With the dark half of the year growing in strength, we increasingly turn inward for reflection. But something compels us to deepen this spiritual warrior’s journey to study our true nature, both the traits that we admire and those we reject. While the land lulls itself to sleep, this marks the time to honor our inner wisdom as well as the potential self-destructive tendencies we all hold inside…
“Move now to calm the heart: let the questing intelligence balance the blue deep of the tragic voice that says: think no more, search only these depths within.
The violence of the search, let it be quenched again in those fastnesses of the northern mind, those impenetrable mountains.
Remember the cone of the great sun above us, and equally the cone of the shadow beneath us: our shadows and our lights stretch all to the universe.” ~Nuinn
Fall and winter represent the dark half of the year, the time when the earth in the Northern Hemisphere slips into hibernation to rest so that the cycle of life can begin anew in the spring. This time of rest is crucial for the soil to rejuvenate and it reflects our need to turn inward for the deep wisdom that fuels our personal growth.
But it’s not enough to ponder the traits that we admire and the memories we cherish. Something in our spiritual warrior path compels us deeper inside, to the shadow dwellings where we must face the aspects of ourselves we dislike, reject or have yet to manifest in our personalities. Carl Jung calls it the Shadow Self. The darkness within can be akin to the creepiest basement in the dead of winter. If we try to avoid this area, it grows in magnitude and the fear escalates. Even when we run from what we hate, we tend to focus on it in spite of ourselves, giving it more strength and power over our lives.
The Druid and pagan holiday of Samhain, the antecedent of Halloween, marks the end of summer and the beginning of the dark half of the year. The veil between this world and the other realms is at its thinnest, so too is the barrier we erect between our external and internal lives. As we honor those who have departed before us, we acknowledge the inherent wisdom in the cycle of life and death that plays out in the natural seasons.
We forget that darkness cannot exist without its twin, the light. Even at night, the starry sky winks at us. The moon shines down upon us, coating us with its gravitational pull and sharing its knowledge that all things wax and wane in time. With its brightness a reflection of the hidden sun, the moon is a symbol of the divine feminine nature of internal wisdom and sensitivity in contrast to its daytime masculine counterpart. For Druids and pagans, the triple aspect of the moon’s phases represent the three aspects of feminine development inside of both women and men: the maiden (creation), mother (renewal) and crone (wisdom). As winter descends to strip the trees of its leaves, we, too, can use the internal light to clear away unfinished business as well as the thoughts, behavior and feelings that no longer serve us.
With its pull on our emotions, the moon is viewed as the major ruling force of the mind in Hinduism, which was not alone in basing its ancient calendar on the lunar cycle. Today, Hindus still use this calendar to celebrate holidays.
This week, we celebrate Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights. This holiday mainly commemorates the return of the Hindu God Ram with his wife, Sita, whose kidnap and rescue from a demon is the central theme of the famous Ramayana epic. The people of India lit diyas, clay lamps, to light Ram and Sita’s way back home much as today we need to recall the inner spark inside of us while we journey to our true nature. The Ramayana is a beloved tale of good defeating evil that speaks to the heart of how we struggle to overcome the shadows within our own souls. From this tradition as well then, we can use this time to become more aware of who we are in the fullest sense so that we can modify the negative tendencies that cause us harm.
But do we need to truly do anything to change? Or can we use this time to accept that we are all perfect in our imperfections, humans with idiosyncrasies that in fact make us who we are? We are our own worst critics and sometimes view neutral or even positive aspects of ourselves from a distorted lens. Instead of rejecting or working to transform ourselves, perhaps the hardest work is to come to terms with who we are without judgment. This is the crux of a meditation practice.
A little known part of the pre-Ramayana story puts the shadow self into perspective. In the lifetime before the epic unfolds, a devout yogi is visited by God in the form of Brahma, the Creator of the Hindu trinity. Brahma tells the yogi that he has an important mission and, should he consent, he will attain enlightenment and be released from the karmic chains of reincarnation. This seems like a dream come true to the yogi until he learns what the job entails. Brahma tells him that in the next life he must become the most evil demon and do the most wretched things, and that neither he nor the gods will remember that this was asked of him. The yogi immediately agrees, but cannot help ask why he would be given such a task. Brahma replies that good cannot exist without evil, the sun must share its space with its twin, the moon. To know joy, we must learn from pain; to feel deep love, we must experience its lack; to appreciate the light within, we must let in the darkness.