This month, when acquaintances and clerks and baristas asked, “Are you doing anything special for the holidays?” I replied, “I’m doing nothing.” If they assumed that that was a sad, or lonesome, or irreligious state, I might add, “I love being in the dark time of year, and I don’t want to lose a moment of it to the hustle and glitter and parties, and hours in the kitchen. So I’m doing nothing, just being fully in the dark and quiet.” And they’d nod as if they understood, but I’m not sure they did.
For me, and for many of my friends, this year has seemed particularly dark – meteorologically, physically, politically, ecologically. And it seems to me that if that’s the hand we’ve been dealt in 2019, we’d be wise to study our cards carefully to see what patterns of meaning they hold. We’d be wise to discern how best to play those cards, for the greatest good of all. That discernment requires a time of damping down sensory input for a while. The dark time of year is a natural time to do that.
Or here’s a different metaphor, one that feels just right on the drizzly day I’m writing this: A few times in my life I’ve swum in the softness of a freshwater lake in the darkness of a midwestern summer night. It felt as if the gentle enfolding water recognized itself in me. I lost all sense of limitations; there were no boundaries between the water and my body.
That’s what being fully in the dark time feels like in these final days of this year: letting go, opening up, expanding, merging with something benevolent that is more than myself. I do not want to be distracted from that commingling. And so, for the holidays, I am doing “nothing.”
Gradually, as the tilt of the earth’s axis brings a few minutes more of light to each day, I’ll clamber out of the dark time. I’ll enter spring, the beginning-again time, happily christened with a new appreciation of connectedness and possibility.
Your beautiful winter reflection brought to mind this from Rilke’s Book of Hours:
You, darkness, of whom I am born –
I love you more than the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illumines
and excludes all the rest.
But the dark embraces everything:
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people, nations – just as they are.
It lets me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me.
I believe in the night.
Boy, does this piece resonate with me. Not so much about the darkness (though I do love being enfolded by the longer nights), but by the notion of doing “Nothing”. That is truly doing “Something”. I crave doing nothing, as I’ve so over-scheduled myself. Doing Nothing is not, as I understand it, just flapping about aimlessly. It’s purposeful, more focused, eschewing distractions. What is one allowed to do while doing Nothing? To read? To write? To practice an instrument? Perhaps doing any of these things from a new perspective? I have a Spanish proverb tacked on the bulletin board above my desk. It says, “How beautiful it is to do nothing and rest afterwards”. I keep it there to remind me of that possibility. Thanks for this lovely winter holiday reminder.
Alison, I LOVE the Spanish proverb! Without apology I’m going to swipe your idea, and post these words on my office wall. Thank you! And as for “what is one allowed to do while doing Nothing?”, only you can have the answer to that . . . and I suspect it has something to do with expectations (not having them) and pleasure (seeking it: a nap? a new musical piece? staring out the window and whispering to the birds at the feeder? Regardless of what is chosen for pleasure of Nothing, it must, I think, be marked by an unusual amount of time, extending the pleasure past the threshold of any feelings of guilt and entering the realm of reveling.
Reveling in Nothing. What a great concept! I’ll hang onto that lovely permission. Thanks.
Rilke, always a great companion on the Journey! Thank you for this perfect accompaniment. I love the concept of “the flame that limits the world . . .”. Maybe that’s a reason why I delight in the darkness, because it “embraces everything” rather than limiting what can be known (or intuited).
Cynthia this is a gorgeous meditation. “Darkness is not dark to you, oh Lord” and so perhaps not to us either. Thank you for your friendship. Love Charles
Exactly! That’s the delicious paradox – in the darkness dwells the Light.
The paradox of “doing nothing” is that it’s really doing pretty much everything: rest, contemplation, creativity, generating peace.
Sometimes I think that the whole curriculum of this education called “Life” is centered around dealing with paradox!
What a truly lovely reflection on the other side of darkness, Cynthia. I loved this sentence in particular: “It felt as if the gentle enfolding water recognized itself in me.”
May you continue to expand, open, let go and merge with something benevolent that is more than yourself. And may more of us be able to do that…
A difficult spiritual exercise in these days . . .
Thank you for this beautiful articulation, Cynthia. I totally agree–December always pulls me into a portal of looking back, forgiving, appreciating, trying to synthesize, and then looking forward and asking: what will be my ground of being in the coming year? Love and quietude…
Our “ground of being for the next year” will certainly have to include an expanded sense of community – and that’s difficult for a wannabe hermit like me . . . but then I remember that it’s not all up to me – that’s why it’s called “community”!
Thanks for your reflections on the darkness and time for serious reflection about the coming year. I need to take time to do just that. It is important for me to find something positive to anticipate and work toward helping that come to be. I can be pessimistic sometimes but usually my optimism carries me along. Hope 2020 is a blessed year for all–a year of peace and caring for each other. Ginny
Thanks, Ginny. Let’s all find little bits of time for pondering and for caring for each other.
Thanks, Ginny, for all you do.
Yes, we understand. Always look forward to your blog.
Part of what I’ve enjoyed in this dark-time space is occasional reminiscences from our teen years, and you are a big part of that remembering. Sometimes we sure pushed the boundaries, didn’t we?
Spot on dear wise friend. You named the need so well for 2019. Love and deep darkness to just be in the fallow time, and nurture our seeds for 2020.
I’m actually pretty optimistic about the “crops” that are germinating for the coming year. Glad you’re part of the sowing and the harvesting.
I love this so much Cynthia. I did “no thing” as much as possible this year, and tapped into that deeply still place on Christmas Eve. I woke up on Christmas morning not really knowing if I had slept or not since it felt as if I was awake all night in a state of dark benevolent immersion. I wondered what was happening astrologically, only to find out later that day from a friend that we are in the energy of a solar eclipse that happened Christmas Day at around 6:15 pacific time I believe. Even the Sun found darkness in it’s darker time in our hemisphere. Blessings to you dear sister! love fenna
What a lovely astronomical piece to add to the metaphor! Thanks, Fenna.
Love this, Cynthia. I love your insightful awareness of self—both universal and solitary. As for me, I’m choosing “slow” with my dark. I saw the It’s a Beautiful Day movie last night with a 19 and 21 year old and am heartened that they each felt emotionally engaged (their words) and appreciated the slower pace inspired by Fred Rogers himself. One said he gets bored at action films. This conversation gave me hope as we move into the light of a new year. Thank you for the time and reflection you give these posts. Peace, dear soul sister. Mary
And oh, how we will come to rely on those upcoming adults! Thanks for helping to nurture them with your attention and friendship.
Such a lovely reflection, Cynthia.
My hunkering down into quiet darkness is but for a few days but savor it I will.
So good to receive your monthly reflections. May Earth continue to nurture us – and we, her.
Thank you, dear Pat, for your legal stewardship of our fragile Earth. It’s been an uphill struggle for you and other ecology lawyers, and I’m so grateful for your efforts.
Thank you for this, Cynthia. I also need to sink into the dark and quiet, hibernating, into this time of year. The parties and excited talk and dinners lure me not. In the past, I’ve allowed to be drawn out of it by this and that, but this year I closed the doors and shut my mouth and eyes. Still in it now – let’s see if I’m allowed to stay wallowed. You say it beautifully, and truly. A deep bow to you –
“allowed to stay wallowed” – what a great phrase! Makes a wordsmith’s heart smile.