Grief is a sacred journey

Welcoming the Dark Time

DSC03162Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.” ~Madeleine L’Engle

This morning, soft gray dawn peeks through my bedroom shades at 6 a.m. With daylight savings time gone, I wake up early, but miss those summer evenings when I walked my trails at 9:00 p.m.

In the dark days, it’s easy to slip into a world of twenty-four hour light. Night lights, porch lights, hospital hall lights, floodlights. Shopping mall lights, traffic lights, street lights, and cell phone chargers pulsing light.

It isn’t easy to find darkness in our world.

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Holding cell phone screen up to dark window. Moon (out of focus) on upper left.

At my rural home, I turn out the lights and watch the black night sky. I see the moon in all her phases. Venus beams low in the west. Out my south windows, I notice a bright dot near the moon and want to know its name. I point my cell phone in the right direction and Google Sky reveals a map of constellations, planets, and stars. It’s Mars with a faint reddish glow.

Now I know, but do you see how the light creeps in?

Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.~Helen Keller

For ancient Celts, Samhain, the origin of Halloween, marked the passage into darkness. A time to gather, hunt, and put up food. Time to store seeds and tubers to plant in spring. Time to gather wood for winter warmth and cook fires. Time to give thanks for the harvest that fed the community ’til spring.

In a well-loved Russian story, the maiden Vasilisa traveled alone in the darkest forest in search of Fire. The doll in her pocket, a gift from her dying mother, protected and advised her. Approaching Baba Yaga, the keeper of the Light, was tricky and treacherous. In modern times, Baba Yaga morphed into an evil witch, but she was the keeper of what humans long for and need–Fire and Light. When Vasilisa honored the Darkness, the Crone shared her Light.

Vasilisa, Ivan Bilibin, 1899

Vasilisa, Ivan Bilibin, 1899

Baba Yaba, Ivan Bilibin, 1902

Baba Yaba, Ivan Bilibin, 1902

I live on a windswept hill and know the challenges of dark nights and cold. My antidote is time outside, no matter what the weather. I wear snow pants, wool socks, and layers. Many layers. Like Hecate, a Greek Goddesses of the night, and like Baba Yaga, that wise old crone, I travel with a dog.

The dark time brings quiet if I let it have its way. Snowdays and icedays when the world stops and plans are canceled.

Inspired by Hestia, Greek Goddess of the Hearth, I open the wood stove, stir the embers, and add dry wood. The fire flares red and warm.

Willow wood stoveA long quiet evening lies ahead. Time to ponder. Time for silence. Time to light candles. Time to remember and rest. Time to pray and give thanks. Time to write and read. Time to sleep and time to dream.

Time to find the jewels within the Dark.

When the moon shines bright, I walk into the cold night with my dog. She shows me how to love it all. The Darkness and the Light.

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

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Do you get depressed during the long dark days? Do you spend time in warmer climates? A few readers welcome spring in the southern hemisphere now and others live in places where it’s rarely cold. I need to focus on the good things about the coming months. And I needed to settle on the peace I create in daily life with a distance on election news and political chaos. If you’re interested in reading more about goddesses, you’ll like Home with Hestia, Goddess of the Hearth. For a blog about the challenges of winter weather, see I Thought I Could.

28 Comments
  1. I am finding calmness and wisdom in your words, Elaine. I remain tearful and stunned this morning after the election but vow to get outdoors and seek the stillness of nature today.

    • Thank you, Gail. I remain tearful and stunned myself, but time outside helped a little. Best thing was planting an amaryllis bulb before breakfast. It will be beautiful in January, no matter what’s going on in the world.

  2. Florida is the Sunshine State and with good reason. Almost every day is sunny. But today is overcast with dark clouds to the east which invite me to hibernate and be silent. Too much light is blinding.

    And I agree – No more political noise for me although I did listen to Hillary’s gracious concession speech and then to Obama’s conciliatory address to the nation – what a gentleman he is!

    I will accept your invitation to focus on good things in the coming months. Today we received notice that our buyers want to close on our house next week – hallelujah! That accomplishment will put an end to the upheaval of the last 7 months.

    Your post today was soothing: moon and stars and hearth-light and candles. Thank you for making the effort to write this, Elaine.

    • Thank you for showing up here, Marian. I’m always glad to see your name and face. So many of us are stunned–at least the people I know. It’s heart-breaking to trade a gentleman for a not at all gentle man. Makes me happy that my post felt soothing to you. It was soothing for me, too. I wrote it in the days coming up to the election after daylight savings time shortened my afternoons. I didn’t know how much I’d need a way to find comfort.

      I’m so glad your house is closing soon. It’s a big deal to put a house on the market and wait for the right buyer to show. You and Cliff made the “what’s next” transition. I’m impressed and also a bit jealous since I’m in the middle of figuring this out. Lots of talking to my sons about their Ma’s future.

      • You’ll know when it’s the right time for you. Never fear, my dear!

        Still, I won’t kid you – it IS a big undertaking, but your sons are invested in your transition too, a very good thing.

  3. Yep, candles, flashlights, natural dayglowing lamps. Lights all over the place. Candlelight breakfasts. Holiday minilights in the main door. I even have electric fireplaces planted in several rooms around the house. Light and warmth. I crave that these days. Light and heat will get me through the long winter. And I think I’ll buy a pair of warm fuzzy slippers as well. Yes, we need to move on from the election. It can be like grieving if we let ourselves dwell on the way things turned out. Time to light more candles and fire up the stove.

