Yesterday around 6:30 pm, I gazed at the darkness covering everything in the garden with its shadowy blanket and turned to my housemates saying, “It’s finally the time of year when the outsides match my insides!” Apart from the melodramatic way I said it, I was being mostly honest. I may be a fiery, warm, loving Leo, but this time of year harmonizes with my inner chords, which lean more toward melancholic and angsty.
Sometimes I can laugh about it because it’s just who I am. Other times I am overwhelmed by the darkness inside of me. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t curious about the darkness. The closet, under the bed, the basement, the horrible thoughts I had, the things adults didn’t want to talk about, the dying, the crying, the deep stillness of night.
As an adult, I’ve expanded my list of “Important things about the dark” to include how it is sacred, how all life begins there, how it reveals so much more to us that the light, how it holds what we are afraid of – even things we think are good – all the unexpressed, unwanted, and unknown powers we might surrender or wield if only we weren’t afraid of them.
Maybe you’re thinking, Wait, how does darkness reveal so much more to us than the light? In my experience, it is often through encounters with darkness, what is unseen and unknown in the ordinary light of day, that we find out what’s really important.
The Full Moon in Taurus tells us to get real, perhaps in preparation to face death, the major theme around this time of year. Getting real means remembering that sometimes what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker, more vulnerable, more sensitive to being alive in a painful world. Getting real means not falling for the lies that demand productivity, progress, and meaning. Those things are nice, but constantly living under the demand that we pick ourselves up and get back on the horse skips too many steps and sidesteps the importance of grief.
“Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried. These words come from my dear friend Megan Devine, one of the only writers in the field of loss and trauma I endorse. These words are so poignant because they aim right at the pathetic platitudes our culture has come to embody on an increasingly hopeless level. Losing a child cannot be fixed. Being diagnosed with a debilitating illness cannot be fixed. Facing the betrayal of your closest confidante cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.
“I hate to break it to you, but although devastation can lead to growth, it often doesn't. The reality is that it often destroys lives. And the real calamity is that this happens precisely because we've replaced grieving with advice. With platitudes. With our absence.”
~ Tim Lawrence, “Everything doesn’t happen for a reason”
In my own life, I am again in the throes of serious depression, a lifelong condition I have suffered from, medicated, carried, and survived so far. But now, by some profound miracle, I am finally learning how to do mindfulness practice in the midst of it. I am not one of those people who can practice, practice, practice when there’s no compelling reason. Like Yoda, I think you either do it or you don’t. By that I mean that I use it when I need it. Practice does not come naturally to me unless it’s urgently needed.
So while my emotions spin ever downward, I allow them to flow through me while intervening with the thinking part of me. My thinking self manufactures and attaches to stories that tell me why I’m crying: I’m worthless, a terrible mother, a fraud, I can’t even get it together to stop crying, I should just cease to exist, I have never done anything of value, I should be ashamed at how I’ve squandered my life – all of this accompanied by agonizingly detailed examples from my life thus far. At age 40, I’m just recognizing that I can stop these thoughts, with effort and determination and surrender. I breathe and notice the thoughts. I breathe and tell them to go. I breathe and dispel them from my mind.
It takes incredible patience. My loved ones support me by simply sitting beside me, not giving me advice or telling me it will be okay. Someone told me last week that “feelings aren’t fact” and I honestly wanted to slap them. But I simply smiled and nodded. When you are feeling strong emotions, they are, in fact, fact. They are real. They are real enough to cause some of us to jump off of the bridge. What is helpful is the reminder that they will change. If I can simply hold on, the feeling will change and perhaps into a feeling I enjoy having.
I’m often weary of spiritual talk that focuses so pointedly on light. As if that were the object of life, to get to the light. Even after we die, we’re supposed to “go toward the light!” The way we are encouraged or pushed to make lemonade out of lemons is a form of Light-worship. And it is indeed a valuable life skill. But how often has that phrase, in this or some other form, just made you feel angrier or shittier about yourself?
It also tries to skip us ahead to the appearance of wholeness rather than allowing us to meander through the broken pieces, to collect them slowly and tenderly, to spend time being in the nothingness of an ending/beginning.
This time of year is all about being “in between;” honoring the dead; understanding the broken, tender darkness; and sensing the sacredness of the night. All life begins in the dark, remember? Remember this as we enter the dark time of the year, when the bounty of last spring has succumbed to the eventual collapse into autumn. This darkness is real. And it is metaphor for our own journeys, which are seldom fully understood, or clearly illuminated, or burgeoning with purpose and poise. Maybe we get all the answers when we die. But I won’t hold my breath in this life in order to find out. I’ll just get on with my real, murky, overwhelming, painful, often beautiful life.
One more thing: Frankenfurter and crew at the end of Rocky Horror Picture Show singing “Don’t dream it, be it.” This is good advice for now. Or maybe, dream it, then be it. But also, don’t get fooled by your dreams. Dreams are tricky and obfuscating things. Sometimes the dream shows a highly idealized or caricatured version of what we really want.
So, how can your dreams get real? How can you live them out now, even in an imperfect, uncooked form? I urge you not to wait for someone to recognize your genius and sweep you off your feet. Do not believe you have to be perfect and know everything before you live out those dreams. Be the flawed, broken, brilliant, vibrant weirdo that you are. Get real, which means make it real. Be it. Learn as you go. Do it badly. Do it stupidly. Do a second-rate version. I’m trying as hard as I can to not write “just do it” but, well, just do it.