I always was excited about holiday lights coming out in the winter. Candles in windows, golden lights strung in shrubbery; all of them filled me with small bits of child-like wonder. I liked seeing colorful lights in the summer, but it never had quite the same impact as in December, and I wondered why. I began to notice the attempt to increase and augment existing light in other ways- even in fashion, with sequins and rhinestones becoming ever-present on women’s clothing items as the holidays approached.
I realized, at least for me, that in a time of increasing darkness, seeing the light again became more salient, more necessary. In spite of the darkness, we attempt to bring forth light.
Sometimes, though, seeing bright lights and holiday festivities can have the opposite effect. The cheer of others can be infectious, but it can also be alienating, especially if one has memories of loss, trauma, or loneliness. The lights, the joy, the celebrations of the season can remind us of what we don’t have, what we’ve never had, what we’re missing. There can be a more than implicit pressure to be happy and joyous during the holidays. Feeling bad can make one feel alienated and separate to begin with, but this time of year can accentuate and exacerbate existing emotional pain. Add in frigid temperatures, nasty weather, and Vitamin D deficiencies, and we find a whole lot of fuel for feeling bad, and being unable to do anything about it. Trauma, of any kind, is characterized by some experience of helplessness- an inability to escape, to move, to have agency, to make decisions and act upon them. Winter makes it inherently difficult to be mobile, to explore, to find new experiences. One can be left feeling alone and unable to reach out amidst the sea of cheer and happiness.
Here’s the thing, though- if you’re feeling this way, you aren’t alone. Sometimes, the people with the brightest smiles are living with the most darkness. Within some facets of the yoga community, there also can be a subtle pressure to attempt to always remain positive. This, of course, is always well-intentioned- the desire to help people to switch to more positive thoughts, and ultimately, to feel better, is rooted in love. We want to help others fix their problems; we want to help them grow. If one take this too far, ignores their feelings and shoves them down without ever processing them, they never can really move beyond them. We can never fully grow. We can never fully experience the world if we repress our experience of it.
After a lot of contemplation about how to safely become present to one’s feelings surrounding winter/holiday emotional distress, I came up with two meditations inspired by two poems from The Radiance Sutras (translated by Lorin Roche). One focuses on being present with the darkness, and the other on connecting to the light within. If you are experiencing intense emotional distress, depression, or have a had a recent trauma, I would not recommend practicing the darkness meditation unless you feel you have strong self-care and coping skills. Ultimately, the idea is to help you safely acknowledge your emotions and help provide a safe, sacred space where it’s okay to feel them, and thus begin to process them. Once we have truly experienced the darkness, we can connect more deeply to the light. Feel free to journal about your process afterward.
Note: These meditations most likely won’t fix the underlying problems you may be experiencing and are not a substitution for therapeutic work. They may, however, help you develop more mindfulness around literal and metaphorical darkness. Being present to it and breathing through it can help you regain more power, strengthen your ability to manage your feelings, and become your own source of light and energy.
A very comfortable place to sit. Maybe some blankets to wrap yourself in. If you are fearful that the darkness may trigger something within you, light a single candle and place it behind you- know that the light is there, and that you can turn and gaze upon it if necessary.
1). Read Sutra 64 (see below).
2). Set up an extremely comfortable and warm meditation space. Make sure that the spine is still upright and aligned.
Darken the room you’re in completely (unless you are lighting your back-up candle). Close your eyes, find comfort, and begin to experience the darkness and how it settles in your body. Continue to breathe deeply and you bring your focus to this concept. Notice any difficult emotions that arise, and try to witness them without engaging with them. Don’t ignore them; let them surface and flow. Know that it’s okay to feel what you feel. Know that each feeling is transient. Notice how your body responds. If you begin to feel rising distress, begin to lengthen your exhalations to calm your sympathetic nervous system. Notice how your relationship with this concept changes when you are present to it.
Begin to visualize the darkness as a place of incubation. A seed must stay deep in the earth before it begins to sprout. Dark feelings can transform into inspiration and fuel for creation. Contemplate how darkness could be an agent of change in your life.
When you feel ready, softly blink the eyes open and prepare for the next meditation.
Winter Candle Meditation for Your Inner Fire
A candle. A totally normal one will do. Maybe a candle holder that refracts the light in dynamic ways.
1). Read Sutra 14 (see below)
2). Find a comfortable seat.
Begin to gaze at a single flame. Follow the flickering and contemplate the movement of the fire.
Imagine yourself becoming like the flame- powerful, dynamic, bright, energetic, warm, glowing. Feel your light awakening and radiating outward, encompassing your body, the room, your home, your town, your state, your country, and the entire world. If you like, you can find some subtle, spontaneous swaying or other movement that feels natural.
Know that soon, the solstice will come, and light will begin to return. See the lights now as a reminder of the potentiality for fire within you that is always there, even in times when you don’t think it’s possible.
Sutra 64 (Darkness)
Secrets are hidden in darkness
And difficult nights.
You awaken into a pang of aloneness,
A howl of separation.
This is the call of the Dark One,
The roar of life seeking its source.
The union you long for is within reach.
Throw off all hesitation.
Become one with the fear.
Plunge into the uncanny blackness,
Eyes wide open,
As if there were no other choice.
Vibrating with fierce tenderness,
With the Lord of infinite space.
Sutra 14 (Light/Fire)
When you close your eyes,
Attention turns toward the inner glow.
Your heart sees by its own light,
Pulsing with subtle flame.
In your forehead is a single eye.
Here streams of living electricity
The body of substance
And the body of light fuse into one.
Above your head a star is shining –
The soul, luminous in its own realm.
Life arises from itself
In a swirling motion of flame.
Being becomes body.
In meditation, adore the subtle fire –
In heart, forehead, above the head,
Dissolve into radiance.