The darkness of winter: time to turn inwards.

The northern hemisphere is swaddled in darkness, as it is each winter. Today is the longest night of the year; the shortest day. The sun will rise late and quickly dash off, leaving us behind to contemplate the cold, wind, and dreariness of night. Despite the prominence of electric lights and bright screens, and cheery holiday tinsel lining the streets, it’s still dark by early afternoon.

It makes me tired, it makes it harder to work. I struggle to keep going in the afternoon, wanting instead to curl up and hibernate. For many of us, we forget that this is the darkest day of the year. We’ll notice it only through our increased desire for caffeine, a twinge of melancholy, or a lack of motivation. As Clark Strand writes in Bring On the Dark, “few of us will turn off the lights long enough to notice” the winter solstice happening right around us.

“There’s no getting away from the light. There are fluorescent lights and halogen lights, stadium lights, streetlights, stoplights, headlights and billboard lights. There are night lights to stand sentinel in hallways, and the lit screens of cellphones to feed our addiction to information, even in the middle of the night. No wonder we have trouble sleeping. The lights are always on.” — Why We Need The Winter Solstice 

These dark days are a gift: it’s an opportunity to turn inwards, to reflect, and to ponder.

Darkness invites contemplation, reflection, and inner reflection. Dwelling in it can also, for me, bring up deeper sadness and sorrows. It comes in waves, for me, the periods of stillness and rest, of quiet and solitude. Sometimes my mind dips into periods of darkness; I know that I’m deep in restoration and rebuilding. Patterns emerge; ideas begin to form. My other senses sharpen as I rely less on my eyesight.

We’re called to go into the darkness. To find our own inner guru.

When you dim one sense, you brighten the other senses, adding clarity, range, and acuity to your abilities. The ability to feel a range of emotions increases your emotional depth. The upside of darkness, however, is that it is a beautiful time for rumination and reflection.

In yoga, inviting the darkness in is an invitation to find your own inner wisdom, your own inner guru. In studying with Sara Neufeld recently, I learned more about how darkness is an invitation to find your own inner wisdom.

The word “Guru” comes from two words, gu (darkness) and ru (light). From a seat of heaviness or darkness, we go through experiences that bring us to light. One who has experienced both darkness and light has accumulated wisdom. In the yogic tradition, we all are our own gurus — capable of finding our own inner wisdom when we go inwards and close our eyes to contemplate our being.

“The night was the natural corrective to that most persistent of all illusions: that human progress is the reason for the world.” — Clark Strand

Sometimes, finding lightness requires going through the dark. We go not around, but through. The earth spins into darkness every year, so should our souls.

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