Season of Light (and Dark)

When I sat down to write this I thought, "you know, I think I've written something like this before?". So I did a little search and sure enough here it is, Season of Light from last year. This post is not a repeat of that one, though I continue to hang my hat on these words from the gospel of John.  

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.

I wish I could say, like last year, that I am celebrating the light. But right now I am simply trying to manage the dark. It would more poetic to say embrace, but really I do not relish long, dark nights and short, cold days. 

The dark of this month has thrown me for a loop. My body tells me "slow down, be still" (go to bed at 9pm) when my lists say "make presents, be festive". 

I have not perfected balancing these two - the festive and the contemplative, but my body and spirit demand a different pace of me that I can't ignore. And so I try to listen. I shift my routines to make the most of the daylight, we listen to music both mournful and joyful, I go to bed early to read, I take time to write in my Christmas journal.

In between that I work to make the darkening of days merry and bright. The Christmas tree and a few decorations, visits with friends, gift making and taking the kids on festive outings. 

There is a tension I live with during this season. The natural world is slowing down, getting ready for sleep and death. Our cultural traditions focus on the light (candles, Christmas trees) to push back that darkness. We make merry because it is difficult, physically and emotionally to be tuned into that natural cycle.

Being comfortable in a place of rest and quiet, in a space of low creative energy and output is hard for me. And in spite of an easy holiday routine and making conscious choices to scale back our expectations and consumption, I feel myself stretched thin.

Maybe it's a spiritual stretching as Ann Voskamp says in Why a True Christmas Might be Painful. Maybe it's just impatience with children who are unmotivated to take their energy outdoors on these cold, snow-less days.

It occurs to me as I'm writing (this is why I love writing, it helps me sort my thoughts) that maybe because we have removed so much of what usually accompanies this season - consumption, stress, and over-commitments - we are more aware of the spiritual and natural world this time of year. Because it seems to me that each year, as we have simplified more, my awareness of the dark grows keener. 

How's that for a simple living advertisement? Live with less, feel the dark. I don't think people would much jump at that opportunity. 

But when you let yourself experience dark* (ie: you don't self medicate the season away with sweets, tv, internet, and spending) you truly appreciate light. The mid afternoon slant of the sun, candles burning in windowsills, a fire on a hike, the Light of the World come down into darkness. 

I treasure these gifts and savor their warmth in my life right now, despite my seasonal discomfort and stretching.

...Or maybe because of it. 

(*please know I'm not talking about the dark of depression or SAD but simply an awareness of season)

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  • Laura

    Laura on Dec. 11, 2010, 4:46 a.m.

    Very poignant. First time for me to think of it this way. Thank you. I especially liked "when you let yourself experience dark, you will truly appreciate light. I'm still chewing that.

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  • Francesca

    Francesca on Dec. 11, 2010, 6:06 a.m.

    Very nice post Renee. I tend to "self medicate" away this season, I realize, by just waiting for signs of awakening and light to come. When the sun sets at 3.30pm, and our world outside turns pitch black and cold (we have only one street light in view), I become melancholy. I'll try and let myself experience the dark more.

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    • renee

      renee on Dec. 11, 2010, 1:27 p.m.

      I self medicate also and I used that phrase for effect and to remind myself of my very own tendencies to wish the dark away instead of trying to understand its purpose in my life this time of year. My favorite "self-medication" is a beer while preparing supper. I think there is nothing wrong with recognizing what helps you function better during darker months, ie: exercise outdoors, wine with supper, going to bed early, getting up earlier to take advantage of the sun etc... But like I said my tendency is often to wish it just wasn't dark instead of letting myself appreciate what darkness offers this time of year.

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  • Lori @ Just Pure Lovely

    Lori @ Just Pure Lovely on Dec. 11, 2010, 7:07 a.m.

    So true that the light is more special now, since it is more rare. Ive noticed that I tend to follow the light around. Do you do that, too? At 4pm, I'm sure to be in the kitchen as the light slants in the front window, but at 8am I can only be found in the yellow chair by the south facing window of my bedroom.

