Embracing the Dark
by Cailin O'Hara, MAcOM, LAc, Dipl OM
We all have seasons of our lives. We all experience ups and downs.
In the practice and scope of Chinese medicine, winter is the time of utmost yin. What is yin? Yin is darkness, consolidation, stillness. In winter, we descend into darkness, literally. The nights grow longer and there is less light. The temperatures drop. When it’s cold and dark, we naturally slow down. Our bodies want to rest. We crave rich foods to help us stay nourished and warm. This is the natural order of things.
What does it mean to be in your winter?
Our winters are the periods of our lives when we feel the need to pull away, turn inward, retreat and stay quiet. It could be a time of grief or sadness. It could be a period of reflection and a need to collect ourselves. Regardless, it’s a very natural process of being human. We have seasons in our lives. They can last hours or days, months or even years. Sometimes we are on an upswing; sometimes we’re at a low point.
It’s normal to experience ups and downs, highs and lows. Our resistance to the changing tides of our lives or feelings can create more problems for us and keep us stuck in the dark.
How to Embrace Your Winter
It’s easy to embrace feeling happy and excited. It can be incredibly difficult to embrace what doesn’t feel good… fatigue or illness, shock or grief, anxiety or loneliness, loss or heartbreak. These are our winters. These experiences ask us to look within, to slow down, to sit with ourselves, to retreat. Most of all, they are times when we need ourselves most. We need our own support. We need to be on our team and nurture ourselves through the darker times we face. After our winters, we have the potential to be reborn. We can reemerge with new insight, compassion and self-love. We can feel renewed in a way that only our dark times could have provided. Consider that upswing as your personal shift from winter to spring.
When You Willingly Enter the Dark
How can you abide and sit with yourself through your winter? How can you willingly enter the dark?
1) Know that it’s just you that you will find
The darkness is a place where we can meet the sunken, hidden and rejected aspects of ourselves. They are essentially our emotional wounds, the negative stories we’ve been told, the dysfunctional patterns we repeat in our lives. But these are also the places where we can heal the most. The sad, hurting parts of you are simply the places within you that you’re not acknowledging or honoring. Acknowledgement is the first step toward healing. We can infuse the dark with the light of our compassion and awareness, thereby creating an opportunity for things to change.
2) Seek someone to help you go on your journey inward
Find someone that you connect with, that helps you to feel empowered. Read books that inspire you on the topics you’re struggling to explore. Get whatever help you need, and assemble your support network. Some books you might want to check out are The Places that Scare You by Pema Chodron and Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach.
3) Accept how you feel
We create so much of our own pain by neglecting our feelings. If you feel anxious or angry, you may not want to look at it. You may shove it away; you may become resentful; you may get even more upset with yourself for having negative feelings. All of that is a recipe for harder days ahead. If you sit down and say to yourself, “What is it that I need? What am I feeling? How can I support myself?” then you’ve made a massive internal shift. We often don’t provide ourselves the space, safety and self-compassion to experience our feelings. Accept how you feel, and watch how everything improves.
4) Accept your life
Here’s the even harder part. This is a key aspect of mindfulness training. Instead of labeling the experiences of your life as “good” or “bad” and allowing what’s happening to dictate how you feel, you instead practice allowing life to happen without so much judgment. This is an art, but its payoff is a much more harmonious existence. When you dive into your winter and harder times, you can accept that winter is just a natural and important tide of life.
As you allow yourself to enter your winters, you will come to find that they will eventually lead you into the light, beauty and rebirth of a new season of spring.
Interested in working with Cailin?
Dr. Cailin O'Hara, DACM, LAc, Dipl OM, is a nationally board certified Doctor of Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture, herbalist and coach. She is based in Phoenix, AZ.