To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
I have spoken these lines, penned by poet, philosopher, farmer and social activist, Wendell Berry, in Solstice celebrations at the church where I ministered for thirteen years. Every year, the doors would open into the candle lit sanctuary. People would come in from the usually snowy and frozen night, take a seat in a pew next to a friend or a stranger and wait. Some sweet slow music would start, the quiet would deepen, and I would read these words to enter into the darkest time of the year together.
How I loved the rhythm of that night: poetry, prose readings, songs interspersed with meditations that culminated in the sudden lighting of the church, dancing into the social hall where we shared food and drink, more music and dancing to mark the turning of the wheel. We went dark, stayed dark and in that darkness, began to bask in the light of fellowship and community.
Jung reminded us that rituals exist to hold and mediate the direct experience of the numinous. The structure of the evening held the millennial experience of the mystery of light returning in the midst of the darkest night. I no longer minister in a church, instead I sit with people as together we enter into dark spaces, resisting the temptation to bring too much light and consciousness too soon.
There are spaces and places we must go that require deep and dark patience and a hand to hold while we sit and wait. Of course, we all know that the dark night of the soul or the night sea journey is traversed alone. Like Jacob, we struggle with the mighty angel all night, not knowing we are fighting for our true and proper name, our destiny.
But before we get strong enough to face that unknown, we need the simple presence of the Other. The one who will sit as we struggle to name and accept the many hurts and wounds of life, the one who will reflect back to us the strength to stay in the dark long enough to receive its gold. I am always so moved by Jung’s dictum that the shadow holds 80% gold. The dark does hold the scary and unknown aspects of ourselves, but when we can see them, albeit dimly, we find also the luminosity of that which we have rejected.
The kind of work we do, depth and analytical psychologists, archetypal pattern analysts, psychoanalysts and others, can be called a companioning in the dark. Not lost, not disoriented, but rather tethered to the trust that the dark holds its own mysterious beauty and richness. This is especially true this time of year, as the darkness comes earlier and earlier in the day and the nights get longer and longer. The expectations of the holidays, tensions and memories, hope and loss all are enveloped in the dark. When we sit in it long enough, the inner light emerges and we can enter into a new day. And the beauty of this moment is that we are not alone.
Dr. Silvia Behrend is a Certified Pattern Analyst, educator and mentor