Not sure if you've noticed - but it's really really dark outside. Near the darkest time of the year, my people start lighting candles. Maybe you are lighting candles too - it just feels so natural and cozy, eh?
Chanukah recalls the darkness of a history of religious persecution and celebrates our survival, our renewal, an honouring and pride in our own spiritual light. It is only through having survived this period of darkness, of refusing to hide our Jewishness, that we have come to this light. Only in the darkness do the candles shine bright.
Last night, some friends and I met in order to sing songs, connect, and celebrate Chanukah. A friend taught us a song - not a Jewish one as far as I know - but one that resonated so deeply. The words, penned by poet Wendell Berry, are as follows:
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
It took time for me to learn the words and make any sense of them. Eventually, I concluded - it's a song not so much about light but about darkness! A wise friend added - it's about the movement in darkness - we cannot see, but we can still travel, move. The darkness can be transformative. It can take us places. We need not avoid the dark, and assume that it is only a place of stuckness and of fear.
I've been writing in past blogs about the process of feeling hard feelings, why it is so hard, and thinking deeply about the conditions that allow us to do so in a way that is healing. Perhaps the best way to go into our own darkness is through being connected with the light of another - whether a trusted friend, a therapist, or a part of the self that is particularly present and comforting. In doing so, we are not alone with the darkness, with the emotional pain. Rather than getting stuck in it, we are able to move through it.
Take the example of emotional pain. When we can go into our emotional pain, really know it, EXPERIENCE it, we learn the truth of our having been hurt. I think it's safe to say that we have all been hurt to some extent or another - albeit to varying degrees. In allowing and experiencing our emotional pain, we learn that our hurt was and is real. We learn to feel entitled to our pain. We learn that we never EVER want to be in that kind of experience again. Perhaps we get into a sense of despair and deep sadness, of how vulnerable we really are as humans. Perhaps we dip into a sense of feeling just so existentially alone in this pain. Perhaps we get a sense of how unfair this hurt was - an anger and even a rage at what occurred. We learn that we most definitely didn't deserve it. Perhaps we arrive at a sense of pride at having survived it. This is the movement in the darkness.
And what of the light in the darkness? There are times that I have experienced myself - and have witnessed in my therapy clients - of deeply feeling and expressing pain in the presence of another. At the best of times, we end up feeling seen, even held. This experience of connection transforms and lightens our pain. Just as candles transform the darkness into an experience of coziness and warmth. When we can experience, express, and make meaning of our pain in the presence of a supportive other, what often follows is a feeling of lightness. Of being unburdened. An openness, an open-heartedness. A feeling of connection. Maybe even gratitude for the connection we are privy to. Have you ever had any of these feelings?
As we move closer to Winter Solstice, and the darkest night of the year, see if you can get to know BOTH your darkness and your light a bit better. We need to get to know both in order to live fully, to get to know our True Selves a bit more.
For some guidance in this process, I highly recommend the following book by Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW: It's Not Always Depression. If you live in downtown Toronto, come by Hard Feelings and pick it up - we have it in stock!