The solstice is next week, marking the longest night of the year. Making it to this milestone has been a celebration in almost every culture since the beginning of time, believing that magic is in the coming of the light. But today, before we eagerly move on to longer days, I want to take a moment to celebrate the dark.
Getting enough exposure to darkness is critical to our overall health. If we don’t allow ourselves enough exposure to evening and nighttime darkness, we stop producing adequate melatonin. When we don’t have enough melatonin, both our daily and annual circadian rhythms stop functioning properly. When our circadian rhythms stop functioning properly, we produce more cortisol than we need, greatly diminishing our overall hormonal health. This not only makes us more stressed in the moment, it makes us less able to handle situations that wouldn’t otherwise be stressful in the future.
When we have a properly functioning circadian rhythm, we are more mentally sharp, have more emotional stamina, get better sleep, have stronger immune systems, and generally have a happier outlook on life. A healthy circadian rhythm is a flow of melatonin and cortisol, a dance of exposure to both dark and light.
We also need exposure to darkness in the figurative sense. Our nervous system health and our capacity to hold and manage stress is dependent upon our ability to sit with the stress and “dark” in our daily lives. The more we can manage our stress, the more resilient to stress we become. Our ability to face and cope with the “dark” and hard is directly proportional to our ability to embrace the “light” and joyful moments of our lives.
In a way, we’re just like trees. The survival of a tree is dependent on its exposure to wind and harsh weather conditions as a sapling. Trees need wind to blow against them to cause their root system to go deeper and wider, which supports the tree as it grows taller. Without this deep root system, the growing tree would simply collapse from its own weight.
We too need challenges and adversity to strengthen us – strengthen our resolve, our values, our sense of self, our sense of community, our ability to fail and start again and again. Without this, we also would simply collapse from the weight of our lives, unable to withstand any of life’s moments, both good and bad. The more we sit in the dark, the more we can hold the light.
In a culture that is constantly trying to bypass all things dark and hard, wrongly assuming that light and positivity are the only way to happiness, take a moment to relish in the dark. Darkness provides us with our greatest teachings and our greatest healings… if we let it. Enjoy these inky, starry nights. There’s magic there.
The body leads the mind.
Cheers to better living -