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    • renee

      renee on Dec. 11, 2010, 1:35 p.m.

      Absolutely I do that. My kitchen is my favorite place in the am, so bright but then there isn't much light that comes in the house again till late afternoon and then, ever so briefly.

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  • Natalia

    Natalia on Dec. 11, 2010, 7:41 a.m.

    A beautiful and interesting post Renee. I find having gronw up in areas where there is not such a difference in the length over days during the seasons, to now living somewhere where it is 'properly dark' at four o'clock in the afternoon come December, it is actually quite disorientating, even after having done it for a few years. Part of me screams out to just hibernate for a few months, yet another part of me loses all track of time and sleeps very little because I can't seem to moderate if it is four, or eight, or two in the morning - it is all just dark! However, inspired by blogs like this, I am trying to get a little more in touch with the natural world around me, and to revel in the change of seasons. And our early snow this year has been a dramatic indication that Winter is here, along with the short days and dark nights. Your post has given me pause to think about the deeper issues of it all, so many thanks for that.

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    • renee

      renee on Dec. 11, 2010, 1:38 p.m.

      It's hard for me to imagine a place where winter isn't dark and cold. Having grown up in the Canadian prairies it was even colder (much more so) and darker than it is here in Maine. But Maine is more overall grey whereas Alberta was incredibly sunny. I like the seasons. I like the those rhythms. 

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  • Sofia's Ideas

    Sofia's Ideas on Dec. 11, 2010, 10:10 a.m.

    Beautifully written...

    I understand what you mean - about as you simplify more, the more attuned you are, the more connected... I've always believed that we should rise and set with the sun, but to practice it when you are an insomniac, is quite difficult. Now that I'm pregnant again, its worse than ever - I'm on a 72 hour cycle!
    Looking forward to see how our next "winter" and Christmas season will be as we add another lovie to our family and continue to simplify and slow down...

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  • debra

    debra on Dec. 11, 2010, 1:18 p.m.

    ah, maybe this is some of what i'm feeling...we haven't decorated, i'm having to make lists of reminders of ways to bring in the cheer, when what i want to do it sleep and read and take long quiet walks. this post made me think of something i read of wendell berry's: to go into 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.

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  • Carrie (jamesrivergirl)

    Carrie (jamesrivergirl) on Dec. 11, 2010, 4:11 p.m.

    This is beautiful. Several years ago, I wrote about how I dreaded winter coming because everything turns brown and grey here. But, I had an epiphany about how the trees are sleeping, the earth is resting, and in the Spring the green tendrils will start popping out again, awake. I felt like I was meant to apply that idea to myself, that there are seasons (both earthly and periods of our lives) for rest and and seasons for growth and production. Anyway, thank you for this post and the reminder or that epiphany two years ago. I never look at the links that people post in comments sections, but Renee, I'm posting this just to share it with you if you have the time/inclination to look at it. It's nothing you don't already know and live, I think.

    http://jamesrivergirl.blogspot.com/2008/10/rest.html

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  • Debbie

    Debbie on Dec. 12, 2010, 12:07 a.m.

    What a lovely read. I too love the seasons; couldn't imagine life without them. And while I LOVE winter (because I cherish the cold and hibernating quality that goes along with my favourite season) I really struggle with the dark. I'm not afraid of the (metaphorical) dark but there is something about being with it for more than half a year that really starts to eat away at you. Still, it's cyclical and I do try to embrace it; lots of warm candle light, twinkle lights kept on long after the holidays, (never to bed early for me...something I'm working on.) Thanks for this yummy food for thought. xo

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  • Amanda

    Amanda on Dec. 12, 2010, 1:52 p.m.

    Hear you, on so many counts! Is it wrong that I laughed out loud at parts of this post? Such as this line: Live with less, feel the dark. I don't think people would much jump at that opportunity.

    And oh my, how I can sympathize with this: Maybe it's just impatience with children who are unmotivated to take their energy outdoors on these cold, snow-less days.

