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  • Writer's picturelizbutler

Embracing Winter’s Darkness

When I was around three years old, I went camping with my parents. I remember little about the trip other than one thing – lying in the canvas tent at night, hearing the call of owls and being scared, so scared I needed lots of parental reassurance and comfort before being calm enough to sleep. Forty-five years later, having moved from London to Devon a year ago, the gentle sound of the ‘twit twoo’ from owls near our house, is one of my very favourite things about our new rural life.


I don’t know why I was so frightened as a child, but I know it had a lot to do with darkness. In that field where our tent was pitched the intense blackness of the night seemed unfamiliar and the sound of the owls only emphasised the possibility of unknown creatures lurking in the darkness beyond our tent.


In a way it seems strange to have been scared of darkness and the unknowns it holds at such a young age. Only a few years earlier, I would have been resting in the comforting darkness of my mother’s womb, and I know I slept peacefully in a fully darkened room at home, without the need for nightlights. But many children are afraid of the dark, of course, often without obvious reason. This fear, it seems, is inherent in us. As we grow into adults the fear may lessen but it doesn’t disappear, only now we are in control of the lights and, like obedient servants, they immediately chase away the shadows whenever we command, with a flick of their switch.


I no longer feel particularly afraid of the dark, in fact I often savour it, and since moving to the edge of our tiny Devon village where our outlook is fields and there are no street lights, I have found myself appreciating the darkness in a deeper way than ever before. Having come from the bright lights of London, it almost feels like meeting a soul mate, as if I have found an essential part of me that has been missing and I didn’t know I desperately needed.


Recently I read the wonderful book ‘Waking up to the Dark’ by Clark Strand which has deepened my understanding of why darkness is so important for our wellbeing. Clark has been enthralled by darkness all of his life, wandering out alone for night walks since he was a child, and in his beautifully written book, he explores how we’ve become increasingly saturated with light, and therefore stimulation, since Edison invented the electric light bulb. The resulting overload of artificial light has disrupted our natural circadian rhythms with negative consequences for our physiology but it has also, as Clark discusses, played with our minds and weakened our connection with Spirit.



You see, we need darkness, we need the gift it brings of temporarily shutting us off from the outer world. We need darkness to access our inner world because without this access, healing and growth can’t happen. We see this clearly in nature. Whether a seed or an embryo, both require darkness initially. Yes, later as a new born baby or a seedling, they will require sunlight too, but to start with they need darkness to do their inner work, build their structures and germinate. Only then will they be able to burst forth and share their gifts with the world. Giving to others is only possible if we ready ourselves first. And we need to ready ourselves, pay attention to our inner workings, and not just at the start of life. We need to follow nature’s cycles, where dark follows light, night follows day, and go within regularly to rest, reflect and sink into the healing embrace of the powerful feminine force that is the darkness.


But most people don’t make time to stop and go within, and many don’t want to reflect on their inner world, afraid of what they might find. They imagine there may be demons that lurk there and so instead of facing what’s inside, they project those demons outwards inventing all sorts of scary things that can come and get them in the dark. They use this as the reason to keep the lights on, and so stay trapped in a state of constant distraction. It’s convenient and seems to work well, but one day they realise it’s slowly killing them, from the inside.


In this binary world where everything has its opposite, often one side of the equation is seen as negative, the other as positive. This has happened with light and darkness. But whenever we are favouring one side of the equation, we have moved away from truth. Truth tells us there are no opposites, duality is an illusion. Truth tells us all is valuable. And so, as we come to the very darkest time of the year, the time when often we are so distracted with the sparkly lights of the festive season, I encourage you to take a moment to sit quietly, close your eyes and just listen to your breath. As your breath deepens and your body starts to let go, begin to explore the darkness. You may not know it yet, but it is your friend, your restorer, your source of deep rest and recovery. We have been taught that it is the shiny and the bright that will save us, but in this modern world where artificial has become normal, it is time we realised that to rebuild ourselves and return to sanity, we need to turn off the lights, breathe out slowly, and allow ourselves to sink into the healing darkness.

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