the "negative". And you will be better able to keep yourself safer from harm then those who only want to look at the "positive".
Fear has many benefits. Those who have no fear are less likely to survive. I would not be writing this and you would not be reading it if our ancestors had not been vigilant and fearful. It truly is dangerous to be unprotected in places where scary predators lurk in the dark. And sometimes fear can propel us out of habitual inertia into necessary action.
However, the vast majority of the fears that trigger our fight or flight survival physiological responses are not real in our present experience and will probably never happen.
Yes, some of those things we fear will happen. Like death. But we will not prevent them by living in a state of hyperarousal.
We certainly need to pay attention and take appropriate practical actions, especially when we or others who are vulnerable are in immanent danger, but the more we focus on what we fear and resist it, the more we attract it to us. This is not just a New-agey aphorism, it is actually proven in numerous studies.
A lot of what looks dark is just because we're wearing dark glasses and don't even know we have them on. These lenses were created by our unconscious conditioning from our earliest years, our biological genetic programming, our ancestral legacy, and cultural misconceptions -- as well as the fear mongering media.
That said, darkness is of course real --both literally and metaphorically. And we are currently experiencing both at this time of the year and at this time in our world. Blinders or rose colored glasses are not the solution either.
Mostly, in our Western culture, we don't like darkness.
So we resist it with bright lights, frantic busyness, and multiple fixes. These fixes can take the form of fixing what we believe it is undesirable or threatening in ourselves, those in our close circles or in the larger world. Fixes can also be addictive substances or behaviors that numb the pain and discomfort that dark time bring up for us.
I am not advocating disconnecting your electricity, refusing all medications or not repairing items that are broken. But sometimes sitting quietly in the dark, staying present with pain and looking for whatever gifts might be found in brokenness can be enormously beneficial.
Fighting, fleeing or freezing in response to a genuine predator is usually a good plan. That's why our bodies infuse us with hormonal surges to help us protect our lives.
On the other hand, when we fight against darkness, we make it worse for ourselves. Especially if it involves the fight or flight response. When we fight fear of the dark or attempt to flee or hide from it, we intensify it.
So here is an alternative strategy, which I adapted from Shawn Achor's research on re-framing stress (pages 30 - 34 of Before Happiness) and another one he did demonstrating the effectiveness of using a 1:3 negative to positive ratio.*
First name the three things you like least about the increased physical darkness in December.
Then see if you can think of nine equally true ways in which this darkness is or could be beneficial.
As a hint to get you started if you haven't already come up with some, there are the benefits that nature requires from dormant times and you are a creature of nature.
Don't try and get rid of your first three dislikes or hide them under pretty colored blooms and say "it's all good". Just notice that there are other perspectives that are equally true and notice how you feel (emotionally and physically) when you think about each of these alternative truths.
Which viewpoint do you think is most helpful to you?
Now do the same exercise with the darkest current worry you have in your life.
List the three worst things about this circumstance and then think of nine equally true ways in which this situation is beneficial either now is likely to be in the future? Don't pick pie-in-the-sky scenarios that you don't believe are possible and avoid imagining ones that involve harming any "bad guys".
Again, pay attention to how the difference perspectives make you feel and notice how you may not have chosen the unfortunate circumstance causing you distress, and you didn't get to choose the number of minutes of daylight you got today, but you do have a choice about how you think about it.
You just did it. And you can practice for longer periods of time, paying closer attention how that lands in your physical and emotional body.
Your thoughts have a direct influence on your feelings, which in turn have a strong influence on your actions and ultimately on the direction your life will take.
Keep in mind that you actually do not know what the future will bring. We can make predictions, but life is full of surprises! When I look back on my life at the most traumatic dark events, every single one of them has proven to be of benefit to me. Some in astonishing ways that I could never have imagined.
I am betting you and others in your immediate circle and whom you have witnessed in the public eye have had similar powerful experiences of unexpected blessings from challenges.
It's always difficult to remember this truth when we are in the middle of pain. Perhaps part of the reason is that we actually need to feel pain and discomfort in order to evolve.
We need to experience darkness in order to have fallow times necessary for growth. And darkness also helps us learn how to appreciate and amplify the light that is available to us.
If you play with the concept of making darkness a friendly ally who is here to serve you in your growth, I promise it will not just be a more enjoyable way to live, but you will also be more effective in whatever it is you most want to do-- in all seasons of your life.
Wishing you warmth, beauty and cozy long nights with friends and family or rejuvenating solitude as you celebrate whatever winter holidays are your tradition or that bring you joy. As always, I will be honoring all of them -- or at least all of these!
Happy Hanukkah (12/2-12/10), Happy Belated St Nicholas Day, (12/7 -yesterday), Blessed Bodhi Day (12/8), Happy St Lucia Day (12/13), Lo Saturnalia (12/17- 12/23), Blessed Yule (12/21 - 1/1), Joyous Solstice (12/21), Happy Festivus (12/23), Merry Christmas (12/24 -12/25), Happy Kwanzaa (12/26-1/1), Happy Hogmanay (dusk - dawn 12/31), Happy New Year (12/31-1/1) and Feliz Three King's Day/Epiphany (1/6)
* And by the way, the exercise Achor did on re-framing stress resulted in astounding measurable results in health and productivity. I highly recommend checking out his work. Here's a video of his Ted Talk to get you started.