    • My house is cozy warm with the wood stove and, when it’s bitter cold and windy, a small gas stove in my office. After a day out, I love coming home to glowing coals. This election is a grieving experience for me–even before voting day. So much negativity unleashed that I felt I was choking on it. I don’t mind the grief so much, but don’t want it to slip into anger (we have enough of that) or depression. Light more candles! Tonight, the horizon is a mix of cherry and apricot. Venus is high in the southwest and the moon glows in the east. Lots of peace here.

  4. Beautiful analogies here Elaine about finding the light spot of darkness. A timely post too considering the darkness in the world today with the results of what may prove to come as dark times upon us. 🙂

    • We will see how this all goes, Debby. I’m trying not to focus on the worst possibilities. As I said to Marion, I wrote this on the day daylight savings time ended. I knew I’d need to remember how to negotiate the dark no matter what the outcome of the election. Unleashed rage wounds everyone, and we’ve seen plenty of that.

  5. I too find solace in your words here, Elaine. We have truly entered a dark time and we need to light as many candles as can in the coming days.

    • I’m glad, Joan. For me, the dark is always there, but sometimes it doesn’t take up quite so much space. It’s easy to be pulled down if I think of the almost insurmountable challenges we face with things like global warming and world hunger. I spent most of today volunteering at hospice. It felt lovely to be with others who work there and help my community. On the big scale, I don’t know what to do. On the smaller scale, I can be kind. And light candles.

  6. Always beautiful and reassuring.

  7. Time change always takes a while for me to adjust. Hopefully the time change and the political scenario will tune well with all humans of america!

    Great post!

    • Thank you, Ruchira. I’m shifting my internal clock by waking up earlier and walking for a short time before breakfast and also in the last light.

      It’s a mystery where our political scene will settle, but the US has big challenges ahead. Everyone I know is in grieving mode at the moment. Somehow or other, the earth will keep turning and, as always, we’ll find out what happens next by waiting for it to unfold.

  8. Thank you for a beautiful post, Elaine. I don’t live as far out in the country as you do, but I would need a flashlight to find my way outdoors at night.

    I lived in San Diego for a few years and really missed the changing seasons, so I am willing to have winter in order to see spring. And winter has its own delights.

    • It’s nice to hear from you, Lynne. It’s been a rough week for many of us, but some of us are peeking out from under the bed. Tonight, I saw saturated cherry-apricot tones on the western horizon with Venus getting higher every day. And the moon is incredible. Such good fortune to live surrounded by nature and the darkness of night.

  9. As Senator Edward M. Kennedy said, “the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

    My chocolate lab had not figured out the time change yet 🙂 We must smile at the little things that come our way while we ponder how we will continue the work. ACLU, Planned Parenthood., the environment. . . things already coming to mind when I remember the work.

    Namaste

    • It’s true, Sarah. Such a confusing grieving time. Trump ranted against the electoral college, but won because of it. It’s my job to keep the idealist girl within alive and hopeful, even if she’s a bit disillusioned and shocked at the moment. There is always a spark of light within the dark, even if we have to wait to find it. I’ll continue the work in every way I can–in writing, by protecting the environment, in my hospice work (I spent lots of time there recently–always a good place to gain perspective), and reaching out to help. Blessings and peace to you and all of us.

  10. Thanks Elaine, calming and soothing as others have said. In amongst the darkness we can light a candle, note its shadows yet be re-assured this is how it is. It’s always dark before the dawn.

    • Sending you love, Susan. I hope your political situation in South Africa has a positive (can we hope for that big word?) resolution. Unclear what will happen in this country–but, of course, that’s always the way it is. I need the light within the dark more than ever.

  11. Darkness defines the light. Each helps us appreciate the other. The unity evolving out of the U.S. presidential election is a fine example of this. Beautiful post, Elaine. Love the candles 🙂

    • Thank you, Tina, and thanks for taking time to make a comment. Searching for Light in the dark times is an essential practice for me. I’m grateful to many teachers and poets along the way.

  12. As I read these inspiring words, Elaine, I glanced over to the little altar I made weeks ago. A vase filled with dried grasses, an icon of Julian of Norwich and the lovely candle made of soy wax by the brothers of the abbey here. The faint scent of wildflowers sweetens the air as the candle pushes back the darkness.

    Leonard Cohen’s death last week and his last album about the dark underscored what was already a dark time.

    Here’s wishing you many good walks and the peace of daily life as we help each other through the night.

    • Shirley, thank you for painting the image of your altar and the ways you settle into the darkness and find meaning there. So many people tell me about Leonard Cohen’s last album. My ears won’t let me hear his songs, but it’s time to get the lyrics. He was an important voice of my late college years and helped me understand myself. Vic and I listened to his albums over and over. As I’ve said before, his song “Dance Me to the End of Love” helped me find heart and peace in sorrow when Vic was sick–so that’s over forty years of Leonard Cohen support. I still hear the swaying melody of that song in my head.
      Just knowing you’re out there following your dream helps me through the night.

  13. The new Leonard Cohen is him reading his poem songs to music…love love love that man.I am bone tired..I need winter…I may have to go South by March but I am ready to find my new self in my work.I love all your work

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