    I can't really blame them, but they really need to go OUT and run around! So, we all went xc skiing yesterday, since we weren't going to Maine. It was the perfect thing to do.

    I paint rooms in my home warm, vibrant colors. In the past I've thought about various shades of grey or brown in certain rooms, but quickly put the thought out of my head, knowing that there is enough grey and brown for 6 months of the year here! Remind me to show you the green color I painted my pantry walls last year on one dreary February day. It worked, though. :)

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    • renee

      renee on Dec. 12, 2010, 2:12 p.m.

      If only there were snow here to play in?! But there isn't. No snow to speak of, except on our weekend mountain hikes. If there were, the kids would be spending hours outside, as it is it's a challenge to get them out for an hour.

      Yes, I'd love to see your green pantry. I favor light and bright colors also. Greens & yellows specifically.

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      • Amanda

        Amanda on Dec. 12, 2010, 3:14 p.m.

        We had to drive two hours to get to the snowy places. We should be knee-deep in it right about now, but alas, not this year. If we had snow in the yard, mine would be exhausted from spending their days out there! Right now I can barely entice them out for a short walk. Yet they do laps in the kitchen or in the hallway upstairs. ARGH!

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  • Heather

    Heather on Dec. 13, 2010, 5:21 p.m.

    As we come into Spring, the magic of that season is the joy of rebirth, of reawakening. The dark is supposed to be painful, but even without the holidays we still try everything we can to "find the light". There are fake sunlight machines, tanning beds, etc. We are so afraid of the dark, that the beauty of the next season can also be lost. In not allowing part of our sol to die every year, and then to be reborn, we stand to only repeat the difficulties of the past without learning much from them. Thank you for putting this so beautifully.

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  • Anonymous

    Anonymous on Dec. 14, 2010, 12:03 a.m.

    I really do believe that a lot more people experience some level of S.A.D. than would admit, but there is nothing wrong with admitting this, as it is just part of the human body and it's reaction to lack of daylight, etc. I merely write this in support of those that do experience S.A.D.. I don't think that there is anything wrong with using various methods to make this dark season a little easier (light therapy, vitamin D supplement, a good movie, a good book, a walk outside, a trip somewhere warm, the list goes on.) Consider yourself lucky to be so creative, but also I hope people won't feel bad for using such methods easier. I truly appreciate the light and my life is not nearly as simplified and I do use some of the methods mentioned above.

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    • renee

      renee on Dec. 14, 2010, 12:29 a.m.

      Absolutely! We use vit D. supplements, love good movie nights this time of year, read books, go for hikes every weekend and often do something warm later in the winter - like spend a night at a hotel with an indoor pool. We do all those things to stay healthy and sane this time of year and into the New Year (though after Dec 21st the days start getting lighter!)

      I'm sure I experience SAD, especially come February!, but that wasn't specifically what I was talking about in this post. But you're right, using strategies to help yourself feel better is important for your physical and mental health.

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  • nicola@which name?

    nicola@which name? on Dec. 14, 2010, 6:27 a.m.

    Beautifully, beautifully written, Renee. I never thought of the light of lights, candles, and fires as keeping the dark at bay, but perhaps, in meeting it half way. The dark doesn't have to be a negative, and oh how the early evenings, simplified festivities, and embracing the longer rest periods certainly does all appeal! Hugs, Nicola

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  • Whitney @ Nesting Season

    Whitney @ Nesting Season on Dec. 16, 2010, 12:54 a.m.

    I grew up without distinct seasons, and hated the monotony. I settled north, and my body, my spirits thrive on the changes. Especially now, with small children, I welcome the darkness, and the slowing that accompanies it; the house is calm hours earlier this time of year.

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    • renee

      renee on Dec. 16, 2010, 1:05 a.m.

      Wish I could say the same. My kids are so keyed up at night (not enough time outdoors) and don't go to bed till later. I might want the calm but I wish my kiddos would go along!

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