While I love celebrating Christmas as a season of light and time of spiritual renewal, often the days before and after this sacred holiday can be a bit dark for me. Between the cold, grey weather, honoring my deceased mother’s birthday on Dec. 20th and the Winter Solstice (the darkest day of the year), I find myself often taking a deep dive into the well of my soul. And often anxieties, worries or fears that may have been buried over the past year, slowly surface.
I used to cringe with discomfort when these feelings arose. I am an optimist and am blessed with a high “happiness set point” the majority of the time.
But I’ve learned there are many benefits to having tea with my dark side or shadow (a psychological term introduced by Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung that encompasses everything in us that is unconscious, repressed, undeveloped and denied; the dark rejected aspects of our being). I could easily justify my sadness, malaise and unhappiness with a long list of socially acceptable woes, but now I don’t even try.
Some of the gifts that have come from dancing with my shadow, include:
• The opportunity to go inward and reflect on where I’ve been; balancing a rich “inner world” with our robust “outer world” is essential to emotional well-being.
• The chance to ask for help; to be reminded we’re interdependent and support is all around us if we just reach out and allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
• The gift of contrast: when we experience the opposite of happiness and joy, we are reminded how fleeting all of our emotions are.
• The understanding that contemplation is essential internal housecleaning—we need to clean out the closets and clear away the cobwebs to make space for what’s next.
• A chance to practice mindfulness: surrendering, trusting and knowing that “this too shall pass.”
• The opportunity to ask, “What am I de-pressing that is trying to surface?” My wise brother who navigates a wide spectrum of moods believes feelings of depression arise when we’re de-pressing something that is trying to come to light.
• A ticket to the most unpopular vacation destination known to humanity—“the unknown”—and a chance to realize that’s it not as bad as the brochures lead us to believe.
• An invitation to revisit old stuck patterns and thoughts—repetitive worries or fears—and to ask if we’re ready to let these friends move on and find a new home.
• The realization that if my thinking, perspective or relationships are off-course, I have the choice to re-set my GPS and go a different route. Thank God.
Growing up, I loved attending Christmas Eve midnight mass with my large family. Silently and sleepily, we’d enter the dimly lit sanctuary, inhaling the smell of frankincense. After communion, we’d wordlessly turn to our neighbors and light one another’s small tapered hand-held candles while quietly singing Silent Night. I loved the symbolism of this act, seeing the dramatic sea of flickering lights and knowing that from the darkness, we would all, eventually, return to the light.
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