In praise of darkness: an ode to the stillness of winter

For several years now, I’ve embraced the habit of choosing three words for the year, to help me shape and define how that year might unfold.  And this year? One of those words is stillness.  I have felt it gathering, that need to be still, for the past few months. This year is a time to make that need more explicit, and the practice of it more conscious.

Finding stillness has always been a big challenge for me.  In a busy life that involves juggling writing with an academic career and the things I’m passionate about – creative cooking, dancing, deep connections with those I love – across three different towns and cities, there isn’t much time to be still. I know I need it. It’s a crucial component of the Five Rhythms dance practice that I’ve loved for so long. Yet it remains a challenge.

At this point in the calendar, I associate stillness with darkness. I’ve just returned from rural Scotland, where I celebrated the turning of the year.  Transitioning from 2018 to 2019 involved not just stillness but darkness, in a place away from the glare of too much artificial light, a place where the dark has its own illumination – that of the soul.  Over that holiday, in which I slept in a beautiful, beamed barn in total blackness and where the silence was punctuated only by the call of the owls, I read Clark Strand’s Waking Up to The Dark.  His book is a beautiful meditation on the significance of darkness on our lives and our consciousness as a planet.  I’d urge you to read it, if you want to make space for contemplation in your life. Strand says this:

I have not described how darkness feels against the skin. Everyone has felt it, but in an age where consciousness itself is no longer consciousness, but only a by-product of watt-age, most people have forgotten the feeling of the dark.

The darkness fits the body so well that we might as well be entering the water when we wear it.  It flows everywhere the light is not – across every bone and sinew, surrounding every hair. It hugs the shadow within a shadow and, when we are ready, lets down a milky richness white with stars. 

We come from the dark, and we return to the dark.  We are not merely in it but of it.  The darkness does our thinking when we let it, and it is in the darkness in which we move.

Here’s to allowing stillness – and moving in the darkness – to nurture our thinking and creativity in 2019.

Previous post: