What to do about the Dark

Healing Night. Illustration by the author

Healing Night. Illustration by the author

Last night, my son woke up at 1230 and clicked on our light. Did you have a bad dream? No. Do you need help? No. So I get out of bed and walk him back to his room careful not to click off the light in the hall before he reaches his room. I must resolve his sleep to return to mine.

In the preface to his book, Healing Night,  Dr. Rubin R. Naiman, says,

Healing Night, is also about healing our days. If we allow ourselves an honest and sober encounter with darkness, we will begin to see sleeping, dreaming, and waking in a whole new way. In fact, we could begin to see in a whole new way.

I rub my son’s back, but he is frustrated. He needs another pillow. It doesn’t help. I lie on his floor while he dozes, but when I leave, he calls me back: 1 am.

As January began, I tried to fight the dark. I spent the first week clearing out storage and excess from our basement, carving out a workshop, giving away things on Craigslist. I bought a sauna that I fixed up, met with body-workers, started a yoga class. 

But even with the sunlamps, the Vitamin D drops, coffee, beer, and friends, nothing can clear away the dark. Minnesota in the winter is cold, yes. But it is very dark. Or to put it better, it is usually dark. 

Most of the day is nighttime. 

I return to my son’s room with a pillow to lie on. I’m not comfortable. As he dozes off, I begin doubting all of my daylight decisions. I question my productivity, my confidence, and feel the melancholy seep in.

Then something shifts. I realize I’m tired of this self-doubt. But instead of trying to erase it, I let myself really feel it. I sink into it like my missing blanket, encouraging it to wrap around me. I take comfort in it. The familiar ache of my daytime stress. I belong in these feelings. They come in the night and push me to find softness for them. 

I feel my true nature as a creature of organs and muscle, battling demons in my mind, forgiving my spirit. A truly sober encounter with the night.

Dr. Naiman continues,

Night is home to a delicate spirituality…there is a lovely, sacred, and mythic dimension to our night consciousness. Our challenge is to appreciate the mechanisms of sleep, dreams, and awakening without sacrificing their essential spiritual qualities.

I have ruled out everything else. Winter is sobering. Facing the dark, releasing the day. Allowing for the feelings that darkness inevitably brings. Making space for slower movement, longing hearts, softer smiles. Naiman's book is permission to experience this as it comes.

130 am. I take a chance. I sneak out. Return to my bed. When I wake up, it will be dark. My son has a hard morning involving a straw dilemma. He feels the dark too. I sneak out to yoga for a rare escape from morning chaos. The sun finally begins to shine as the class ends. This is how to live in Minnesota. It is worth being in the night of winter to find our way back to summer's day.